• Districts/schools should evaluate, adapt and develop quality course content and instructional materials aligned to standards on a regular basis. Effective planning is essential when selecting quality instructional materials aligned to standards, whether your state, district or school is selecting full course (core) materials or supplemental materials. Planning also helps to ensure teachers and administrators are moving Beyond the Search Engine.

    Key Questions

    • What is the catalyst to select and adopt new instructional materials?
    • Are you planning to select a new core full course curriculum for a specific content area?
    • Are you considering implementing supplemental materials to support current core materials?
    • Are you implementing digital instructional materials?
    • Beyond alignment to learning standards, what other quality criteria will you use?


  • Many factors contribute to quality instructional materials. Though definitions may vary somewhat from one professional organization to the next, all agree that quality materials should be robust materials aligned to learning standards regardless of whether the materials are print or digital, full course materials or supplemental materials, open or all rights reserved copyright.

    SETDA Criteria

    Quality instructional materials are content-rich materials aligned to standards that are fully accessible and free from bias. They support sound pedagogy and balanced assessment to help teachers understand and interpret student performance.

    Quality Instructional Materials must be:

    • Aligned to state, district, and building learning standards as measured by widely-accepted evaluation tools.
    • Current, relevant, and accurate content that is user friendly, fully accessible for all learners, and free from bias.

    Full-course, core instructional material should:

    • Emphasize the key areas of focus within each course, addressing the progression of learning skills, and vertically articulating content with other courses to ensure coherence.
    • Support differentiated learning behaviors and include resources for students who struggle and opportunities for students to be challenged.
    • Include a balanced assessment strategy to help teachers understand and interpret student performance.
    • Incorporate technology, where appropriate, that supports quality teaching and learning.

    Criteria from Other Organizations

    State Definitions
    Association of American Publishers
    Open Up
    State Instructional Materials Association
    School District of Middletown

  • Schools and districts are moving towards student-centered, personalized learning approaches to increase student success — utilizing digital resources to support these deeper learning experiences. Every occupation from artists, to dental hygienists, to engineers and surgeons leverage digital materials to support and conduct their work. Digital materials are often more flexible and portable than print content and can be more easily adapted to personalize learning experiences.

    Beyond the PDF – The shift to digital is not just a digital format of a textbook. Digital content should be interactive and engaging including features such as videos, practice activities, word banks, dictionaries, and note taking tools.

    States, districts, and schools purchase instructional materials in a variety of formats for instructional needs. Print materials, textbooks, workbooks and paper-based activities continue to be mainstream instructional materials in K12 education however, shifting to digital is a fast growing trend and often teacher and student resources are a blend of both print and digital. Digital materials can provide increased benefits via interactive functions that support differentiated learners and pique student interests. Digital materials may include full course content, specific apps based on subject areas, online textbooks, and  simulations.

    Digital Material’s Unique Characteristics

    Digital materials provide many teaching and learning bene ts to educators and students.

    • Opportunity for more rapid updates than traditional print materials
    • More easily adapted to address students’ learning differences and styles (with an appropriate license),
    • Interactive functions
    • Long-term storage of content
    • Inclusion of video and adaptive practice
    • Real-time assessments
    • encourage collaboration, co-creation
    • setda-logo

      Ensuring the Quality of Digital Content for Learning

      This position paper complements SETDA’s prior digital transition policy briefs by examining strategies for ensuring digital content quality, including exploration of the speci c quality-control challenges and opportunities associated with open educational resources (OER).

      • Topic Area:
      • Implementation
      • Planning
      • Resources
      • Selection

      View Resource

    • National Ed Tech Plan

      The National Education Technology Plan provides a vision of transformational learning experiences powered by technology.

      • Topic Area:
      • Budget
      • Implementation
      • Planning

      View Resource

    • Navigating the Digital Shift

      This report provides details to help educate school and district administrators, policy makers and the private sector on the flexibility of state policies related to the procurement of digital instructional materials.

      • Topic Area:
      • Accessibility
      • Budget
      • Effectiveness
      • Implementation
      • OER
      • Planning
      • Resources
      • Selection

      View Resource

    • North Carolina Digital Learning Plan – Funding and Policy

      North Carolina makes recommendations for funding and policy as the state shifts to digital learning.

      • Topic Area:
      • Budget

      View Resource

  • Federal Policy

    Although state education leaders have advocated for digital and blended learning environments for many years, for the first time, national legislation defines digital learning and blended learning in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

    Digital Learning
    “Any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience and encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices.”

    Blended Learning
    “A formal education program that leverages both technology-based and face-to-face instructional approaches”

    As evidenced in ESSA, national leaders are recognizing the benefits of digital instructional materials and resources to support student learning. Technology is no longer a compartmentalized component of the law, as it was in NCLB’s Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) grant program, which was curtailed in 2011. Instead, technology is woven throughout the legislation, including assessment, accountability and school improvement. The Center for Digital Education’s Guide ESSA, EdTech and the Future of Education policy handbook provides insight into the changes in ESSA related to technology. ESSA supports professional development and capacity building for technology, encourages the use of technology in comprehensive approaches to teaching and learning, and provides states and districts with the flexibility to include technology in a range of initiatives. The National Education Technology Plan (NETP) calls for a “revolutionary transformation rather than evolutionary tinkering” in education and recognizes that we must leverage technology to provide engaging and powerful learning experiences for all students.

  • There are major shifts in state policy for the selection and implementation of instructional materials. More states have formal adoption policies for instructional materials and are requiring the implementation of digital instructional materials in the next five years. For example:

    • In Florida, beginning in the 2015-2016 academic year, all adopted instructional materials for students in K-12 must be provided in an electronic or digital format.
    • In West Virginia, instructional resources approved for adoption are found on the state multiple list and can include print and electronic resources.

    As you begin your planning process, determine what state policies and practices and state learning standards govern the selection of instructional materials. SETDA’s Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policies for States (DMAPS) is an excellent resource to find out about policies in your state.

    Key Questions

    • What is your adoption policy for textbooks?
    • What is your adoption policy for digital instructional materials?
    • What are the requirements for digital instructional materials implementation?
    • Do you have policies about OER?
    • Do you have legislated subject area instruction?
    • Do you have specific accessibility policies or requirements?
    • Do you have bias and sensitivity review requirements?
    • What are your targeted learning standards?
    • What are your recommended frameworks for the subject areas under consideration.

    Sample State Formal Vetting Process

  • Policy Recommendations

    As digital content nears the tipping point into mainstream adoption and use, states and districts must plan for and invest in updated and improved systems for the quality assessment of instructional materials.

    Adapted from: Ensuring the Quality of Digital Content for Learning

  • Traditional approaches for assuring the quality of print textbooks and other full-course instructional materials typically involve significant work over many months, using a variety of established standards and measures, with formal systems of peer review and expert assessment.

    Key Steps

    1. Establish Adoption Cycle: The State Board of Education, or designated entity, creates an adoption cycle for subjects in the state’s core curriculum to ensure that they are reviewed periodically (usually over a defined period of years).
    2. State Proclamation/Call for New Materials: The State Board of Education, or designated entity, publishes a request for standards-aligned, accurate materials in a given subject and grade level (with given specifications, including for example, accessibility requirements).
    3. Bidders Conference: Interested parties convene for a question and answer session about the proclamation’s focus and requirements.
    4. Initial Materials Development and Submission: Publishers create materials consistent with the proclamation’s requirements and submit them to the state agency.
    5. Expert Panel Review: The state agency identies expert educators from across the state in the relevant subject area at issue in the proclamation to serve on a review committee. They analyze the material for alignment to state standards and identify factual errors. After an initial period of independent review, experts are convened to make consensus decisions about whether the content meets the state’s needs or falls short in certain areas, and to identify further questions for the publishers.
    6. Publishers’ Response and Committee Recommendation: Publishers respond to the review committee’s questions and requirements. If the committee accepts the publisher’s response, it will recommend that the State Board of Education or relevant authority put the material on the state approved content list.
    7. Public Comment and Action: The State Board (or other entity) considers the committee’s recommendation, including inviting public input, and then adopts or rejects the content.

    This approach, and the quality assurance process timeline, varies somewhat state-by-state, but this model’s core elements appear in most jurisdictions.

    Reference: Ensuring the Quality of Digital Content for Learning

  • After reviewing your state policies and procedures, you need to review your district/school policies.

    Key Questions

    • Does your district/school have a definition for instructional materials?
    • Does your district/school have a definition for digital instructional materials?
    • Does your district/school have a definition for OER?
    • Does your district/school have policies guiding selection and adoption of instructional materials?
    • Does your district/school have procurement requirements for instructional materials?
    • Are policies different for core materials versus supplemental materials?
    • How are you funding the acquisition of instructional materials?
  • When reviewing instructional materials, it is important to identify the stakeholders. The type of materials (core vs supplemental), the size of the district or school and your district policy will impact the stakeholders that may be included in the process. In reviewing instructional materials, consider including some or all of the following stakeholders in the review process:

    Core Instructional Materials

    • School boards
    • Administrators
    • Teachers
    • Librarians
    • Technology specialists
    • Students
    • Parents
    • Community organizations (museums, afterschool programs)
    • Business partners


    • Principal or designee
    • Teachers
    • Technology specialists
    • Family Support Toolkit Library – Louisiana

      Resources for parents to understand the LEAP assessment results and report cards and how those results will be used to make adjustments to instruction to meet individual student needs this school year. The list of questions is not exhaustive, but reflects evidence-based answers to questions that parents have frequently asked about the statewide assessment results.

      • Topic Area:

      View Resource

  • Educational Goals

    Once you have reviewed your state and local policies for instructional materials implementation, and identified the key stakeholders involved in the process, understand the educational goals for your district/school.

    Student Learning Goals

    • Review and understand the target learning standards or recommended frameworks for each content area.
    • Define the learning behaviors your district has defined as important and that instructional materials need to support it.
    • Clarify any district instructional materials goals and priorities in the target subject area.
    • Does your district focus on:
      • deeper learning?
      • self-directed learning?
      • personalized learning?

    Professional Learning Goals

    • Define the teaching behaviors your district has defined as important and that instructional materials need to support.
    • Are the instructional materials supporting teachers’ abilities to personalize learning?
    • Assess the capacity to provide professional learning opportunities.
    • Do you provide professional learning strategies for implementation of digital materials?

    Key Questions

    • Are you planning to select a new core curriculum for a specific content area?
    • Are you considering implementing supplemental materials to support current materials?
    • Are you implementing digital instructional materials?
      • Beyond alignment to state learning standards, what other quality criteria should be considered?
      • What should be avoided?
      • What is the catalyst to select and adopt new instructional materials?
      • Ensure that the new materials add value.
      • Is your district/school using digital instructional materials?
      • What is the technology capacity to deliver content.
        • Internet access at school
        • Wi-Fi access at school
        • Student access to devices
        • Student access to internet and devices outside of school
  • With the shift from print to digital, education leaders must proactively consider the accessibility of digital resources for all students, including students with disabilities.If accessibility features are not designed into digital materials, it will be difficult or impossible for some students to use them due to a range of physical, sensory and/or cognitive disabilities. If materials cannot be used by these students, their ability to learn and achieve will be adversely effected.

    As required by federal statutes, including IDEA and civil rights legislation, state and local education agencies must  ensure that students who need accessible materials and technologies receive them in a timely manner. Timely manner is generally defined as “at the same time other students receive their materials.

    SETDA recommends that states and districts meet federal requirements by including accessibility in policies regarding the development, distribution/sharing and use of digital materials and technologies to improve the learning experiences of ALL students. Policies should include:

    • Establishing a clear vision for the use of accessible digital learning materials and communicating that vision to relevant stakeholders, including content creators and content users.
    • Ensuring digital materials procured from commercial and free sources meet accessibility standards, such as WCAG 2.0 (minimum level AA compliance) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
    • Supporting the development and use of accessible open educational resources to maximize flexibility
    • Requiring that customization options be available for educators to personalize learning and meet individual student needs.
    • Providing educators with professional learning opportunities on the proper use of accessible educational materials.
    • Ensuring that educators have access to online repositories of quality accessible digital content.
    • Investing in research and evaluation to assess the impact of accessible digital learning materials on student achievement and engagement and to share best practices
    • Investing in research and evaluation to assess the impact of accessible digital learning materials on student achievement and engagement and to share best practices.

    Key Definitions

    Accessible educational materials (AEM) are print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of learner variability, regardless of format (e.g. print, digital, graphic, audio, video).

    IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) specifically focuses on the provision of accessible print instructional materials in the specialized formats of braille, large print, audio, and digital text to students who need them in a timely manner.

    WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) provides a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible for people with disabilities and more usable in general.

    • Bookshare: A Benetech Initiative

      Bookshare® is the world’s largest accessible online library for people with print disabilities. Bookshare serves users around the world and ensures that content is available to people with print disabilities at the same time as their peers.

      • Topic Area:
      • Accessibility
      • Selection

      View Resource

    • Build Accessible Coursework

      Learn how to improve the accessibility of the content you create for your students.

      • Topic Area:
      • Accessibility
      • OER
      • Selection

      View Resource

    • Buy Accessible: What to look for in ebooks

      Are you buying ebooks that all students can read? Not all ebooks are accessible to students with print disabilities and knowing what to look for can help your textbook procurement staff make the best decisions for all students.

      • Topic Area:
      • Accessibility
      • Selection

      View Resource

    • SETDA Policy Brief – Accessibility of Digital Content

      As states and districts shift from print to digital content, education leaders must proactively consider the accessibility of digital content for all students, including students with disabilities. This issue brief provides recommendations for state and district policy regarding the development, use and distribution and sharing of digital tools to improve the learning experiences of all students.

      • Topic Area:
      • OER

      View Resource

    • The Palm Initiative

      The AEM Center at CAST has launched the PALM Initiative (Purchase Accessible Learning Materials) to ensure that materials used in the classroom are designed to be useable by all students. This requires adjustments in the way materials are purchased, and that, in turn, will drive the availability of more flexible and accessible learning materials in the […]

      • Topic Area:
      • Accessibility
      • OER
      • Selection

      View Resource

  • This pages includes various resources for leaders that would like to share this work via presentations, workshops or via online communities. SETDA encourages leaders to reuse and remix these resources to best support your work.

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