Table of Contents
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.
- 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.
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
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
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).
“Any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience and encompasses a wide spectrum of tools and practices.”
“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.
- 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.
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.
- 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).
- 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).
- Bidders Conference: Interested parties convene for a question and answer session about the proclamation’s focus and requirements.
- Initial Materials Development and Submission: Publishers create materials consistent with the proclamation’s requirements and submit them to the state agency.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
After reviewing your state policies and procedures, you need to review your district/school policies.
- 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
- Technology specialists
- Community organizations (museums, afterschool programs)
- Business partners
- Principal or designee
- Technology specialists
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?
- 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
Budget & Funding
Before selecting instructional materials, the review team should have a basic understanding of the budget for these materials, as well as the funding options. A state/district may have a line item in the budget for the acquisition of instructional materials; however, other ancillary costs should also be considered, such as the delivery platform and the training required for teachers to implement these materials.
Visit Budget & Funding section.
When considering digital instructional materials, in addition to the quality standards for print materials, leaders need to ensure that the materials will be easily and seamlessly accessible for all learners. In addition, the digital version of materials should leverage technology tools and resources so that it is dynamic, interactive and engaging.
- If digital, how will you deliver the content ? Do you use a content delivery system/learning management system?
- Is the content dynamic ? Does the digital version offer more than a simple PDF of the text ? Does it leverage technology tools to provide interaction and customization?
- Is the content fully accessible ?
- Is the content interoperable across systems ?
- Does your school/district have the technology capacity to deliver content efficiently and effectively?
- Does your school/district have adequate internet access to fully utilize the instructional materials (i.e., speed, reliability)?
- Do students have ubiquitous device access in school?
- Do students and teachers have ubiquitous device access out of school?
- Is the broadband infrastructure sufficient for simultaneous access for most users?
- Is wi-fi available on campus in all learning spaces ?
- Do all students and teachers have internet access at home, and/or the community to effectively utilize the instructional material at any time?
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.
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.
Acquisition of quality instructional materials, whether they are print or digital, purchased or free, typically requires following some level of state or local procurement laws. When selecting quality instructional materials, the team needs to have a basic understanding of the acquisition policies in their state, district, or school.
- Does the state have guidelines?
- Does the district have guidelines?
- Who are the interested parties in acquisition?
- Curriculum designers
- Procurement office
- Budget office
- What are the procurement guidelines/restrictions/impacts for:
- Print core instructional materials?
- Digital/online/blended core instructional materials?
- Openly-licensed core instructional materials (OER)?
- Are the acquisition requirements different for core materials vs. supplemental materials?
As the collection and shared access to data increases, it is essential that states, districts, and schools have an understanding of data privacy, confidentiality, and security practices related to uses of student data. The Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), created by the US Department of Education, developed a best practice resources toolkit to help states, districts, and localities understand student data. Resources are organized by topic area and updated regularly. In 2014, PTAC released the Protecting Student Privacy while Using Online Educational Services report, which included recommendations to schools and districts with respect to privacy, security, and transparency when using online educational services, including software, mobile applications, and web-based tools. Federal laws that serve as the basis for state and local policies on student data include:
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)—protects the privacy of student education records
- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—Protects children’s privacy and puts parents in control
- Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)—Addresses concerns about children’s access to obscene or harmful content over the internet
In addition to these federal laws, states play an important role in developing and enforcing policies that supplement these laws to protect the privacy, security, and confidentiality of student data.
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.