17 States Highlight Quality Curriculum Initiatives in NAEP Score Responses

The educational data floodgates are wide open after a pandemic-era drought. From last week’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) release sharing data from 50 states and 26 cities to the Education Recovery Scorecard that maps district-level learning loss for 30 states and counting, there is no shortage of data to inform the deluge of stories about COVID’s impact on academic progress.

For my part, I’m honing in on the 37 state leaders who have responded to the release of their NAEP scores with direct statements. These responses range in tone and tenor, but the strongest ones focus on “what now”: the specific steps states are taking to address unprecedented learning gaps. The best news for me? Nearly half of the statements (17) include some reference to high-quality instructional materials and related educator training.

The majority of these references (14) mention a focus on early literacy based on the science of reading. This makes sense given widespread attention to the issue following Mississippi’s groundbreaking progress, not to mention the well-earned ado around Emily Hanford’s new “Sold a Story” podcast – a compelling account of the problems with reading instruction across the U.S. But in addition to those with a long history of driving evidence-based literacy instruction, it’s great to see states like Nevada and Virginia following suit. To help address pandemic learning gaps, the Silver State is working to “ensure students are receiving high-quality and meaningful instruction grounded in the most current reading research,” and Virginia is investing “over $70 million in the bipartisan Virginia Literacy Act to leverage the Science of Reading to transform reading instruction.”

Alarms are being raised, however, around math. NAEP scores show the first decline since the test was first administered in 1990, prompting widespread concern and targeted responses, including a $1.1B investment by the Gates Foundation. When asked how they believe such large-scale math investments should be spent, teachers have underscored the need for high-quality math materials and professional development. These teachers will be glad to know that 8 states have specifically addressed approaches to improving math instruction for students’ academic recovery. For example, Alabama’s NAEP statement references the state’s 2022 Numeracy Act, which includes an emphasis on high-quality instructional materials and educator training. Oregon is another one to watch; the state has promised to support local selection of quality math materials starting next year, and to use assessment data to help districts identify areas where better curriculum may be needed.

As someone who’s been closely tracking the role of state leadership in expanding local use of quality materials, I’m excited to see this level of attention from the top to supporting the instructional core. While I expected as much from the dozen or so leading states, it’s encouraging to see new ones joining the ranks this time. This is a promising start in the wake of historic disruptions to learning, but we need all 50 states to embrace their role in advancing quality curriculum in ways that best match their local contexts. For those looking to take their first steps, CurriculumHQ is full of ideas and examples of how to get there.

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.