If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know that I, like many others, regard EdReports as the gold standard for curriculum evaluation. The organization’s evidence-based, teacher-led reviews of instructional materials provide the foundation that districts and states need to identify aligned curricula that can work for their local context. While EdReports does not recommend any specific instructional program for a given location, the organization constantly strives to provide the most useful information to help local leaders make those decisions.
To dig into what EdReports does to advance quality curriculum, I spoke with Janna Chan, the org’s Chief External Affairs Officer and a tireless advocate for quality materials. Here, she describes two new initiatives to bolster EdReports’ role in the early literacy curriculum landscape: a redesign of the EdReports website focused on the science of reading and the revision of the EdReports Foundational Skills review tools. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: What is EdReports’ role in helping curriculum decisionmakers – namely, district leaders and educators – navigate early literacy materials?
Janna: At EdReports, we believe all teachers deserve high-quality, grade-level, comprehensive early literacy materials so they can help every single student succeed. Teachers are working tirelessly to help students get back on track after the impacts of the pandemic and chronic inequities, and it isn’t reasonable to ask them to sort through a sea of early literacy materials to find the best ones on top of all their other responsibilities. Our goal is to make it easier for educators to access these materials so they can focus on doing what they do best: getting kids excited to learn and addressing the needs of individual students.
Q: Why did EdReports decide to do a redesign?
Janna: The early literacy instructional materials landscape is constantly changing as the science of reading movement gains traction. For example, over half of states now require district adoption of high-quality early literacy materials. While EdReports has always reviewed instructional materials for the science of reading, we know that our process is not perfect and we’re constantly working on reassessing, revising, and deepening the evidence in our review tools. That’s why we undertook two new efforts aimed at making it easier for school districts and educators to assess early literacy instructional materials for the science of reading. First, our redesigned website will make it much easier to quickly analyze early literacy materials for the presence and quality of indicators aligned to the science of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Next, our tool revisions will continue to support educators in examining how well materials align to these key science of reading components and streamline the integration of various elements found in EdReports’ prior tool.
Q: What role do other actors need to play to help expand the use of quality literacy materials?
Janna: Investing in high-quality instructional materials is a high-stakes, expensive, and long-term endeavor, so ensuring that stakeholders–including teachers, instructional coaches, building leaders, administrators, families, and community members–are aligned on the need is essential. There are three steps district and state leaders can take to help expand the use of these materials:
- Meaningfully involve teachers in the selection of new instructional materials. Teachers have a clear vision of how materials should be helping to meet students’ needs. Yet many districts do not meaningfully engage them when it comes to selecting new curricula. Key to increasing the use of high-quality programs is ensuring teachers have a real voice in the materials that are selected.
- Invest in high-quality materials. Recent data shows that teachers spend more of their time using a single curriculum when it is aligned to high-quality criteria. Of teachers using aligned ELA materials, 51% report using it for at least half of their instructional time. Teachers also report they are less likely to modify their curriculum when using aligned core curriculum than teachers who are not using aligned materials.
- Create an environment that supports the implementation and use of high-quality materials. Investing in professional learning around new instructional materials is as important as the selection of the quality curriculum itself. Curriculum-aligned professional learning is critical for ensuring that materials are used well in classrooms and can help close the gap between what’s selected and what’s in use.
What are next steps on the horizon for EdReports in reviewing early literacy materials for science of reading elements?
Janna: Reviews of foundational skills instructional materials using the revised tools are currently underway, with the first set of reports slated to be released in spring 2024. Information about upcoming reviews can be found on the EdReports website. We will also continue to evolve our website to reflect innovations in our review process and tools to ensure a seamless user experience.
My thanks to Janna and EdReports for their ongoing work to help teachers and students engage in quality instruction.