Q&A: How EdReports.org helps educators identify high-quality materials

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EdReports.org is an independent, nonprofit organization designed to help educators identify and demand instructional materials that are effective, reliable, and aligned to high standards. Using a comprehensive, rigorous review process led by expert practitioners, EdReports.org provides free reviews of instructional materials to help educators make informed decisions about which materials to use with their students. Below, EdReports.org Executive Director Eric Hirsch discusses the organization’s work and its impact on the landscape of tools teachers and students use in the classroom.

At EdReports.org, you harness the insights of expert teachers to evaluate tools. Why is it important for teachers to lead the review process?

As the end users and the ones responsible for delivering instruction, teachers are ideal reviewers. They know what high-quality instructional materials look like and the difference that high-quality materials can have on instruction. Teachers understand first-hand what it looks like to use these materials in a classroom with students and how much time it takes to find those materials when there are gaps. We currently have over 100 educators, with more than 1,000 years of combined experience in the classroom, working collaboratively in teams to review year-long instructional materials in math (grades K-12) and English language arts (grades 3-8). The teams consist of a diverse and dedicated group of educators who analyze curriculum individually. Teams also meet weekly to discuss evidence and indicators against criteria, and compare their scores.

What are the areas of greatest need in terms of high-quality instructional materials?

Rigorous college- and career-ready standards can improve and deepen student learning. Without an independent review to identify quality materials, the promise of these standards cannot be realized. Teachers need high-quality, aligned instructional resources to be effective. The current lack of aligned educational resources perpetuates the nation’s achievement and postsecondary access gaps. It is not surprising that 9 out of 10 districts report that identifying or creating Common Core-aligned materials is a challenge for them. And we have heard over and over from educators that they spend countless hours searching for or creating their own materials to support their students.

What kind of impacts have you seen as a result of EdReports.org’s findings?

Districts across the country share that our tool is invaluable in narrowing down the vast pool of instructional materials that work best for their district’s classrooms. Additionally, we have heard from districts that have changed their purchasing choices outright based on our reviews. We are also proud to note that educators use our evidence reports to make weighty decisions such as where they can supplement materials and which materials are best suited for their student population. We know of at least 125 districts that have used our reviews—including some larger, urban districts—to adopt curriculum. Districts and teachers are not alone in their responsiveness. Several publishers have incorporated our findings into revised versions of their materials. One publisher, for example, added 10 lessons on important math standards as a result of the evidence we provided on the focus of the materials.

A recent RAND survey showed that many teachers are using self-developed or self-selected materials to help them implement state standards. How can your reports help teachers who develop their own materials?

We’ve heard from many teachers that they are drawing from district materials, their own resources, materials from peers in their school, and/or those available online. We know how critical a high-quality teacher is to student achievement, but teachers also must have access to quality instructional materials to be effective. Our reviews help make educators informed consumers. Additionally, teachers can look at the detailed evidence in our reports to identify where they may need to adapt or supplement their current materials. They can get good direction as to where to apply their instructional skills to ensure all of the standards are taught. We believe our reports can help educators better understand what standards alignment looks like in instructional materials. We also believe our reports can help them reflect on materials they have developed or selected and how to be more strategic with their very limited time.

How would you like to see the landscape of curriculum and tools change in the next five years?

We know the curriculum landscape is changing as more publishers create digital materials and more personalized learning options become available. We’re starting to see more collaborative sharing, including sites where teachers draw upon materials created by others and Open Education Resources. Regardless of the publisher or format, these materials must be aligned to high standards and help teachers provide quality instruction that improves and deepens student learning. As the demand for materials that truly reflect college- and career-ready standards increases, we are optimistic that more standards-aligned, high-quality resources will be out there for districts to adopt and teachers to draw upon. As this trend grows, we will continue to be a source for reliable information about the quality of instructional materials marketed to and used in schools.