The Center’s CA Insights – 2017-18:
Instructional Materials

Instructional materials play an essential part in linking strong instructional practice with the knowledge and skills expectations of the California State Standards. Districts must make important decisions regarding which materials are best aligned to the rigors of the standards. In this domain, we hear from district leaders, principals, and teacher leaders on how the complex process of instructional materials adoption continues to unfold in California schools.

Finding 1: 

While most districts we talked to adopted textbooks for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics by school year 2017-18, only 10% have stopped using teacher-created materials.

Embracing Teacher-Created Materials… and Slowly Weaning Off Them

We’re trying to have zero [teacher-created materials] at this point. We have enough state adopted material. [We want to] use those right now.” – District Leader

“We spent a year… developing [ELA] modules with teachers. [We] ended up allowing teachers to choose which curriculum they wanted to use. About half the teachers chose the district modules and half the teachers chose a formal adoption. Having learned from that experience… we’re not going to go through [that] with math.”

- District Leader

“We did a lot of teacher-created materials when we were in the doldrums, waiting for the state to adopt [textbooks]. That was a big process especially [with] the ELA program that we designed.” – District Leader

“We’re probably [leaning] more towards the teacher created materials or old materials but moving toward the use of our adopted materials…[which, for] some teachers it was a welcome relief to them because they were working so hard.”

- District Leader

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Instructional Materials Adoption in California: A Brief Primer

California, unlike some states, does not require districts to provide students with state-adopted instructional materials within a specified period of time. Nor are local education agencies (LEAs) required by law to implement state-adopted instructional materials. Partially for these reasons, instructional materials adoption has unfolded on different timelines from district to district. In our sample, for instance, 15 out of 19 districts reported adopting ELA materials in the previous two school years (2016-17 and 2017-18), whereas math adoption has unfolded more incrementally over the last few years.

Without a defined deadline to adhere to, some districts may place a higher priority on other standards implementation decisions, instead of focusing on instructional materials. Research by the Center has shown that 19 percent of districts cited delaying textbook adoption when asked what they have deprioritized in order to focus on standards implementation.

Timeline of Textbook Adoptions

Key Terms: Adopted vs. Teacher-Created Materials

Adopted materials – Instructional materials, including textbooks and curricula, approved by the State Board of Education or by a local education agency (LEA) for use in California State Standards-aligned instruction.

Teacher-created materials – Instructional materials created locally by teachers for use in their own classrooms, without formal approval or adoption by a higher authority.

Finding 2:

Compared to teacher leaders, principals have greater confidence in their adopted textbooks’ alignment to the standards, whereas teacher leaders place more faith than principals in teacher-created materials.

What Principals and Teacher Leaders Say about Instructional Materials Alignment

“We were pushed to adopt a math curriculum quickly and they didn’t necessarily agree on what the greatest curriculum was. It has some good pieces but there’s definitely buyer’s remorse in there.” – Teacher Leader

“Ours is very informal… We have late start Wednesdays also, but we use ours for other things. We always end up doing something else… We are just coming up with stuff on our own, little sub departments. Me and the other biology teacher, I’ll say, “I was working on this. What do you think of that?” Then we look at it, what if we add this. We collaborate, create an assignment.” – Teacher Leader

“I would say [mostly aligned]. I’m only talking about math [textbooks]. Our district hasn’t even touched English. I think adoption has been put on the shelf for a bit to see what rolls out or what plays out.” – Principal

“[Curriculum writers are] jampacking every possible thing they can get in there to make it sell. Now, it’s just about us going through and extracting. We have good stuff.”

- Principal

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Finding 3:

Most districts use free online or open-source instructional materials to supplement, modify, or even replace existing textbooks and curricula.

How Districts Use Open-Source Instructional Materials

Established open educational resources are considered by some districts to be a high-quality and reliable option, compared to unregulated online resources that have not been vetted by a third party.

“We love the things we got from Engage New York, as well as Georgia [Department of Education]. I think that will probably be our starting place. I don’t know, we may find something different. But we’re not purchasing any other programs.”

- District Leader

In some cases, existing materials from previous textbook adoptions are being repurposed, but they need plenty of modifications in order to align to the California State Standards.

Our teachers did not have a strong feeling of liking one of the adoptions, and so we chose to continue using our old text but modifying it and adding in a lot of online materials and other pieces that [the teachers] find from other places and from our teacher-created materials.”

- District Leader

Even new materials that claim to be aligned to the standards may need modification to suit instructional needs.

“Overall, I think the ELA materials and the math materials that were created [by vendors] have been good. We’ve been pleased with them. [But,] you always have to supplement with something.”

- District Leader

We have to really look at our curriculum with critical eyes, identify its gaps. Make sure that we’re bringing in other things, and we’re aligned to the rigor that’s required of the standards.”

- District Leader

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“I have to tell my teachers not to go so crazy sometimes on Pinterest because there is so [much material]. It is great for classroom environments, but pull back.

- Principal on free online materials

Key Terms: What Are Online Materials?

Instructional materials sourced from websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers, that function as marketplaces for exchanging instructional resources. Online materials can be free or available for purchase. When publicly licensed for distribution, they are commonly referred to as open educational resources (OER), or open-source materials.

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