Where Do You Stand? The Great Homework Debate

As the school year begins, so does the debate over homework. Educators, parents, and researchers have differing opinions about how much (if any) homework is appropriate. Some people believe homework is useless, if not harmful.  Others favor homework in some cases but not all, depending on the age of the child, the type of homework assigned, and the time it takes to complete. Homework

Whether or not you agree with the concept of assigning of homework, students’ time spent interacting with instructional materials (during the school day or as homework) will lead to improved academic performance only if the materials used are aligned to the standards.

As you plan homework, review the instructional material you plan to use to make sure that it addresses, and is aligned, to the standards you want students to learn. Here’s why: after hearing many teachers complain that they were not getting the promised results from a widely used supplemental material, Learning List reviewed it. Our alignment report revealed the problem:

  • The material was not aligned to 100% of the state standards, which was not surprising because few supplemental materials intend to cover 100% of the standards.
  • Teachers were (unintentionally) using the material to help students practice standards the material did not cover. In fact, the publisher’s correlation did not list those standards as being addressed in the material at all.

In order for homework to be effective it must be aligned to the standards you want students to learn. Otherwise, you are giving students false confidence that they have learned what they need to be successful.

For more information about using instructional materials efficiently and effectively, read these previous posts:

Are You Discussing Instructional Material Alignment in Your PLC?

Are Your Resources Supporting Your Efforts to Close the Achievement Gap?


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Are You Discussing Instructional Material Alignment in Your PLC?

According to Solution Tree, the first of four critical questions around which effective PLCs focus their work is, “What do we expect our students to learn?” This fundamental question lays the foundation for the remaining work of the PLC.

In response to this question, your PLC is likely discussing the relevant state standards, the district curriculum, and pacing. You may be missing a large piece of the puzzle if you are not also discussing the alignment of the instructional materials you will be using to support student learning.    books

Consider the following:

  • Simply using a resource on a state-adopted list (if your state has one) or on the AP Example Textbook Lists does not necessarily mean that the resource addresses all of the standards for the grade and subject area. For example, materials are eligible for adoption in Texas and for inclusion on the 2016 Example Textbook Lists if they align to at least 50% of the relevant standards.
  • Just because the publisher claims that a material is aligned to 100% of the standards, does not mean it is. Learning List finds that on average, comprehensive (full-course/year) materials are aligned to 80% and supplemental materials are aligned to 60% of the relevant standards.
  • Even if a material is aligned to 100% of the state standards (i.e., it’s aligned to each standard in at least one location) it does NOT mean that it’s aligned in all the places the publisher claims it to be.
  • From an instructional perspective, it’s critically important to student success for teachers to be sure that the particular citations (e.g., page numbers, lessons) that they assign in their instructional materials are truly aligned to the standards they are teaching.

How do you evaluate “alignment” during your PLC?

Step 1: Check whether the material addresses the standard(s) you are using it to teach.

Publisher’s should be able to provide a correlation document or an online “correlation” that shows exactly where in their material each standard is addressed. Use the publisher’s correlation to identify whether your material(s) address the standard(s) you will be teaching in the unit or lesson.

  • If the material does address those standards proceed to Step 2.
  • If the material does not address the standards, find another resource that does.

*If you do not have a correlation document you can request one from the publisher. If the publisher does not have one, you may want to reconsider using that resource.

Step 2: Check that the citations you plan to assign are aligned to those standards.

Just because a material addresses a standard, does not mean it’s aligned to the standard. As part of your PLC work, check that each citation (e.g., each  page, lesson or unit in your material) you intend to assign is aligned to the standard you are using it to teach, A citation is aligned to a standard only if it addresses the  content, context, and cognitive demand of the standard.

  • The content of the standard describes what the students are expected to learn.
  • The context of the standard describes where or when the learning should take place (e.g., type of science, genre of ELA, place/time in history).
  • The Cognitive demand of the standard describes what the student is expected to do (i.e., the level of rigor)

A citation must be aligned to all three C’s of the standard in order to teach students all the knowledge and skills the standards require them to learn. If the citations in your material address only part of the standard(s) you will be teaching, then either (1) adjust your instruction to cover the parts of the standard the material does not, or (2) find citations in another resource that are aligned to those standards

Answering the question, “What do we expect our students to learn?” leads the important instructional work of the PLC. Ensuring that the materials you use are aligned to the standards they are being used to teach is a critical step in preparing your students for success. Doing that work during the planning stage that should save you from having to do as much remediation later.

Learning List’s detailed alignment reports and alignment comparison tool can save PLC’s hours of work. Contact us to find out how.


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Are Your Resources Supporting Your Efforts to Close the Achievement Gap?

On August 15th The Texas Education Agency released 2016 accountability ratings. Student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps, and postsecondary readiness are all part of the Texas performance index framework. Many states use the same, or similar, accountability measures. If closing performance gaps is an area of concern, a good place to start is by checking the alignment of instructional materials. 

Students won’t learn what they are not taught. For your students to learn the knowledge and skills the standards require, then your materials (either independently or in the aggregate) must be aligned to 100% of the standards for the grade/subject. You may not have considered that your instructional materials could be part of the problem, particularly if you used state adopted materials. However, keep in mind in Texas, as in other states, “state adopted” does not necessarily mean aligned to 100% of the standards. Moreover, if you are using supplemental or RtI products, are the materials you are using aligned to the standards you are using them to teach? Supplemental products are often not designed to address 100% of the standards. For further information about the importance of alignment see “New (Free) Whitepaper: Why Alignment Matters”.

Another issue to consider is access to the core instruction in your instructional materials. If you are using online materials do they have internet access to access the core instruction outside of the school day? Publishers often claim that their online materials are downloadable or printable for students who do not have internet access at home. But is the core instruction or are only the supplemental activities available offline?  More often than not, we find that only the supplemental activities are available offline but the core instructional content is not. This can lead to gaps in student learning particularly for economically disadvantaged students who have access to fewer high quality instructional resources and learning opportunities outside of the school day.   

As your district works to close the achievement gap, Learning List’s detailed alignment reports, comparison tools, and technology reviews can assist your work. Call us to find out more.

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