Aligning to Standards

New Product Review: ECS Learning Systems STAAR Master Math and STAAR Master Reading

ECS Learning Systems’ STAAR Master Math and STAAR Master Reading are test preparation products designed to prepare Texas students in grades 1-8 for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) mathematics and reading exams. Content is available in print format. Instruction focuses on problem sets (math) and questions (reading) that address specific Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Problems and questions are formatted to reflect what students will see on the STAAR exam. Learning List recently reviewed “Student Practice Book” resources for grades 3-5.

Student Practice Books in math are organized in four sections that address each of the TEKS Reporting Categories for mathematics (e.g., Geometry and Measurement, Data Analysis and Personal Financial Literacy). Each section begins with the full text of the TEKS for the Category and whether the standard is a Readiness or Supporting Standard. Subsequent content is made up of practice exercises formatted to reflect what students will see on the STAAR exam (i.e., multiple-choice responses).  Each exercise includes the text of the TEKS addressed by the problem set and each problem in the set references the specific TEKS it addresses. [Read more…]

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New Product Review: EMC Mirrors & Windows: Connecting with Literature

New Product Review: EMC Mirrors & Windows: Connecting with Literature

EMC’s Mirrors & Windows: Connecting with Literature is a comprehensive resource to support English language arts instruction in grades 6-12. The program includes print and web-based resources. In the middle school grades (grades 6-8), instruction uses the theme of “mirrors and windows” to help students use literature to reflect on their own lives and to connect with people from different cultures and times.

Across middle school grades, Mirrors & Windows units are organized in terms of a theme linked to a literary genre. For example, a grade 6 unit that introduces poetry is centered on the theme of “Expressing Yourself.” Each unit is made up of a set of reading selections related to the theme. [Read more…]

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Defining Roles: Standards vs. Curricula vs. Instructional Materials

FocusEducators and publishers often use the terms “standards,” “curriculum” and/or “instructional materials” interchangeably. Moreover, many educators consider their instructional materials to be their curriculum. However, each of these terms represents a distinct component of an educational program. In the sections that follow, we provide explanations of each of these terms to differentiate their meanings in the context of PreK-12 education.

Standards set out what students are expected to know and be able to do at the end of each school year. Standards are generally established at the state level. In fact, ESSA requires that each state create learning standards for public schools in three subjects—English language arts/reading, mathematics, and science—and many states go beyond ESSA’s minimum to set standards in social studies, career and technical education, languages other than English, and other subjects.

In contrast, the curriculum is developed at the district level, the product of local policy making. While the standards tell you what is expected, the curriculum provides the road map to get there. Often described in documents such as “scope and sequence” and “units of instruction,” a curriculum includes goals, instructional practices and pedagogical guidance, suggested resources and instructional materials, and methods of measuring student progress. [Read more…]

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How Learning List Helps Districts Comply with ESSA’s “Evidence Based” Requirement

A recent report from Curriculum Associates discusses the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) requirement that federal education funds be used for evidence-based programs, interventions, and products. “ESSA and Evidence Claims: A Practical Guide to Understanding What ‘Evidence-Based’ Really Means” provides a primer for educators in understanding the four levels of evidence recognized by ESSA (e.g., moderate evidence), the type of study that exemplifies each level (e.g., quasi-experimental), and the five questions educators should ask when evaluating research-based evidence (e.g., “When was the study conducted?”).

One of five questions for evaluating evidence, in particular, caught Learning List’s attention: “Was the study based on current content and standards?”

ESSA assumes that the evidence base for a product, program, or service is based on the state’s current standards, but it is possible that the research is grounded in prior state standards or another state’s standards, altogether. It is the district’s responsibility to vet information to ensure products purchased with federal funds and the evidence supporting the products’ effectiveness are based on the appropriate standards.

A tall order but Learning List can help.

Learning List’s alignment reports clarify which set of standards a product addresses, such as the Common Core State Standards or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Our alignment reports evaluate the product’s alignment, determining whether the material fully addresses the content, context, and cognitive demand of each of the relevant standards. Thus, Learning List’s alignment reports provide strong evidence about whether a product is grounded in the relevant standards. [Read more…]

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How Learning List Assists Teachers in Developing and Achieving SLOs

Solid instruction begins with an analysis of student data followed by the development of targeted learning goals and instructional practices aimed at achieving them. Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes (SLOs) are growth targets set by teachers to help them plan instruction and drive learning throughout the year. SLOs provide schools and districts with a way to make best instructional practice a common expectation for all teachers and principals.

Here are five ways Learning List’s reviews and tools support teachers in creating high quality SLOs and achieving them:
Effective Practice
(1) After the focus of an SLO has been identified, Learning List’s alignment reports and alignment comparison tool make it easy for teachers to identify causal connections between students’ learning deficits and deficits in the alignment of the district/campus’ instructional materials.

(2) Learning List’s alignment comparison tool and alignment reports help teachers scaffold instruction using their existing materials to address students’ learning gaps that have persisted over multiple grade levels. [Read more…]

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The Role of Instructional Materials in Shaping Teacher Practice

In a recent op-ed appearing in The Hill, ThinkCerca’s founder and CEO, Eileen Murphy Buckley, describes the challenges she faced as a novice English teacher working at  Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, one of Illinois’ best high schools and Michelle Obama’s alma mater. Like many first-year teachers, she struggled with classroom management, planning relevant and engaging instruction, and mastery of her content area. She received sage advice from veteran colleagues, but she “confesses” that her strongest supports as an inexperienced teacher were the instructional materials she used in the classroom.

She writes:

So, there is my confession after all these years, but I make it to say that the products we use in schools matter. The quality of those resources matter so very much because they are what empower students, regardless of which teacher they end up with. The materials shape teachers and teacher practice, and they shape the teachers they raise through years of side by side work.

These products must answer to students and teachers as well as buyers — the admins and school boards who are the stewards of our future, our culture, our democracy. Products have material impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren — who will be caring for us and our country in the very near future.

Simply put, reading materials impact the quality of teaching in much more significant ways than you might know.

At Learning List, we understand the importance of high quality materials. We recognize that instructional materials influence how teachers teach as well as how and what students learn. And this understanding shapes how we review products.

Our editorial reviews examine the supports each material does or does not provide for teachers. Our reviewers explain whether teacher resources include background in content and pedagogy; provide pacing information, lesson plans, and guidance in differentiating instruction; and offer professional development opportunities and professional communities that facilitate collaboration and sharing with other teachers who use the same product. Our reviewers note when they feel a product is particularly appropriate for novice teachers. Such products include comprehensive discussions of the required content knowledge and pedagogy, and offer detailed, often scripted, lesson plans to support instruction. [Read more…]

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