Policy Trends

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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New Review: DreamBox


[Source: DreamBox Learning]

DreamBox supplemental online resources support mathematics instruction for students in grades K-8.  The adaptive program provides individualized instruction using learning games that incorporate engaging animated characters. Resources support instruction in blended learning environments. Learning List recently reviewed materials for grade K.

At grade K, DreamBox focuses on number sense and the skills needed for addition and subtraction. Instruction is presented in the form of interactive games, such as a matching game in which students match numbers that sum to 10 (e.g., 4 and 6). The adaptive program analyzes students’ answers and scaffolds instruction, providing corrective feedback, hints, and new questions based on individual student’s responses. Lessons use virtual manipulatives such as a “TenFrame” (i.e., “an array of squares used to teach counting, number relationships and computation”) and a “MathRack” (i.e., an interactive abacus).

Reporting tools allow administrators and teachers to track student growth at the individual student, class, and grade level. Reports let users monitor students’ progress on assignments, mastery of standards, and time spent using resources, including time at home.

 About DreamBox*


[Source: DreamBox Learning]

At DreamBox, we believe all children can excel at learning, no matter where they start, where they live, or who they are. Along with district administrators, teachers, principals, and parents, we are dedicated to helping children realize their potential. Yet every child must be challenged, encouraged, and engaged in an individual way.

That’s why we developed our revolutionary Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ technology, and combined it with a rigorous curriculum and an engaging game-like environment, to change the learning paradigm.

Our innovative technology captures every interaction a student makes while working within and between lessons. As it dynamically adapts and individualizes instruction in real time, it provides millions of learning paths tailored to each student’s unique needs. It is a ground-breaking, student-driven learning environment that leverages gaming fundamentals to inspire and empower students to build 21st century thinking and problem solving skills, master key concepts, increase achievement, and boost long-lasting confidence in learning.

*The content in this section is provided by or adapted from DreamBox.

Subscribe to Learning List for access to the spec sheet, full editorial review and detailed alignment report for this material.

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EdNext Poll on Testing


[Source: The 2015 EdNext Poll on School Reform
WINTER 2016 / VOL. 16, NO. 1]

Over the last few months, the national conversation about public education seems to have shifted from a debate over the Common Core State Standards to a debate over state testing.  Daily, newspapers feature stories about states dropping out of the Common Core testing consortia, PARCC or Smarter Balanced; states abandoning long-standing state testing contracts; and parents opting [their children] out of taking state tests.  Increasingly, state legislatures are examining ways to reduce the number of tests students have to take.

A new poll by Education Next suggests that there may be less hostility towards testing than the media would have us believe.  The nationally representative survey solicited responses from approximately 4,000 members of the general public, parents and teachers.

When asked:  “Do you support or oppose the federal government continuing to require that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school?” respondents answered as follows:

Members of the public:  67% supported vs. 21% opposed continuing the federal requirements for annual testing (contained in the federal  No Child Left Behind Act)
Parents:  66% supported vs. 23% opposed continuing the federally-mandated testing;
Teachers:  47% supporting vs. 46% opposed continuing the federally mandated testing.

In answer to the question, “Do you support or oppose letting parents decide whether to have their children take state math and reading tests?” The responses were as follows:

Members of the public:  25% supported vs. 59% opposed giving parents the right to “opt-out” of state tests;
Parents:  32% supported vs. 52% opposed giving parents the right to “opt-out” of state testing;
Teachers:  32% supported vs. 57% opposed giving parents the right to “opt-out” of state testing.

While federal and state policymakers may change the type, number and timing of tests students have to take, testing will remain an indispensable part of our education system.  Learning List’s independent alignment reports help educators understand how the instructional materials they use may be affecting their students’ test results.  If students repeatedly missed test questions associated with a particular standard or group of standards, teachers can refer to Learning List’s alignment report(s) to determine (1) whether the district’s instructional material(s) is/are aligned to those standards, and (2) more specifically, whether the specific citations (e.g., page numbers, lessons) they assigned are aligned to those standards.  If either the material or the citations were not aligned to those standards, students likely did not learn what those standards required them to know.  Either situation is easily fixed by providing supplemental materials aligned to those standards or by assigning other citations listed in the publisher’s correlation that have been verified to be aligned to those standards.

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What School Board Members Need to Know When Selecting Instructional Materials [with Infographic]

20150417 SchoolBoard2‘Tis the season for selecting instructional materials.  Board members often ask me what questions they should be asking during their district’s selection process. Below are five important facts for Texas school board members to keep in mind and seven key questions to ask as the board considers the district’s proposed list of instructional materials.

Five Facts For Texas School Board Members Regarding Selecting Instructional Materials:

  • Selecting instructional materials is ultimately the board’s responsibility. (Texas Education Code § 31.104(a), Policy CMD(Legal)) 
  • Districts do NOT have to purchase only state-adopted materials with IMA funds. (Texas Education Code (TEC) §31.0211(c-d); Texas Administrative Code (TAC) §66.1307(c); Policy CMD (Legal))
  • Instructional materials (except state-adopted materials) are subject to competitive procurement laws.  (Local Govt. Code §271.054; §271.064)
  • Just because a material is “state-adopted” does NOT necessarily mean that it is aligned to 100% of the TEKS; and just because it is not state-adopted does not mean it is inferior. (TEC§ 31.023). Bottom line: to get the best value, districts must comparison shop for their instructional materials. 


  • The board has a legal obligation to ensure that the district is in compliance with the 100% Rule. (TEC §31.004; 19 TAC §66.1305; Policy CMD (Legal))

Click here to learn more about the Five Facts.

7 Key Questions final 20150417

[Click the Image to Download]

7 Key Questions for Board Members to Consider When Adopting Instructional Materials

(1) Does your district’s local policy allow the administration to consider both state-adopted and/or non-state adopted materials? If not, how do you know you are getting the best value for your students?

(2) How many materials were considered for each grade/subject being selected?

(3) Did the district engage in a competitive procurement process to select non-adopted or unbundled state-adopted materials?

(4) Were teachers given an opportunity to sample the products recommended for adoption? For online materials, were both tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy teachers asked to review the products?

(5) For online materials, does the district have the per student bandwidth and other technology infrastructure in place to support simultaneous use of the recommended products?

(6) If online materials, how will the district ensure that all students will have access to the product at home, even students who do not have internet access at home?

(7) Does the administration have an alignment report to prove that the recommended materials, either individually or in the aggregate, align to 100% of the TEKS for each grade/subject in the required curriculum, except PE?

[Jackie Lain is Founder and President of Learning List.]

Click here to subscribe to the Learning List Blog.

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Look Into a Crystal Ball: How to Project Your District’s Instructional Materials Allotment Allocation

[Source: Opinion Lab]

[Source: Opinion Lab]

Today, the Texas State Board of Education adopted 89 social studies, 55 high school math and 172 fine arts materials. Learning List has reviewed all of the state-adopted social studies and high school math products that were adopted, as well as several materials in those subjects that were not submitted for state adoption.

The State Board took another less notorious vote today but one that significantly impacts the amount of state funding school districts and charter schools will receive to pay for instructional materials and technology over the next two school years. The Board set the percentage distribution rate from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) to the Available School Fund (ASF) at 3.5 percent for the 2015-2016 fiscal biennium. As a result of that action, approximately $1 billion a year will transferred from the PSF to the ASF and half of that (~$500M) will be set aside in the ASF for the state instructional materials fund (IMF).

[© 2014 Learning List]

[© 2014 Learning List]

Are you wondering how much IMA your district or charter school will receive to purchase new social studies and high school math materials? Learning List’s whitepaper will help you predict approximately how much IMA funding you can reasonably expect to receive in September of each year of the 2015- 16 biennium. However, as you will read, two important steps have yet to be taken before districts can know with certainty the amount of IMA funding they will have available for each year of the next biennium.

NOTE: Based upon our analysis with a 2013-14 TEA enrollment of 5.15 million students, districts can expect approximately $98/student per year in IMA funds for each of the next two years. You can read or download a copy of How to Project Your District’s Instructional Materials Allotment Allocation by clicking here.

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Can a District Project Instructional Materials Funding?

[Source: TEA]

[Source: TEA]

Earlier this year, we published a blog post that described how the funds for instructional materials in Texas flow from their source to local school districts. In that post, we explained that the instructional materials allotment (IMA) begins at the Permanent School Fund (PSF)—a $30 billion endowment created expressly for the benefit of the public schools of Texas—and flows through the State Board of Education, the state legislature, and the Texas Education Agency before making its way to the local education agencies.

Shortly before the beginning of each biennial legislative session, the State Board of Education (SBOE) determines the annual distribution rate (commonly referred to as the payout) from the PSF for each of the subsequent two budget years. The SBOE sets aside half of this distribution for instructional materials. This is the first step in the process that determines the amount of the IMA that each school district will receive for the purchase of instructional materials.

On September 19, 2014, the SBOE voted to set the distribution rate at 3.5%. As a result, the annual payout from the PSF for the IMA for the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 school years could be as high as $500 million per year. To divide the total payout among all school districts, the commissioner of education has, in previous years, determined each district’s IMA allocation based on the percentage of the total student population served by the district. If the same rationale is used in the coming school years, a district that serves 1% of the total student population of Texas could receive $5 million (1% of $500 million) each year.

[Source: viedu.org]

[Source: viedu.org]

Knowing the amount of its IMA allocation for upcoming years can help a district begin planning for its instructional materials purchases. However, in doing so, districts should be aware that the possible amount of the IMA for the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 school years suggested in this post is, at this point, only a projection. There are still several steps yet to be taken in the process that determines the actual amount of the IMA: the SBOE can decide to change the distribution rate at its November 2014 meeting; from (but not limited to) the payout set aside by the SBOE, the state legislature must appropriate the money for the IMA; and, from the amount appropriated, the commissioner of education must determine the per-student allotment for each district.

The total amount of the IMA available to the commissioner and each district’s individual IMA allocation should be known shortly after the end of the legislative session in 2015.

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January 2022