Busy teachers across the country work hard every day to help their students meet high academic standards. Many teachers report spending hours every week searching online for lessons and materials to use in their classroom, and some spend even more time developing and adapting materials to align to their state’s standards. But states and districts around the country are finding new ways to arm educators with rigorous, aligned instructional materials so that teachers can focus on doing what they do best: help their students learn and succeed.
One state leading the way in this work is Louisiana, where the State Department of Education has made aligned instructional materials a foundational element in its approach to supporting teachers and students in meeting high standards. The state has worked to rigorously review and rate instructional materials—based on their alignment to state standards—to help districts make smarter decisions about the instructional resources they select. The state also has also partnered with curriculum providers to fill gaps and offer trainings to teachers and leaders. As a result, the percentage of Louisiana districts using instructional materials fully aligned to high standards has gone from less than 20 percent to more than 80 percent in just four years.
In St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools—a district just outside of New Orleans where 85 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch—the state’s efforts to prioritize aligned instructional materials are having a big impact. “We don’t have to question the level of rigor of the curriculum anymore,” says Christal Sylvain, principal of John L. Ory Communication Arts Magnet School in St. John the Baptist Parish. “We know that we’re giving our students high-quality resources that are designed to encourage critical thinking.”
Equipped with these vetted materials, teachers at Ory Magnet are now spending less time searching for resources and more time collaborating. “Teaching will always be a challenging profession, but it’s made my job easier,” says second-grade teacher Tina Brouwer. And according to Sylvain, “The teachers who have embraced the materials have naturally been able to rise and become leaders among their colleagues. They’ve become experts and they share what they use and do.”
At the same time that teachers are benefiting, the materials are leading to better outcomes for students at Ory Magnet, too. “My students’ critical thinking and problem solving levels have increased dramatically,” says Brouwer. “Before, every math lesson just had a couple of word problems, but now, it’s almost all word problems that require the students to think more deeply.” As a result, her students are better prepared for the third grade, she says.
For Brouwer, who has taught for 21 years, adapting to the new materials and standards has been a positive learning experience for both her and her students. “I’m a veteran teacher, but I always embrace change,” she says. “Society is changing, and the way our students need to learn is changing. As teachers, we need to roll with change.” And that change, along with her state’s efforts to provide aligned instructional resources, is leading to positive impacts for her students.
Louisiana’s focus on supporting teachers by providing high-quality, aligned instructional materials is working. A recent study from the RAND Corporation found that Louisiana teachers were more likely than other teachers to teach and think about their work in ways that are more aligned to standards.