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Are Your Materials Fueling Your Students’ Success or Undermining It?

By Matthew Lynch — August 09, 2016 4 min read
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By Jackie Lain

In this era of data-driven instruction, educators have become increasingly savvy users of the data provided by standardized and/or benchmark tests. By evaluating assessment results, most educators are able to identify the standard or standards that their students did not master. When trying to determine why students may have missed exam questions associated with a particular standard or group of standards, a good place to start is to examine the alignment of the materials used to teach those standards.

This two-step process will help you determine whether your instructional materials are propelling your students’ success or undermining it:

Step 1: Determine whether (or not) your resources address the standards your students missed on the test.

Not every resource is designed to address every standard. For example, supplemental products and test prep materials often focus on a specific subset of standards. If teachers are using materials to teach a standard that the material does not address, and the teacher does not know where the material’s gaps are, then students will not learn the knowledge and skills the standard requires, and their test scores will reflect it.

We visit with hundreds of districts and hear a lot about the materials they use. After hearing educators repeatedly complain about a particular online remedial math program, we reviewed it. Our review of the material’s alignment to the state standards instantly identified the problem: as a supplemental material, the product focused on a select group of standards; it did not even attempt to address 100 percent of the standards in each grade level. Undoubtedly, many of the teachers who complained about the product’s effectiveness were inadvertently using the product to help students master standards the product did not address. No matter how much time the students spent using the product, they never learned the knowledge and skills those standards required and thus, they performed poorly on test questions associated with those standards.

Bottom Line: The publisher’s correlation that accompanies (or should) each material identifies the standards the material claims to address. Check the publisher’s correlation to see whether the material(s) you are using addresses the standards your students did not master.

If your answer is “No,” then find other materials to fill in those gaps.

If your answer is “Yes,” proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Determine whether the particular lessons, pages, or videos (contained within the material) are aligned to the standards your students did not master.

If the product addresses the troublesome standards, the next level of inquiry is whether it is aligned to those standards. As most educators will attest, just because a publisher intends for their product to address a standard or group of standards does not mean that the material is truly aligned to the standard. And just because the publisher claims that material is aligned to a standard does not ensure that it is. Publishers and educators have differing definitions of and motives for aligning materials to standards.

In order to help them teach a standard effectively, educators expect a material to address the three Cs of the standard: the content, context, and cognitive demand.


  • The content of the standard tells what students are required to learn and is contained in the nouns of the standard.
  • The context of the standard explains where the learning must take place (e.g., the specific time period, place or genre).
  • The cognitive demand of the standard prescribes what students must do to demonstrate their knowledge and is reflected in the verbs in the standard (i.e., identify, compare and contrast, analyze). The cognitive demand is often also referred to as the “rigor” of the standard.

All three Cs of a standard must be addressed in a unit, lesson or video (i.e., a “citation”) within the material in order for educators to consider the material “aligned” to the standard. If the material does not address all three Cs of the standard, then students will not learn all the knowledge and skills the standard requires, and their test scores will reflect the material’s deficit.

Bottom Line: If your material addresses the standards your students did not master, you then must further determine whether the particular units, lessons, or videos that teachers assigned within the material are aligned to those standards. If they are not aligned, then students missed the test questions associated with those standards because they did not learn the knowledge and skills those standards required.

Students cannot learn what they are not taught. If your students’ test scores reflect a pattern of low performance on questions associated with a standard or group of standards, use the two-step process explained above to determine whether your materials may be to blame. If your materials do not address or the citations that were assigned are not aligned to those standards, then your students did not learn all of the knowledge and skills those standards require and their test scores reflect the materials’ deficits.

Jackie Lain is the founder and president of Learning List. Ms. Lain formerly served as an Associate Executive Director of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and as TASB’s Director of Governmental Relations. Follow her on Twitter: @JackieLainLL.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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