School & District Management

How Are Teachers Using EngageNY’s Reading and Math Materials?

By Liana Loewus — March 27, 2017 4 min read
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EngageNY, the online library of open reading and math materials developed by New York state, has proven popular—surprisingly so.

A nationally representative survey of teachers, conducted by RAND in 2015, found that 30 percent of math teachers and more than 25 percent of English/language arts teachers nationally are using the program in some way. The numbers were higher in states that are using the common core and similar standards.

In fact, the site has had more than 17 million users and 66 million downloads since the resources went online in 2011, according to the most recent numbers from the state education department.

A new RAND study digs into the why’s and how’s of EngageNY’s popularity.

The researchers looked at the prior findings from the American Teacher Panel (both the survey and interviews) as well as data from Google Analytics. They found:

The math materials are being used much more often than the ELA materials. Between January 2015 and July 2016, the mathematics content had about 9.7 million page views, compared to about 2.5 million for the ELA materials.

The grades 3-5 math materials are the most frequently used. All of the K-8 materials are used more frequently than the high school materials, which are the least popular. That may be because students are tested every year between grades 3-8, said Kaufman, so “it makes more sense for teachers to be digging into curriculum in those grades.” (The chart below shows math downloads from the 18-month period specified above.)

The majority of teachers who are using EngageNY materials say they’re doing so at the urging of their district. “It’s not the case that teachers are just going online all the time and finding these,” said Julia Kaufman, the report’s lead author. Between 80 and 90 percent of teachers indicated their districts required or recommended they use the materials.

Teachers are modifying the materials to fit their classroom needs. “They don’t just use the materials as is, they change them, they adapt them,” said Kaufman. “Just because all these teachers are using EngageNY doesn’t mean you’re going to
see the same instruction in all those classrooms.” Interviews with teachers showed that many adapted the pacing because they couldn’t complete an entire lesson in the time available.

Teachers use the materials because they align to standards—not just because they’re free. Teachers tended to say state standards and district guidelines influenced their use of EngageNY. They were less likely to say they used it because of its “availability.”

ELA teachers are more likely than math teachers to use the curriculum comprehensively. When asked whether they used the teacher’s guide and entire lesson plans, ELA teachers were significantly more likely than their math counterparts to say they do so “daily” or “often.” The report explains that may simply be due to the differences between the common-core math and ELA standards. In math, teachers can pull tasks and problems related to a particular topic. “ELA standards are not organized by topic area in the same way,” it says. “Instead, students are expected to learn reading, speaking, writing, and listening skills that become progressively more advanced over time. Such standards do not lend themselves to teachers ‘picking and choosing.’”

The majority of users are, not surprisingly, from New York—but there’s evidence that teachers in all states are using the materials. About 65 percent of ELA downloads and 50 percent of math downloads were from within New York state. But there were also downloads from states like Virginia and Texas that never adopted the common core. (The data here are imperfect because Google Analytics uses a sampling algorithm.)

Pros and Cons for Teaching

Kaufman noted that while teachers seem to agree that EngageNY supports them in teaching the content in the common core, many “don’t love it.”

Bobson Wong, who teaches algebra and geometry at Bayside High School in New York City and is a Math for America master teacher, said he was somewhat reliant on EngageNY when the common core was first rolled out in his state because there were so few resources aligned to the standards. Now that he’s more familiar with the standards, he devises his own lessons and mainly uses EngageNY’s math program, Eureka Math, to find problems for his students. “It’s a great resource, particularly for challenging problems,” he said. “The bad news is that a lot of the problems are very high level. ... It feels like it was written by a college professor.”

He confirmed that many teachers are making changes based on their own classroom needs. “Pretty much everyone I know is modifying it to some extent,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who takes EngageNY and says, ‘I’m going to start with EngageNY lesson one and do it from beginning to end.’”

The fact that the curriculum is an open resource, and can legally be altered and shared, is a boon, he said. “One of the great things about EngageNY is this was a curriculum where they actually made things in [Microsoft] Word files—not PDFs,” he said. “So teachers can make things how they want. ... I have a lot of problems with the organization and the level of difficulty of EngageNY, but the openness is really important.”

And it’s worth noting that despite its relative popularity, EngageNY is still, for some teachers, simply not on their radar. Ilana Garon, a veteran high school English teacher in New York City, explained in an email that she and her colleagues design their own curricula, and have a lot of autonomy in choosing the books and units they teach.

“I’ve heard the words ‘EngageNY’ thrown around,” she wrote, “but I honestly know nothing about it.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.