More Teachers Say Their Curriculum Aligns to Standards. But It Still Falls Short

By Sarah Schwartz — November 15, 2022 3 min read
An open book with scattered letters, graphs, math symbols and shapes floating on a dark blue background.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Even as more teachers say that their curriculum materials are standards-aligned, they still identify some major shortcomings that they say make it harder to reach all students. And they’re still spending their own money to supplement the resources that their districts provide.

That’s according to a new research brief from the RAND Corporation, released this week.

The report highlights why tracking what materials teachers are using in the classroom is so complicated. Even when districts adopt new products, individual teachers retain a lot of control over how and when to implement those changes.

The report is the latest installment in the organization’s American Instructional Resources Survey, which tracks schools’ use of curriculum and other classroom materials. Researchers asked a nationally representative sample of 3,719 English/language-arts teachers and 2,680 math teachers about the materials they used and their perceptions of them.

Overall, the share of teachers that said they were using new materials during the 2021-22 school year decreased from previous years. Only 45 percent said they did so this past school year, compared to 56 percent of teachers in 2020-21 and pre-pandemic.

Still, the ones they were using were more likely to be standards-aligned than in past years. (The researchers designated materials as “standards-aligned” if they met the criteria set out by EdReports, a nonprofit that reviews curriculum for adherence to the Common Core State Standards and other factors including usability.) Half of respondents reported using materials that were standards-aligned, compared to 37 percent pre-pandemic and 36 percent in the 2020-21 school year.

“This is good news, and it reflects some of our prior work,” said Andrea Prado Tuma, a behavioral and social scientist at RAND, and the lead author on the report. “There’s this trend where it seems like standards-aligned materials are being taken up more and becoming more common.”

(Earlier this year, RAND released research findings showing that when states made high-quality materials adoption a priority, teachers were more likely to say their schools were using them.)

Teachers say even aligned curricula aren’t tailored enough

Still, teachers often felt that standards-aligned materials fell short in other ways.

More than half said that they needed materials that could better engage students, differentiate lessons for students at different levels, or provide more options for students with disabilities.

Teachers’ ambivalence showed up in their use patterns. Most teachers who used new curriculum materials this year—61 percent—used them for less than half of their instructional time. While most teachers said these new materials were purchased by their districts, teachers reported spending their own money on supplements. More than half said they spent at least $100 on materials in 2021-22. About one in four said they spent $300 or more.

In some cases, teachers might be using new materials less frequently because they’re supplemental, and not designed to be part of core instruction. But the researchers also hypothesize that it could be because teachers are continuing to use older materials, even if districts have purchased new options.

“Teachers like to combine materials, and they curate a selection of materials that they use,” said Prado Tuma. “I think the key here is the importance of having professional development.”

If teachers don’t have support or time for implementation, they might rely on older resources that they already know how to use well, Prado Tuma said.

That could explain some of the variance in different surveys of instructional materials use.

For example, the new RAND survey found a lot of variety in the new ELA materials that teachers said they were using—no one product claimed more than 5 percent of respondents.

But other surveys that ask about what programs teachers are using, regardless of when they were adopted, show more uniformity. A recent EdWeek Research Center poll showed that elementary ELA materials use is clustered around a few specific programs.

It’s unrealistic to expect that teachers won’t supplement district-provided resources—even “if you provide this great curriculum, and you provide training,” Prado Tuma said.

Schools can help teachers become better evaluators of quality, she added, by helping educators make choices that will complement and strengthen core programs, rather than detracting from them.


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Families & the Community Webinar
How Whole-Child Student Data Can Strengthen Family Connections
Learn how district leaders can use these actionable strategies to increase family engagement in their student’s education and boost their academic achievement.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
The School to Workforce Gap: How Are Schools Setting Students Up For Life & Lifestyle Success?
Hear from education and business leaders on how schools are preparing students for their leap into the workforce.
Content provided by Find Your Grind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum The World Cup as Teachable Moment? How One Teacher Approached It
It's not just a game: Geopolitics are inscribed into the soccer championship, giving teachers an opportunity to host rich discussions.
3 min read
Josh Sargent of the United States controls the ball during the World Cup, group B soccer match between the United States and Wales, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022.
Josh Sargent of the United States controls the ball during the a World Cup match between the United States and Wales in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 21.
Francisco Seco/AP
Curriculum Nearly 300 Books Removed From Schools Under Missouri's 'Sexually Explicit Materials' Law
Missouri's efforts to remove books from public schools—either temporarily or permanently—go farther than most.
5 min read
Banned books are visible at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. The books are banned in several public schools and libraries in the U.S., but young people can read digital versions from anywhere through the library. The Brooklyn Public Library offers free membership to anyone in the U.S. aged 13 to 21 who wants to check out and read books digitally in response to the nationwide wave of book censorship and restrictions.
Several titles in this display of books in at the Central Library in New York city are on Missouri's banned books list. The N.Y. library allows young people anywhere to read digital versions of the books.
Ted Shaffrey/AP
Curriculum Q&A Why Media Literacy Programs Need to Put a Spotlight on 'Stealth Advertising'
As advertising evolves, digital literacy education must change with it.
3 min read
Illustration of numerous computer windows overlapping with creepy eyeballs inside the close, open, and minimize circles within the various window screens.
Daniel Hertzberg for Education Week
Curriculum States Are Mandating Asian American Studies. What Should the Curriculum Look Like?
AAPI people's experiences are vast and diverse. Teaching about them accurately requires hard history, community engagement, and teacher training.
6 min read
People speak out against anti-asian hate following the recent mass shootings in Atlanta that left eight dead, including six Asian Americans on March 17, 2021 at Diversity Plaza in Queens, New York City. Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit social organization that tracks incidents of discrimination, hate and xenophobia against Asian Americans, said it recorded 3,795 anti-Asian hate incidents between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021.
People speak out against anti-Asian hate following mass shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six Asian Americans, in March 2021.
John Nacion/NurPhoto via AP