Instructional Materials

Overview

Instructional Materials

Why Align Instructional Materials to College- and Career- Readiness Standards?

In recent years, states across the nation have adopted K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in ELA and math. As a result, states now have a stronger foundation from which to improve student achievement and boost graduates’ readiness for postsecondary education and the workforce. To implement these standards, educators—teachers, school and district leaders, and other personnel who support instruction—need to learn more about the standards and instructional strategies for teaching them. Read about state efforts to provide professional learning to educators in SREB’s 2016 reports.

Educators also need high-quality instructional materials that are aligned to state standards, to help them provide students with consistently rigorous, coherent instruction. As Brookings Institution scholars Chingos and Whitehurst noted in a 2012 report, students learn both through interactions with people, and through learning experiences mediated by instructional materials, such as textbooks, workbooks, tests and instructional software. High-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials can help to reduce variability in the content and quality of instruction students experience, even when accounting for the differences in how individual teachers may use them.

Studies have shown the impact of using high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials on student achievement. A 2017 Brookings Institution study of textbooks in California and a 2016 Harvard University study of textbook use and instruction in five states (including two SREB states) found significantly higher student achievement in classrooms using certain textbooks versus others. A 2017 meta-analysis of research on the effect of curriculum materials, conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Center for Research and Reform in Education, found that curricular materials have a critical impact on students’ academic success, and that the cumulative effect of exposure to high-quality materials across a student’s academic career can be significant.

Chingos and Whitehurst also noted that making better choices about instructional materials is relatively inexpensive and easy, compared to other state-level efforts to improve teaching and learning, such as reforming teacher preparation, teacher selection and teacher evaluation systems.

However, as researchers at the Fordham Institute (2016), RAND (2016), the Center on Education Policy (2014), and the Education Week Research Center (2016) have noted, teachers often do not have instructional materials that are aligned to their state’s college- and career-readiness standards.

Many of the educators SREB interviewed for this study confirmed that gaps exist in the availability of materials aligned to their standards. Interviewees reported that as educators seek to fill those gaps, they need resources and assistance to build their understanding of college- and career-readiness standards and related instructional strategies, and to enhance their skills in designing, selecting and using instructional materials to help all students master the standards. 

SREB Benchmarking Reports: Overview

As part of its initiative to benchmark readiness standards, SREB staff worked with representatives from SREB states and national experts to identify the following three areas of action through which SEAs can provide leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that align to state K-12 standards in ELA and math.  

  1. Establishing clear conventions—criteria and processes—for identifying high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials
  2. Supporting local efforts to identify and use aligned instructional materials by providing: 
    • guidance for building educators’ knowledge about the standards, instructional strategies, and developing and selecting instructional tools;
    • instructional materials that educators can access on-demand to fill gaps in local materials and provide instruction in the classroom; and
    • professional learning and technical assistance to build local knowledge and skills, and support educator use of aligned materials.
  3. Using data to continuously improve state efforts

SREB developed a list of actions that demonstrate state leadership and support in each area. These actions, or “look-fors,” guided data collection and the analysis of state efforts. All participating states provided districts, schools and educators with leadership and support in each area. State efforts fell into one of three levels of implementation: minimal, essential or strong.

To read more about the “look-fors,” participating states and methodology, go to the full report.

Area 1: Establishing Clear Conventions for Identifying High-Quality, Standards-Aligned Instructional Materials

In 2014-15 and 2015-16, nine of the 15 states had established criteria to review instructional materials for alignment to college- and career-readiness standards, which they had verified fully and accurately reflected the content and rigor of their state standards. Ten states used criteria that were consistent for textbooks and other instructional materials that the SEA offered.

State processes for reviewing, developing and selecting aligned materials varied in frequency. At the time of the study, eight states had conducted their most recent state-level textbook review process sufficiently timely to ensure that the textbooks they adopted for use in classrooms in 2014-15 and 2015-16 aligned to then-current standards. In five states, however, the timing of the state textbook adoption cycle in these years did not keep pace with changes in state standards in at least one content area. State-adopted textbooks had met old standards but did not necessarily reflect then-current standards. Yet, educators were required to implement then-current standards. Delays in textbook review lead to potential misalignment in content and rigor between state-adopted textbooks and the instruction implicit in the standards that state leaders expected teachers to deliver in the classroom.

In 11 states, the SEA used clear processes to develop, select and update items at least annually for the online repository of instructional materials it offered educators. This practice ensured that items posted in 2014-15 and 2015-16 had been reviewed for alignment to the standards educators implemented in those years.

Four states—Florida, Louisiana, Maryland and North Carolina—undertook strong efforts in this area. Read about Louisiana’s efforts below. To read about the other strong state efforts, click on the states in the map above. To read more about the trends in the region, read the full report.

Highlights from a state doing strong work in Area 1: Louisiana

  • Consistent, externally verified criteria: The Louisiana Department of Education established consistent criteria to review textbooks and benchmark assessments, and to develop, review and select materials offered to educators online. To ensure that the criteria accurately reflected the content and rigor of the Louisiana State Standards, the department developed rubrics based on Student Achievement Partners’ Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET) and Assessment Evaluation Tool (AET), and Achieve’s Open Educational Resource (OER) and Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) rubrics. These tools are nationally recognized as clear and accurate for assessing alignment to college- and career-readiness standards.
  • Frequent review of textbooks: According to state board of education policy, Louisiana did not adopt textbooks at the state level. However, the department developed the Curricular Resources Annotated Review process to provide local leaders with free and reliable information to support their efforts to select effective materials to meet local needs. The process assessed the alignment of textbooks and benchmark assessments to the Louisiana State Standards. The process involved public comment, pre-screening of materials by the department, review and ranking by department specialists and teachers trained through the department’s Teacher Leader initiative, followed by further public comment and final ranking by the department. The department reviewed materials on a rolling basis. ELA and math textbooks were last reviewed in 2015. In 2016, the department began the next review process. Such frequent reviews have enabled Louisiana to provide up-to-date information for local leaders. The department reported that in 2016, more than 70 percent of districts had selected materials identified through the review process as high quality and aligned.
  • Frequent review of online, on-demand instructional materials: The department’s process to develop and review materials for its Teacher Support Toolbox included monthly item development by trained Louisiana teacher leaders and periodic item reviews by department specialists.

In 2016, RAND reported findings from its 2015 national survey of educators. Teachers in Louisiana showed notably higher levels of knowledge about their state standards than did their peers nationwide. Louisiana teachers also reported using materials and teaching strategies that are aligned to college- and career-readiness standards at a higher rate than did their peers in other states. The researchers noted that these higher levels of understanding and practice were likely the result of the department’s efforts to provide educators with continually updated and coordinated sets of information and tools to support the local alignment of instructional materials.

Recommendations

Two clear recommendations for state leaders emerged from SREB’s analysis of state efforts.

  1. Verify that the criteria for developing and selecting instructional materials fully and accurately reflect the content and rigor of the state college- and career-readiness standards and that consistent criteria are applied to textbooks and other instructional materials.
  2. Use regular and frequent processes that involve educators to develop and select instructional materials that align to the standards educators are responsible for implementing, and that address educator needs for tools to deliver rigorous instruction to all students.

Why are these recommendations critical?

  • While textbook publishers claim that their products align to college- and career-readiness standards, experts and educators have challenged some of these claims. Educators need tools and support to verify textbook alignment for themselves.
  • Participants in state and local processes to develop and select instructional materials have different levels of familiarity with state standards, and varying amounts of experience in curriculum development and evaluation. They need tools and support to develop a shared understanding of how instructional materials can consistently reflect the content and rigor of college- and career-readiness standards.
  • Teachers often find and create their own instructional materials. They need expertise and tools to select and develop materials that are fully aligned to their state’s standards.
  • State standards change frequently, and textbook vendors and OER developers continually make new materials available. Educators need access to current materials, that they know the state has reviewed for quality and alignment to the state standards that educators are responsible for implementing.

Area 2: Supporting Local Efforts to Identify and Use Aligned Instructional Materials 

In 2014-15 and 2015-16, SEAs in the 15 states offered educators guidance to help educators learn about state standards, instructional strategies and aligning instructional materials, though the number of pieces of guidance states offered varied widely. The SEAs also offered instructional materials, ranging from a few items to a very large number and variety of items, to help educators fill gaps in the local curriculum and deliver classroom instruction.

The professional learning and the technical assistance SEAs offered varied widely, with some states providing very little. Five states provided extensive, integrated and sustained opportunities for teams from most, if not all, districts in the state to build knowledge and skills in selecting, designing and using instructional materials aligned to state standards.

Six states undertook strong efforts in this area—Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and North Carolina. Read about Alabama’s efforts below. To read about the other strong state efforts, click on the states in the map above. To read more about the trends in the region, read the full report.

Highlights from a state doing strong work in Area 2: Alabama

  • Extensive guidance: The Alabama State Department of Education offered extensive online guidance to help educators build their knowledge about the standards and instruction and strengthen their skills in instructional materials alignment. Items included the Guide for Professional Development/Transition Planning for Implementation of the College- and Career-Ready Standards and extensive guidance for differentiating instruction for diverse learners.
  • Comprehensive, user-friendly instructional materials: The department’s Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX) offered an extensive, user-friendly online bank of instructional materials for educators to access on demand to help them fill gaps in local curriculum and provide instruction in the classroom. Offerings included large collections of model lesson and unit plans, and the Insight Tool. The Insight tool enabled users to map out a full year of coordinated instruction and assessment. Then based on the map, users could select aligned units and lessons from ALEX. The department also provided an online Scantron system for schools and districts to select aligned formative assessments.
  • Coordinated, sustained support services: The department offered multiple types of integrated professional learning and technical assistance to support local instructional materials alignment efforts. They included quarterly professional learning meetings, ongoing since 2011, for leadership teams from all 136 districts. Regional support staff, including representatives from the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative and Regional In-Service Centers, provided regular technical assistance to districts to support implementation of their new knowledge and skills. The department also provided quarterly technical assistance to curriculum and instruction directors from all districts. Teachers at schools in need of improvement received training on Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) practices and tools, and content area educators could attend summer teaching academies on evaluating the alignment of instructional materials and assessments.

Recommendations

Two clear recommendations for state leaders emerged from SREB’s analysis of state efforts.

  1. Offer educators a substantial number and variety of guidance documents and aligned instructional materials. Ensure that the SEA’s online resource repository is easy for educators to find and navigate.   
  2. Provide educators with integrated and sustained professional learning and technical assistance to support instructional materials alignment efforts statewide. Expand or create these services to fit local contexts.

Why are these recommendations critical?

  • Educators have access to an increasing stream of OER on the Internet. They need a manageable set of resources and materials that have been expertly selected and developed for their state standards. This will save educators time and effort, and will help ensure that all educators statewide have access to consistently high-quality materials.  
  • SREB interviewees stressed that many educators felt underprepared to choose wisely from the vast array of OER or to develop their own aligned materials. Educators need regular, sustained opportunities to study the standards and instructional strategies for all students, build skills in materials alignment, and collaborate with others to improve. 

Area 3: Using Data to Continuously Improve State Efforts

In 2014-15 and 2015-16, SEA leaders in nine states reported gathering multiple types of data on at least an annual basis. Types of data include the following:

  • educator use of state guidance and materials, and participation in state support services
  • educator perceptions of the quality of the state’s guidance, materials and support services
  • needs of educators for aligned teaching materials
  • the impact of educator use of, and participation in, the state’s offerings such as changes in adult knowledge and practice, and student outcomes
  • local practices for selecting and developing textbooks and other instructional materials

All 15 states reported that the SEA regularly used the data to inform at least one key aspect of the agency’s work to support instructional materials alignment statewide. In 11 states, SEA leaders met regularly with educators to discuss data, and in seven states SEA leaders consulted with partners, such as regional centers and universities.

Few states collected two types of data that SREB considers critical for informing decisions on allocating funding, time and effort to improve teaching and learning: local curriculum alignment practices, and the impact of using state-provided or recommended resources and support on educator practice and student achievement.

Eleven states exhibited strong efforts in this area—Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Of these, four collected data on the impact of state-provided materials and services on educator knowledge and practice, or student achievement. Read about Tennessee’s efforts below. To read about the other strong state efforts, click on the states in the map above. To read more about the trends in the region, read the full report.

Highlights from a state doing strong work in Area 3: Tennessee

  • Multiple types of data gathered regularly: The Tennessee Department of Education frequently gathered all five types of data that SREB deemed key for strong state leadership. The department tracked trends in educator usage of the eduToolbox (formerly TNCore) resource repository, and educator usage of information in the department’s bi-weekly update emails. The department measured educator perceptions of the quality of the state’s offerings, and identified emerging educator needs through regular focus groups and meetings with educator advisory groups. Notably, the department also evaluated the impact of teacher participation in its summer trainings, examining both teacher and student outcome data. Additionally, the department gathered data on local curriculum alignment practices through annual district textbook selection reports and a statewide survey of districts. The department gathered these data in cycles ranging from bi-weekly to annually.
  • Multiple uses of data: The department used the data it gathered in three ways for continuous improvement. These included developing and refining support services based on educator needs, developing and enhancing the department’s online resource repositories, and determining how to better promote and increase educator use of the department’s online resources.
  • Inclusive routines for using data: In 2015, the department reorganized and developed strategic plans to guide its initiatives. Staff from various offices across the agency served on teams that met quarterly to measure progress on those plans. Additionally, teams at different levels of leadership within the department—the commissioner’s executive leadership team, the senior leadership team of directors from multiple offices, and the academic leadership team of staff from across the department and regional offices — met on an ongoing basis to analyze data, identify needs and plan initiatives. Educator advisory groups met quarterly with the commissioner to provide advice on the agency’s progress and discuss educator needs. The department also involved key partners in its analysis and use of data, for example, when department staff collaborated with Lipscomb University to design the eduToolbox website.

Recommendation

One clear recommendation for state leaders emerged from SREB’s analysis of state efforts.

  1. Foster more use of data and research by the SEA, educators and partners. Promote access to high-quality information and research on the standards alignment and effectiveness of available instructional materials and professional development on aligning materials. Study the alignment and effectiveness of the state’s own materials and services.

Why is this recommendation critical?

  • Relatively little rigorous research has been conducted on the effectiveness of instructional materials or professional development on materials alignment in improving teaching practice and student learning.   
  • Without rigorous studies of whether resources and training lead to changes in educator practice and student learning, policymakers have little evidence to guide decisions about how to improve.

Moving Forward: Support for States to Implement the Recommendations

This section of the report brings together the recommendations from each action area, describes support SEAs may need to carry out the recommendations, and provides examples of tools and organizations that may help state leaders as they address the recommendations.

Recommendations based on state trends

Area 1: Establishing clear conventions for identifying high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials

  • Verify that the criteria for developing and selecting instructional materials fully and accurately reflect the content and rigor of the state college- and career-readiness standards, and that consistent criteria are applied to textbooks and other instructional materials.
  • Use regular and frequent processes that involve educators to develop and select instructional materials that align to the standards educators are responsible for implementing, and address educator needs for tools to deliver rigorous instruction to all students.

Area 2: Supporting local efforts to identify and use aligned instructional materials

  • Offer educators a substantial number and variety of guidance documents and aligned instructional materials. Ensure that the SEA’s online resource repository is easy for educators to find and navigate.  
  • Provide educators with integrated and sustained professional learning and technical assistance to support instructional materials alignment statewide. Expand or create these services to fit local contexts.  

Area 3: Using data to continuously improve state efforts

  • Foster more use of data and research by the SEA, educators and partners. Promote access to high-quality research on the standards alignment and effectiveness of available instructional materials and professional development on aligning materials. Study the alignment and effectiveness of the state’s own materials and services.

Support states need to implement the recommendations

Regardless of the many differences among the 15 states, SEA leaders agreed their agencies continue to need the following types of support to provide the resources and services that educators need to implement the standards with fidelity and improve student achievement:

  • Additional time, staff, expertise and professional development to dedicate more capacity to needed tasks;
  • Opportunities to collaborate with others on aligning instructional materials to college- and career-readiness standards, including entities within their state such as regional education centers, institutes of higher education and educators, as well as leaders in other states and expert partners; and
  • Funding, as available, to help establish and sustain needed efforts.

SEA leaders noted that these types of support will also enhance other aspects of state work to help all students achieve college and career readiness, including the following.

  • Better integrate the SEA’s work on curriculum with other efforts, such as professional learning, educator effectiveness, assessment, accountability, high school course pathways and graduation requirements. 
  • Enhance the SEA’s communication with educators to increase educator involvement in state initiatives and their use of instructional resources and support offered or recommended by the state.
  • Foster more collaborative learning, problem solving and improvement among educators in classrooms, school buildings, and districts within states as well as across states.

Examples of organizations and tools to help states

As states strive to carry out the recommendations, they may draw on the types of tools and organizations that were helpful to states in this study in 2014-15 and 2015-16, listed below.

  • Nationally recognized tools to guide the alignment of instructional materials to college- and career-readiness standards, and the organizations that offered them free of charge
    • IMET and AET tools from Student Achievement Partners
    • Materials review tools from EdReports.org
    • EQuIP and OER rubrics from Achieve, as well as the Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and ELA/Literacy that Achieve developed with the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, Council of the Great City Schools and National Association of State Boards of Education
  • Partner organizations to help SEAs enhance their tools, services and programs
    • Regional education centers within a state, and technical assistance partners such as SREB, to help design and deliver tools and services to large numbers of districts, schools and educators
    • Organizations that facilitate collaborative instructional materials development and dissemination, such as Open Up Resources (formerly the K-12 OER Collaborative), LearnZillion, the Smarter Balanced and the PARCC assessment consortia, and the U.S. Department of Education along with multiple organizations such as Amazon Education, EdModo and Microsoft, as part of the #GoOpen initiative.
  • Research experts to assist with evaluations of state initiatives
    • Non-profit groups such as the SERVE Center, Friday Institute, Mass Insight Education, and Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development
    • Institutions of higher education
    • Regional educational laboratories, federally funded to support states with research and evaluation
  • State legislatures to fund the following types of support
    • Staff positions such as content area specialists at the SEA and regional centers
    • Professional learning and technical assistance services to build local capacity to develop, review, select and use instructional materials that are high quality and aligned to state standards
    • Local purchases of instructional materials aligned to state standards
    • Technology to enhance materials alignment and dissemination efforts, such as SEA online resource repositories and online professional learning applications
  • Federal funding to enhance state and local efforts. ESSA of 2015 provides states with flexibility in structuring and funding efforts in professional development, school improvement and educator effectiveness. This flexibility gives states an opportunity to reimagine how to best help districts, schools and educators align their instructional materials and use aligned materials effectively in the classroom.
  • External funders to enable states to take action and sustain initiatives in their own states and across states, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation and Carnegie Foundation
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West Virginia – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the West Virginia Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Virginia – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Virginia Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Tennessee – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Tennessee Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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South Carolina – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the South Carolina Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Oklahoma – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Oklahoma State Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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North Carolina – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Mississippi – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Mississippi Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Maryland – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Maryland State Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Louisiana – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Louisiana Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math. 

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Kentucky – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Kentucky Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Georgia – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Georgia Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math. 

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Florida – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Florida Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Delaware – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Delaware Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Arkansas – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Arkansas Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.

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Alabama – Instructional Materials

In a study of 15 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, researchers at SREB identified the degree to which the Alabama State Department of Education provided leadership and support for the statewide use of high-quality instructional materials that aligned to the state’s K-12 college- and career-readiness standards in English language arts (ELA) and math.