When we had to close schools in response to COVID-19 in Daviess County, Kentucky, our priority as a district was to first make sure students, families, and faculty could remain healthy and safe. After that, our task was to make sure teachers and students had what they needed to begin remote learning.
Like so many other districts, we were figuring things out in the moment. We began by seeking out electronic resources and tools that would allow students to engage in an online format. Much of our coaching time was dedicated to researching the virtual platforms our curricula providers were utilizing and fielding teacher questions regarding those platforms. Several of our state and national colleagues were building menus of online resources, and we joined them in that work.
Teachers were eager to teach students remotely, but it was important to present standards-aligned options. Just because something works online doesn’t mean it’s good for students. Our technology departments wanted to be ahead of the curve in implementing solutions for schools, but we had to take a hard stand on the kinds of solutions considered. The need to balance speed with quality was a challenge.
One thing we didn’t have to figure out was our core curriculum. Because we were already using high-quality instructional materials, we were confident that the content was well designed to enhance a teacher’s ability to facilitate student learning, differentiate, and build knowledge. Though adapting our standards-aligned math and English language arts (ELA) instructional materials wasn’t easy, we were determined to continue using high-quality curricula because of the critical role it plays for students and teachers.
The Daviess County school district has been using high-quality instructional materials for over three years. Our teachers are skilled in leveraging their curriculum to support students thanks largely to the efforts of Jana Beth Francis, our assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. She led the charge to create professional learning for instructional coaches designed around the materials, highlighting the importance of increasing challenge through grade levels.
Digging into the digital details of our aligned materials
Our district has been using EdReports for some time to help identify quality curricula, and Jana Bryant (one of the co-authors of this blog) even helped to develop its math review tools. Last spring, we were excited when EdReports rolled out their enhanced reports with technology information. These reports meant that we didn’t have to spend precious time researching all of the materials used within our district to get vital information about product usability.
The enhanced reports have been vital in our ability to understand the capabilities of our aligned materials. We took this resource and used it to measure the effectiveness of all the digital tools that our district was considering for use.
The EdReports resource on understanding the tech features of our aligned materials helped us to establish a baseline for Daviess Countys’ remote learning capacity. The questions opened dialogue with the technology leads in our district about the importance of standards-alignment for digital products.
Working through the provided questionnaire and pairing it with the enhanced reports helped us develop our own set of questions and criteria to bring to meetings with the technology department. Sharing the information with the tech department gave us the leverage we needed to advocate for more collaboration in technology decisions.
The information in the enhanced reports helped us to identify where we can ask more from publishers and the digital tools they roll out. Some areas we’re focusing on include:
- More emphasis on the details of digital support. EdReports’ enhanced reports leads with an “Usability Snapshot” intended to address the most pressing support questions. What we would like to see from publishers is more information about how to adapt. In ELA, how do we avoid copyright infringement yet still offer students texts and decodables to utilize at home?
- Video content that supports individual and group learning requirements of the curriculum. The enhanced reports poses this question: Are there tutorials, videos, or other integrated supports in the materials to help parents/guardians to understand and/or utilize the materials? The publisher responses were widely varied. Some publishers offer nothing and others offer introductory videos and summary videos that teachers can easily sync into their current lessons.
- Varying levels and layers of resources for students at different grade-levels. The enhanced reports include a section called “Technical Support.” This section helps teachers to understand what digital capacity is needed to use the materials well. As we all grow and learn in our digital capacity, we would be interested to see more detailed information about how easy products are for students to navigate. Some questions to consider in the future include: What supports are available to help students learn digital skills needed to utilize remote learning tools? How are grade-level specific supports designed to scale up as students evolve?
One of the many reasons we trust EdReports and their resources is because they have a system of continuously improving their reports and responding to the needs of districts. We know that as the field develops clearer asks in terms of technical support, EdReports will adjust its reports based on our needs and the latest research available.
Building off our foundation of quality curricula
After a year into this pandemic, teachers who have access to quality materials are still using them. Our emphasis is ensuring that students are receiving the same level of quality activities that directly align with our materials regardless of the learning environment.
We are proud of the work we’ve done in Daviess County. We know we have to keep pushing forward and advocating for the continued use of high-quality curricula that can support our teachers and students to accelerate learning. Doing so is vital to creating a future where all students have the support they need to prepare for college and careers.