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Giving California School Districts the Tools to Transform Their Students’ Learning

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The use of higher-quality instructional materials in schools has been shown to improve math achievement and close achievement gaps. However, the curriculum selection process can be time-intensive, and the immense number of materials on the market can make it difficult for decision-makers to determine which curriculum is best for their students. 

Our team at The Decision Lab has previously tried to map out this choice overload environment for instructional materials in another research project. After that initiative was complete, we realized there was still more work to be done to ensure that school districts are able to make evidence-based decisions about curriculum purchasing. We set out to develop and test some real-world solutions to the problem.

On the ground in California 

California has more K-12 students than any other U.S. State, many of whom are Latinx, Black, and low-income students. California updated their formal math materials adoption list in 2014, with the next scheduled update not arriving until 2024. In the interim, many school boards were hesitant to choose new math materials without up-to-date guidelines. 

In order to help districts prepare for their upcoming adoption process, the California Curriculum Collaborative (CalCurriculum), composed of Pivot Learning and EdReports, recruited a cohort of 12 California school districts to test a number of interventions with. The goal of the program was to provide training sessions and workshops focused on increasing capacity within their district adoption teams to identify a high-quality curriculum in their next cycle. 

Supporting evidence-based decision-making

TDL’s role in supporting the cohort learning model was two-fold: research support by way of evidence, and developing behavioral interventions for district adoption processes.

In order to understand the problems districts face in curriculum selection, we developed research-gathering instruments for the cohort, including interviews, focus groups, and survey protocols. These methods allowed us to give voice to educational actors on the ground — the people who were actually tasked with making math curriculum selections. We also developed and reviewed pre- and post-cohort surveys to more accurately understand how our research activities were shifting participants’ attitudes about curriculum selection. 

Drawing from the knowledge gathered on adoption processes, TDL developed resources to help district leaders overcome common barriers they experience in arriving at a decision. These were presented to districts during the cohort to aid them in their math adoption processes.

Transforming math material adoption processes

After engaging in the cohort, participating districts were far better positioned to adopt higher-quality math materials. Districts reported that participating in the cohort taught them how to run a more comprehensive curriculum adoption process, as well as how to more thoughtfully engage stakeholders (including parents, teachers, and students). 

Our collaboration with CalCurriculum and the California Department of Education resulted in evidence-based recommendations for both California and national school districts. If you’re interested in reading more about our collaboration with CalCurriculum and the resulting recommendations, you can read the full report here

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