- Simply adopting a new textbook, even if it’s in line with the Common Core State Standards, does not result in an increase in student achievement, according to a study released Monday by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.
Focusing on elementary math textbooks in a sample of more than 6,000 schools across six states — California, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington — the researchers found the average growth in math achievement in 4th and 5th grade was about the same, regardless of which textbook the schools were using. “Notably, no single text stands out as a consistent high- or low-performer in multiple states, nor in multiple years,“ the researchers write.
They also found that only a quarter of the 1,200 teachers randomly surveyed said they use the official textbook to plan most of their lessons. Most reported using supplemental materials for instruction, either because the textbook didn’t cover the standards they were trying to teach or because they found it to be too easy or too hard for their students.
Experts have encouraged educators to take more active roles in reviewing, evaluating, adapting and even designing curricula. And previous research has shown that a strong curriculum can have a positive effect on student achievement.
But the researchers suggest that the support teachers receive in implementing a curriculum is also an important part of raising student performance. “It is possible that, with greater supports for classroom implementation, the advantages of specific curricula would emerge and we would see larger differences,” they write.
On average, the teachers surveyed said they received one day of training within that current school year and a total of four days related to using textbooks over the course of their careers. “Given districts’ investments in curricula, these do not seem like large expenditures of time or funding,” they write, adding that “those who want to hold on to the importance of curriculum need to be able to identify the level of support and training required for such curriculum changes to actually bear fruit in the classroom.” The Louisiana Department of Education, for example, has been recognized for having a systematic plan to train teachers across the state to support new educators in the area of curriculum.
The authors also address why previous studies found greater effects on achievement. One reason might be that it’s necessary to include more states and to collect data over a longer period of time to see bigger differences. This study included school years 2014–15 through 2016–17. Another possible explanation, they said, is that results differ for upper elementary grades. Previous studies were conducted in lower grades.