Sunday, November 11, 2007

Aligning Our Textbook to State Standards

After adopting a new textbook earlier this year, Holt, Rinehart and Wilson's Algebra 1, 2 and Geometry, my school district hired a company to evaluate it. The company, Evans Newton Inc (ENI), found the correlation between the textbook and our state standards. When I heard that we would have a training where they would report their findings, I immediately had a question: Why didn't we do this before we bought the books? Doesn't it make sense that we should have known six months ago whether or not our textbook actually covers state standards?

"It is very expensive," I was told, and thus we couldn't afford to do the same with the different textbooks we were considering in the spring. Great, I thought: we're short on teachers, instructional technology and quality software to help students catch up on basic skills and we're spending thousands of dollars to tell us whether we should have bought the book we're stuck with for just under a decade.

Luckily, learning our textbook was only 67% "highly" correlated to our state standards was not the only point of the training. After absorbing the details of the report, we would try to "fill the gaps" that were poorly covered by the text with other resources over several more days of training. Unlike many of the trainings I've attended in my career, this one is absolutely necessary and beneficial. We do need to spend some time going through the resources we have available to supplement the textbook, and it's nice to be paid to do so. This is, of course, something good teachers do all the time; most textbooks across the content areas are useless as teaching tools by design.

Unfortunately, there were some inherent flaws in this process:
  1. ENI looked only at the textbook itself and left out all of the supplementary materials that are, in reality, part of the textbook (standardized test prep, videos, websites, lab manuals, reteaching and assessment workbooks, etc).
  2. Some of the objectives that ENI said were completely covered by the textbook, were, in my opinion, severely lacking. For example, some sections we've already covered just didn't have enough practice for challenging objectives, and I actually have been using the student workbooks from our old Prentice Hall textbook!
  3. On the other hand, ENI said the textbook was lacking in several areas that are simply not a priority for us because they're not tested, which leads us to...
  4. The evaluation process compared the textbook and each subject's state standards, not the objectives that are actually tested in grades 9 to 11. So a lot of what's supposedly lacking is in areas that aren't tested until the next year or in some cases not at all.
This doesn't mean the training isn't helpful; most of our math teachers were coming to the same conclusions and adjusting what they were doing to focus more on what we need to help our students succeed on April's TAKS test. We will continue our work and put together some excellent resources to help our students.

Overall, I can't help but be bothered by one overarching issue: Why aren't the states, colleges and universities, or education-focused non-profits doing this work for free? Isn't this particular service directly beneficial to student learning by facilitating better curriculum through research and collaboration? It angers me that the public cannot see fit to create the kind of curriculum materials or professional development our educators need for free and that education profiteers jump at the opportunity to fill these needs and extort districts out of millions of dollars every year. This is not an indictment of ENI for doing their jobs, but if this country really cared about education, their jobs wouldn't need to exist.