Coherent Instructional Systems

Rear view of teenage students raising hands in classroom, photo by Caiaimage/Chris Ryan/Getty Images

Photo by Caiaimage/Chris Ryan/Getty Images

Academic standards. Curriculum materials. Professional development. Learning communities. Teacher evaluations. Student assessments.

These are some of the key components that make up an instructional system. But how can schools and districts be confident that all components work together in ways that help teachers know what and how to teach?

Coherence in messaging is key when it comes to giving all students opportunities to master standards and experience academic success. To support student success, schools, districts, and states can intentionally design coherent instructional systems. What might it mean for a school or district to have a coherent instructional system?

  • All education components—from textbooks to teacher development to end-of-term tests—would support high-quality standards.
  • Teachers would know what standards to teach and how to teach them to the student populations they serve. Curriculum and professional learning opportunities support teachers in doing so.
  • Students would be assessed according to their mastery of the standards. Interim assessments aligned with a standards-based curriculum would help teachers gauge students’ progress and make instructional adjustments.
  • Professional learning supports and evaluations would to help educators use a standards-aligned curriculum and assessment data in ways that help all students succeed.

Comparing Instructional Systems

Want more examples of what it means to be in a coherent instructional system? Or an incoherent one? Drawing on their qualitative case study interviews with school leaders and teachers, RAND researchers developed a toolkit that guides district and school leaders to reflect upon and improve coherence within their instructional system. The toolkit includes illustrative vignettes of two teachers: one in a coherent system and one in an incoherent system.

Conceptualization of a standards-aligned coherent instructional system, graphic by RAND Corporation

Access the Toolkit and Read the Vignettes

Of course, education systems are complex; designing and implementing a coherent instructional system is no simple feat. RAND Education and Labor researchers are exploring how states, schools, and districts across the United States are successfully creating coherence to shed light on what works and what doesn’t to support best practices.


Educator Resources