School Supports for Teachers' Implementation of State Standards

Findings from the American School Leader Panel

by Julia H. Kaufman, Tiffany Tsai

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Research Questions

  1. What instructional materials are required or recommended for use in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics classrooms?
  2. What do school leaders know about the content and approaches aligned with their state standards for ELA and mathematics, and how does that compare with teachers' knowledge about their standards?
  3. What factors might be connected to what school leaders know about their ELA and mathematics standards?

In the past decade, most states have adopted college and career readiness standards that are more rigorous than previous standards, and most of those standards are closely aligned with key tenets of the Common Core State Standards. Although researchers know something about teachers' perspectives and implementation of newer state standards, they know less about how schools support teachers' implementation of state standards. This report examines two key school supports that could help teachers address state standards in their instruction: curriculum requirements and school leader knowledge of standards.

Key findings highlighted in our report include: (1) the most commonly-required and recommended instructional materials for English language arts and mathematics are not always aligned closely with the major emphases of state standards; (2) majorities of school leaders could not identify reading approaches that are aligned with most state standards; (3) school leaders had particular difficulty with identifying standards-aligned mathematics topics at higher grade levels in their schools. In addition, school leaders who reported requirements or recommendations for standards-aligned instructional materials were also better able to identify standards-aligned reading approaches.

Our findings imply that states and districts should try to do more to ensure that the materials they recommend or require are closely aligned with their standards, as well as provide clear information about the materials that are most closely aligned with their standards. On a related note, our findings imply that school leaders need more training and support to better understand content and approaches aligned with their state standards.

Key Findings

  • School leaders' reports of the most commonly required or recommended ELA and mathematics instructional materials included many that are not aligned with key emphases in state standards.
  • Majorities of school leaders were unable to identify reading approaches most explicitly aligned with state standards for ELA and literacy. However, those who reported requirements or recommendations to use standards-aligned ELA instructional materials were better able to identify standards-aligned reading approaches.
  • School leaders had particular difficulty identifying standards-aligned mathematics topics at higher grade levels in their schools. Those who reported requirements or recommendations to use standards-aligned mathematics instructional materials were no more likely to identify content and approaches aligned with their mathematics standards compared with those not using standards-aligned mathematics materials.

Recommendations

  • States, school districts, and others who support school leaders can all play a role in improving school leaders' knowledge about their state standards and helping them become stronger instructional leaders.
  • States — as well as district and school leaders — should carefully consider whether materials being required or recommended in school districts are closely aligned with state standards.
  • To support use of standards-aligned instructional materials, states should consider providing more clear information about the materials that are most closely aligned with their standards, as well as materials that are less well aligned.
  • If school leaders are able to review and reflect on the key aspects of required or recommended instructional materials, they might be better able to support teachers' use of those materials.
  • School leaders need more training and support to better understand content and approaches aligned with their state standards.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Health and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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