The Rise of Standards-Aligned Instructional Materials for U.S. K–12 Mathematics and English Language Arts Instruction

Findings from the 2021 American Instructional Resources Survey

by Julia H. Kaufman, Sy Doan, Maria-Paz Fernandez

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Research Questions

  1. What proportion of U.S. K–12 public teachers were using standards-aligned curriculum materials for their mathematics and ELA instruction during the 2020–2021 school year?
  2. How did the use of standards-aligned materials among K–12 public teachers in 2020–2021 compare with use in the 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 school years, both nationally and in IMPD Network states?
  3. Were digital curriculum materials available to students during the 2020–2021 school year?

Much research has noted the misalignment between kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) academic standards and curriculum materials used in classrooms. Many states and education organizations have been pushing for greater use of standards-aligned curriculum, especially during the past several years.

In this report, the authors share results regarding K–12 public teachers' use of standards-aligned curriculum materials for their mathematics and English language arts instruction from school year 2018–2019 to 2020–2021. They specifically investigate how teachers nationwide compare with teachers in 13 states participating in the High-Quality Instructional Materials and Professional Development (IMPD) Network. The IMPD Network includes states that are focused on improving use of standards-aligned, high-quality instructional materials, including Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. The authors also examine whether curriculum materials that teachers used were available to students at their school in digital form for the 2020–2021 school year.

Key Findings

  • Use of standards-aligned materials among U.S. teachers was greater for mathematics than for ELA, although high proportions of high school teachers reported use of unaligned or unrated materials for both subjects.
  • Use of standards-aligned materials is rising across the United States and particularly among teachers in states that are participating in the IMPD Network.
  • The vast majority of teachers reported that their students had access to a curriculum material with digital components.


  • States that wish to encourage more use of standards-aligned materials should consider policies that could potentially incentive that use.
  • States and school systems still have work to do to encourage use of standards-aligned materials among teachers.
  • States with notable shifts in use of standards-aligned materials should document the policies that may have led to those shifts and examine whether those shifts result in learning improvements.
  • Digital access to fully aligned materials for all students will continue to be important and should be a priority for states, school systems, and publishers.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Overdeck Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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