How To Determine The Need to Renew Online Material Subscriptions

EdLeaders, EdTech, Leadership, Platforms & Data

By Jackie Lain

Increasingly, districts purchasing online or digital resources are choosing single- or multi-year subscriptions. In most cases, the subscription year coincides with the school year.

Thus, with one school year over and another yet to begin, districts face a Hamlet-like decision regarding many of their instructional materials: to renew or not to renew?

Teachers and administrators tasked with improving student outcomes must balance the decision to renew a subscription (or not) with the need for stable curriculum and the responsible management of district resources—not an easy feat.

In this era of data-driven instruction, educators have become increasingly savvy users of the data provided by standardized and benchmark tests. By evaluating assessment results, most educators are able to identify the standard or standards that their students did not master.

When trying to determine why students missed exam questions associated with a particular standard or group of standards, a good place to start is to examine the alignment of the materials used to teach those standards.

Use this two-step process to help you determine whether your instructional materials are fueling your students’ success or undermining it:

Step 1: Determine whether (or not) your resources address the standards your students missed on the test.

Not every resource is designed to address every standard. For example, supplemental products and test-prep materials often focus on a specific subset of standards. If teachers are using materials to teach a standard that the material does not address, and the teacher does not know where the material’s gaps are, then students will not learn the knowledge and skills the standard requires and their test scores will reflect it.

We visit with hundreds of districts and hear a lot about the materials they use. After hearing repeated negative comments about a particular online remedial math program, we reviewed it. Our review of the material’s alignment to the state standards instantly identified the problem: as a supplemental material, the product focused on a select group of standards; it did not even attempt to address 100% of the standards in each grade level.

Undoubtedly, many of the teachers who complained about the product’s effectiveness were inadvertently using the product to help students master standards the product did not address. No matter how much time the students spent using the product, they never learned the knowledge and skills those standards required and thus, they performed poorly on test questions associated with those standards.

Bottom Line: The publisher’s correlation that accompanies (or should accompany) each material identifies the standards the material claims to address. Check the publisher’s correlation to see whether the materials you are using address the standards your students did not master.

If your answer is “No,” then find other materials to fill in those gaps.

If your answer is “Yes,” proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Determine whether the particular lessons, pages or videos (contained within the material) align to the standards your students did not master.

If the product addresses the troublesome standards, the next level of inquiry is whether it aligns to those standards. As most educators will attest, just because a publisher intends for their product to address a standard or group of standards does not mean that the material truly aligns to the standard. And just because the publisher claims that material aligns to a standard does not ensure that it is. Publishers and educators have differing definitions of and motives for aligning materials to standards.

In order to help them teach a standard effectively, educators expect a material to address the three Cs of the standard: the content, context and cognitive demand.

  • The content of the standard tells what students are required to learn and is contained in the nouns of the standard.
  • The context of the standard explains where the learning must take place (including the specific time period, place or genre).
  • The cognitive demand of the standard prescribes what students must do to demonstrate their knowledge and is reflected in the verbs (such as identify, compare and contrast, analyze) in the standard. The cognitive demand is often also referred to as the “rigor” of the standard.

A page, lesson or unit in a material must address all three Cs of a standard in order for educators to consider the material “aligned” to the standard. If any part of the standard is not addressed, then the material will not help students learn all the knowledge and skills the standard requires, and their test scores will reflect the material’s deficit.

Bottom Line: If your material addresses the standards associated with the questions your students missed on the test, you then must determine whether the particular lessons, pages or units (within the material) assigned to teach those standards truly align to the standards. If they do not align, then students missed the test questions because they did not learn the knowledge and skills those standards required.

In the “old” days, districts compared textbooks, selected one, used it, and then sold, destroyed or gave it away at the end of the adoption cycle. Online instructional materials, while instructionally beneficial in many ways, introduce a myriad of challenges in the selection, use and even termination of use of resources.

The two-step process explained above will hopefully ease administrators’ burden when deciding whether to renew a subscription for an online material or to start looking for an alternative product to adopt.

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Jackie Lain is the founder and president of Learning List, Inc. Follow her on Twitter: @JackieLainLL.


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