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School Leaders Can't Always Spot Standards-Aligned Classroom Materials, Study Reveals

Some school leaders don't know what materials and requirements align with their state standards for English/language arts and math, according to a report released on Thursday by the RAND Corp.

And that's a problem, the study suggests, because it can lead to less support and direction for teachers tasked with implementing these standards. 

"The differences in what school leaders appear to know about their state standards across the United States suggests to us that leaders just don't always get the information they need about their state standards," said report co-author and RAND policy researcher Julia H. Kaufman. She penned the report alongside RAND quantitative analyst Tiffany Tsai. 

Given the introduction of new state standards and Common Core State Standards requirements in most states over the last decade, the study sought to test what school leaders knew on the topic.

Specifically, the researchers asked prinicpals and other school leaders to identify which English/language arts reading materials met state standards.

The report drew from survey data from 1,349 school leaders in K-12 schools from across the United States in October 2016, roughly five years after the common core was introduced. 

The school leaders were given a list of popular materials used for English language arts instruction and asked to indicate the ones they recommended for their schools. Nearly 90 percent said they recommend grade-level materials. Leveled readers fall short of Common Core standards, along with the standards of most states, which instead require more complex materials for students.

When it came to state mathematics standards, the study showed that school leaders' knowledge of what's standards-aligned and what's not tended to drop off after the 5th grade level. Kaufman said this may be due to the fact that middle- and high-school instruction becomes more specialized and might diverge from the common core. In some ways, Kaufman said, it's not fair to expect school leaders to have detailed knowledge about things like math standards. 

"They don't necessarily need to know as much as teachers, but they also have to support teachers," Kaufman said. 

The study also compared the materials that school leaders reported using in common-core states versus those used in other states. 

"Unsurprisingly, we found much more alignment of materials among school leaders in states that had formally adopted common core," the report says. 

Kaufman recommended that states should step up their training for school leaders on state standards, along with providing more detailed lists on recommended materials and materials that do not meet standards. 

"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," the report concludes.

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