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In California, More Ways to Vet Reading and Math Materials

Districts in California have more flexibility than ever in how they choose their textbooks.

The state board has adopted math and reading materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards—but the lists of what's been approved are quite long. For English/language arts, the board approved more than two dozen titles—nearly every textbook that was submitted for review. The approved math list has 31 textbooks, including 10 alone for Algebra I. 

And under a fairly recent policy change, California districts can now also go off-list in selecting their materials—meaning they have an even broader array of options. 

A new effort from the folks at EdReports.org seeks to help California districts whittle down their curriculum choices. 

EdReports.org has spent the last two years publishing online ratings for common-core K-12 math and reading materials. The group has found ELA materials nationally to be somewhat uneven in quality. Math materials have mostly gotten poor ratings from the group for alignment.

Last month, EdReports.org launched a curriculum review site specifically for the Golden State in partnership with Pivot Learning, a California-based nonprofit that consults with districts on leadership, professional development, and other issues. Like EdReports.org, the new effort, known as the California Curriculum Collaborative, is philanthropically funded; grantors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supported the development of the common core, and the Hewlett Foundation. 

Users can find information on the new site about all of the math textbooks and most of the ELA textbooks that were reviewed by the California state board. Most often, the site simply links to the full reviews for those curricula on EdReports.org.

"With most state adoptions, it's a list. There's not detailed evidence that would help a consumer understand what is in the materials," Eric Hirsch, the founding executive director of EdReports.org, said in an interview. "Given what we'd heard from California districts, ... having our EdReports evidence and our reviews with other resources and the state lists collected in one place is helpful."

National vs. California

Not all of the California-specific textbooks have been reviewed by EdReports.org. In some cases, the site points users to a review of that curriculum's national version, which the group points out is often quite similar. (For instance, the national and California versions of GoMath! for grade 6 are virtually identical for the first 297 pages, the site notes.) There is also guidance on the site about how to compare California and national editions. The website also notes which textbooks are "currently under review by EdReports.org."

California literacy programs fall under five categories based on students' language and academic needs. EdReports.org reviewed only the basic programs; the group does not have plans to rate those for bilingual education, students needing intensive intervention, and those with limited English proficiency. 

When asked whether EdReports.org plans to work on similar sites for other states, Hirsch said, "At this stage, our goal is not necessarily to have 50 state websites. ... But in some cases, depending on what we hear and see, if we believe having something like this will help a state ... we'll continue to think about that."

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