EdReports has given a partial thumbs-up to the ELA curriculum materials used in my district.
EdReports claims to be the trustworthy experts. They hire teachers to work in small groups for the purpose of examining every bit of a curriculum with a fine toothed comb. Evaluations are based on how closely the curriculum follows the Common Core Standards, text quality, building knowledge, and usability.
But here is the problem. EdReports first focuses on the written curriculum and puts Usability last. A program can get a high score in following the standards and text quality, and not be rated at all in Usability. It seems to me that usability should come first, because if you don’t have that, what’s the point?
Here’s a writing lesson from an ELA program that my school adopted. It is for Unit 1 Week 3 of first grade. Put on your rater’s “hat” and decide how Usable it is.
CCSS means Common Core standard. But wait, this is a lesson objective, right? Are an objective and a standard the same thing? Hardly. A standard is an end of the year goal. An objective is a focus for a particular day or week. A lesson objective is a small stepping stone on the way to meeting a standard. Should EdReports even agree to look at programs without lesson objectives? (There is not a single real objective to be found in the entire curriculum.) You will see as you continue that this whole lesson is completely skewed, in part because it’s based on an end of year standard.
The entire lesson on this page, which is quite extensive, is supposed to take five minutes. If you are looking at Usability first, you would probably say to yourself, “Why does it even matter if this is Common Core aligned? No one will teach it.” (Which actually turns out to be the case in my district) After you read through the entire page, decide if you think five minutes is a reasonable amount of time.
Before discussing arrows 3 and 4, I’m going to introduce you to some writing samples from beginning first graders. Remember, this lesson is designed for Week 3 of ELA , which would be September or October of first grade (depending when you start school). This is what first grade writing looks like around then.
Students should “take notes about what they like most, questions they have for the author, and details they think the author could include.” Given these writing samples, which include typical developing 6 year old writers at the beginning of first grade, what do you think? Do the writers of this curriculum know or care that many beginning first graders cannot yet read? And even if they could read normal words, who could begin to decipher Student 3’s writing? As a teacher, I would put careful thought into what kind of feedback to give Student 3. And they are expecting a first grader to be capable of that?
The CCSS begins “With guidance and support from adults…” So why, next to arrow 4, is there now an expectation that children will independently edit each other’s work? You can already see from their writing samples how that will go. In my mind it’s a crime to be making a profit off this lesson. Most early childhood teachers would take one piece of student work to display to the class and first compliment the student for what was well done, then ask for compliments from classmates. All of us, from age 2 to 92, deserve to hear what we did well before receiving suggestions. Then, this knowledgeable teacher would offer (or ask for) one or two suggestions about something the student could fix. That’s what guided and supported looks like.
I would argue that if anyone actually did try to teach this, they would be doing more harm than good, and at the very least, wasting a lot of time.
Why would EdReports post only part of a report? Why not look at the whole thing before even putting it online? Why was the usability left out? Are they trying to protect the big publishing companies that publish these crazy things?
It worries me that EdReports may be gaining a reputation as the go-to place for districts to get advice on what curriculum to adopt. If so, they have a major responsibility to report the whole truth. What I have given you is one small example. I could also point out major usability issues with the math curriculum I’m using, which is rated highly by EdReports. It looks good on paper, and aligns with Common Core, but it has major flaws relating to a certain thing called reality.
Come on, EdReports, give us the whole picture. Look at the whole truth, and report it.