More teachers regularly used new, standards-aligned curriculum materials during the 2021-22 school year than during the previous two years — a sign school systems may be turning to fresh instructional materials to help students recover from pandemic-era learning losses, a study released Tuesday by the RAND Corp. said.
The recent push in some states to adopt rigorous, standards-aligned instructional materials might also be contributing to this trend. Additionally, federal K-12 emergency funding for learning recovery may have driven greater use of new instructional materials.
Researchers, however, did not find significant correlations between per-pupil Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding allocations across districts and teachers’ regular use of new instructional materials or their out-of-pocket spending on instructional materials.
The study, based on results from the 2022 American Instructional Resources Survey, found that while school districts purchase most of the new instructional materials teachers used, educators also used classroom materials that were either free or they bought themselves. More than half of English language arts and math teachers said they spent $100 or more of their own money, and a quarter spent $300 or more, during the 2021-22 school year.
"Future research should attempt to better understand why teachers spend out of pocket for instructional materials and whether out-of-pocket spending could be contributing to rates of teacher burnout across the industry as teachers make uncompensated purchases to reach the standard of instruction that they aim to achieve for their students," the study said.
Other findings from the survey, which included responses from 3,719 English language arts teachers and 2,680 mathematics teachers, revealed:
- What teachers used. The most popular supplemental materials used for the first time in the 2021–22 school year came from Blooket (English language arts), i-Ready (ELA and mathematics), Zearn (mathematics) and Teachers Pay Teachers (ELA).
- Overall use of new materials dropped. Although teachers reported an increase in regular use of new standards-aligned curriculum materials, use of all new materials — not just those that are aligned with standards — fell. The percentage of teachers reporting the use of at least one new ELA or mathematics instructional material declined from 56% in 2020-21 to 45% in 2021-22.
- Reasons for not using new materials. About 1 in 5 teachers said they didn't use new materials provided by their districts. Middle and high school teachers were more likely than elementary teachers to forego them. These teachers cited lack of time to learn how to use the materials, as well as materials being insufficient to meet students' needs.
- Need for more and better materials. Engaging students in learning and providing supports for grade-level content were two of the most common reasons teachers gave for needing more or better curriculum materials. Other reasons included: having to review content from previous grades that students missed; wanting options for students with disabilities; and needing to help students advance beyond mastery of grade-level content.
The report offers recommendations for supporting teachers' effective use of new materials, such as involving teachers in the selection process.
Local and state education departments can also help teachers get better at evaluating the quality of materials. In addition, they could give more thought to what educators need at different grade and subject areas or for working with students at higher and lower income levels, the report said.