EQuIP it is called.  53 Teachers called to a new type of jury duty.  Rating educational materials to determine if they are aligned to Common Core Standards, or not….

Sitting around tables they discuss the alternatives placed before them…  Some startling revelations have come out of their discussions.

The process is tedious.   Only 40 of the 125 submitted selections have been reviews so far. and of those, ONLY 9 have been sufficiently aligned…

The large publishing houses—which dominate tens of thousands of classrooms—haven’t  submitted anything to EQuIP for review…  EQuIP doesn’t anticipate evaluating much from that sector, either, in part because of licensing restrictions that limit those materials’ use….

Although some judgment is implicit in their decisions, the group was not to determine whether a product up for sale to the educational industry was either good or bad.  But whether or not it conformed to these standards……

I. Aligning to the Common Core State Standards.
• Target a set of grade-level standards?
• Include a clear and explicit purpose for instruction?
• Choose texts that measure within students’ grade-level band?

II. Reflecting key shifts of the standards.
• Require students to read text closely for evidence and deep meaning?
• Facilitate rich, rigorous evidence-based discussion and writing through thought-provoking, text-dependent questions?
• Expect students to draw evidence from texts to produce clear, coherent writing that informs, explains, or argues?

III. Responding to students’ varied needs for instructional support.
• Cultivate student interest and engagement?
• Integrate appropriate supports in reading, writing, listening, and speaking for students who read below grade level, are English-learners, or have disabilities?
• Provide extensions and/or more advanced text for students who read well above grade level?

IV. Regularly assessing whether students are mastering the content and skills in the lesson/unit.
• Elicit direct, observable evidence of degree of mastery?
• Provide sufficient guidelines for interpreting student performance?

The EQuIP program was created by Achieve, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that played a key role in launching the common-standards initiative in 2009.

Here are some of the findings reported in Education Week.

Reaching consensus on whether a lesson was aligned wasn’t easy or quick. It took all day to evaluate and rate one unit …

One table of teachers, for instance, was deeply divided on whether the unit lived up to a key criterion in the rubric: stating a “clear and explicit purpose for instruction.”

The teachers  disagreed about whether the unit met a criterion that required materials to demand a good deal of writing based on evidence in a text.

One middle school teacher criticized the unit for providing “scaffolding,” or support for students in the assignments, but not in the readings.

Elementary school teachers at a nearby table got into an animated debate over whether the unit’s reading material from primary and secondary sources was challenging enough, yet still accessible to students.

A teacher from Atlanta, told the group that she thought the unit fell short on that criterion.
“You could say you threw a lot of material at them,…. but what did they get out of it?” she said.

An assistant superintendent from Bensenville, Ill., pressed her colleagues to “be hard” in sizing up how well the unit provides ways to assess student learning day to day. “We need to get better at giving students feedback through formative assessment,”

Votes on rating each “dimension” of the materials were taken by a show of hands. Collectively, the teachers voting showed they thought the unit needed significant revision.

The materials rated “exemplar” or “exemplar if improved” are posted on EQuIP’s website.

The first round of EQuIP judging returned individual reviewers’ comments to developers. That feedback could be “conflicted and confusing” because of the differences in each reviewer’s comments.  Evaluating instructional materials for quality or alignment is inherently thorny and subjective, and reaching consensus can be tricky.

The immediate past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, said the EQuIP guidelines are “terrific tools for conversation” as teachers write lessons together in their schools. But she worries that a rating system could subtly work to narrow the concept of “good” materials….

“In talking about what’s good, sometimes people can be silenced, or there’s this ‘groupthink’ that happens, when you find yourself compromising to get consensus,” Ms. Hayes said. “I just wonder what’s lost in that process.”

Another risk in creating panels to evaluate materials is that their findings can be viewed as silver bullets.   it’s important to avoid mistaking any panel’s approved materials for a “total curriculum solution.”

“There has been a tremendous wave of innovation and new-product creation that eventually will get sorted out by real-life market forces,”  “It’s a Wild West moment, with lots of people saying their materials are aligned to these new expectations,”..

Although it is disturbing that many of these works being touted as beneficial for teaching Common Core do not live up to their bluster when undergoing peer review,  a beneficial part of this service provided by EQuIP was found on the other end, that in how it affected the teachers and evaluators themselves….

Many of them had a clearer idea of how to now formulate lesson plans that would be in line with Common Core,  AND mitigate some of its negative side effects….

“The EQuIP jurors were eager to see how the process could help them and cadres of colleagues back home, all move forward within the common standards. They seemed particularly interested in its value as a tool for creating their own instructional materials.”

Some of thee beneficial outcomes:

In Idaho, a small team of literacy coaches at the state department of education will use the EQuIP process this spring to help 250 teachers write model units…

A curriculum coordinator, said many of the teachers in her districts in California’s San Bernardino County “haven’t had a lot of direction” in figuring out what constitutes real alignment to the common core. “Teachers have been going on Pinterest, for goodness’ sake,” she said. “We really need this.”

The Maryland education department submitted sample lessons and units, and found the reviewers’ feedback “explicit and valuable,” “Teachers are working on revisions based on that feedback”

In North Carolina, the state education department has used the EQuIP rubrics in training to help teachers think about how to design their own curriculum materials. “Teachers were struggling to understand what that is, and the rubric does help with that.”

Washington state has used EQuIP’s evaluation criteria as it searches for open education resources to build a digital library that the state legislature mandated in 2012. But “one of the big questions people had about open education resources was ‘It’s free, but is it good?’

There is a huge need for rating Common Core materials.  The underlying problem with Common Core is not so much it’s standards, but with the products getting used to promote those standards…  and the test, holding people accountable to those standards….

Breaking it down further, sim;ly creating a standard  for example by saying Hamlet is approved reading, does not guarantee that all students will read it.  Nor does it guarantee that all students will  understand all the intricacies if they do.   It is solely what happens in that individual’s classroom that matters….

A parallel thought process can readily illustrate how consistent  poor quality could infiltrate a brand new program.  As an outside example that readily illustrates this, is ones trying to find some YouTube footage  of last night’s Sochi Olympics’ opening ceremony. Quite a few were present yet none of them showed the whole thing.  There were earlier interviews outside the stadium. NBC had 3 clips.  International access to inside the stadium was blocked.  Present were  multiples of inner city videos which now is kind of funny (although it was very annoying at the time), some with tens of thousands of hits by showing only inner city people’s faces telling us about how they liked the opening ceremonies… with multiple pleas to subscribe, of course…   But many took advantage of the opportunity, the largess of interest in the Olympic games, to offer something, anything,  in order to try and get hits….

That metaphor is exactly what is happening  in the marketplace of Common Core materials, thereby making those states NOT RUSHING into Common Core, the ones whose children will ultimately be better off with the adequate teaching material we previously had ( instead of the rush-to-market fill-ins),  and when the quality material finally is determined and arrives, can go through only one transition  and not two, as will Delaware because we purchased the first thing that was put on the plate……..

Ironically, yesterday Delaware’s Governor answered a question on the legalization of marijuana with a good answer:….  “Right now there is too much in the air. No one really knows the repercussions and side effects this policy will create.   This is one policy in which I don’t want to  be the one that goes first.”

Such wisdom would have benefited  120,000 of Delaware’s children each year, if it had been in found just a few years earlier….