Study Tests Claims of Common Core Aligned Textbooks

November 18, 2013

RossierREACH_Dec2013_11 14As teachers around the country work to effectively implement Common Core standards in their classrooms, they are adopting new curriculum materials and textbooks that claim to be “Common Core aligned.” However, Assistant Professor Morgan Polikoff argues that “there are many reasons to be skeptical of (textbook companies’) claims given their poor track record,” and the fact that there has been no rigorous evaluation of how aligned these textbooks are to the Common Core.

In his current study, Polikoff is conducting an analysis of fourth grade mathematics textbooks to test their publishers’ claims of “Common Core alignment,” and explore the association of aligned textbooks with student learning outcomes.

Morgan Polikoff

Dr. Morgan Polikoff

“We know from research that textbooks often vary substantially in their effects on student achievement,” Polikoff said. “It may be the case that the best textbooks are the ones that are best aligned to the standards and assessments, as they help teachers faithfully implement the standards and, therefore, produce gains on assessments aligned to those standards.”

His study not only provides evidence as to the alignment of several widely used textbooks with the standards, but it also presents a method for researchers to evaluate textbook alignment in other subjects and grade levels that will help inform teachers, schools and districts in the future.

Polikoff measured the alignment of the popular textbooks to Common Core standards, and how they differ from versions aligned with prior state standards. His analysis included seven books by four major publishers – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, MacMillan/McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Saxon. He then looked at how their levels of alignment predict effectiveness measured by student learning outcomes.

Polikoff’s work has produced several important findings about “Common Core-aligned” textbooks. On the one hand, he found that all of the texts do cover the large majority of the topics in the Common Core standards, as they claim. On the other hand, the texts rarely maintain the level of rigor found in the standards.

Where the standards might focus on applying or understanding a particular concept, for instance, the texts tend to focus on procedures. Unless teachers go beyond what’s called for in the texts, it is likely that students will not be exposed to the important conceptual understanding they will need for future mathematics learning.

 – Morgan Polikoff

The study also found that each of the texts uses a substantial proportion of its space covering topics outside the fourth grade mathematics standards, diluting the increased focus and coherence the standards were intended to create. And because these extra topics differ from book to book, the choice of textbook can have dramatic implications for the content to which students are exposed.

Polikoff plans to build upon his study by expanding his evaluation of textbook alignment to include grades K-5 in mathematics.

This article was featured in the December, 2013 Issue of Rossier Reach