Asking the Experts: How Massachusetts Teachers are Helping the State Identify High-Quality Curriculum
Teachers use curriculum materials every day and have a deep understanding of curriculum’s ability to support effective instruction. So when the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) was seeking to develop and share information on high-quality curriculum options, they naturally turned to the experts: Massachusetts educators.
Through the CURATE project (CUrriculum RAtings by TEachers), the Rennie Center partners with DESE to convene panels of local educators, who review the evidence on various curricula and use a rubric to evaluate whether it meets expectations around standards alignment and classroom application.
Currently, three CURATE panels are meeting to evaluate curriculum in the subject areas of English Language Arts (ELA) in grades 3-5, ELA in grades 6-8, and Math in grades K-5. Past panels have also examined a range of additional subjects: K-2 ELA, 6-8 Math, 9-12 Math, and 6-8 Science, Technology, and Engineering (STE).
In order to get a better idea of the value of the CURATE experience for participating teachers—and for schools across the state—we asked three current CURATE panelists to share their thoughts.
Each had a slightly different motivation for getting involved in the process. Sarah Little, a Literacy Coach and Interventionist at the Lee Academy Pilot School in Boston was looking for a chance to reflect on the issues that affect her day-to-day work, since teachers “rarely have the luxury to zoom out and think big picture.” Lorie Banks, a Math Teacher at the Morgan Full Service Community School in Holyoke, was eager to participate in decision-making processes, saying “I enjoy taking part in activities that allow teachers’ voices to be heard, especially at the state level.” And Kevin Cormier, a Math Teacher at Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell, wanted to “learn about different curricula for personal use” in his school and district.
All three say they have found the experience both personally and professionally rewarding, helping them become more effective at their jobs. As a baseline, Sarah points out, the process “has set up teaching, learning, and materials selection as something to be interrogated. These are not just things we do or use every day—they are things that can improve.” She also spoke about how CURATE “has helped me slow down my own planning and instruction and ask critical questions that matter, questions like, ‘Are the texts I’m selecting varied in cultural representation and perspective? Are the questions and tasks I’m designing directly connected to the most important ideas of the texts we’re reading?’” For this process, the CURATE rubric has been especially useful in setting a “bar of excellence” for strong instructional materials.
Additionally, participants who have had a chance to participate in multiple CURATE panels and worked on materials at different grade levels note the utility of understanding the full progression of standards and curricula across grades. Kevin’s first panel focused on middle school math materials, but he has “stayed on to take part in a high school panel and, this semester, an elementary panel. This has provided an even better experience for me to see the whole journey of a student from K-12.” Similarly, Lorie notes, “I have a much better understanding of the elementary math standards and how they connect to the work that I do as an 8th grade teacher. It has also made it easier for me to pinpoint areas of weakness with my students. If they struggle with a particular concept I can now see where they lack the foundation in an earlier grade.”
At a personal level, panelists appreciate the opportunities to build connections with their fellow teachers. As Sarah notes, “Often, what makes us better is getting the time to talk with and learn from and with other educators. We rarely get that time in our day-to-day work. However, as a CURATE panelist, I get that time at least once a month. And because our conversations are based in something as deep and rich as the CURATE rubric, the conversations are productive.” Kevin considers himself fortunate “to work with amazing teachers from all grade levels, while also tapping into the insight of other educators and leaders.”
And all participants looked forward to having an impact within their communities and beyond, by raising awareness of available resources and participating in future curriculum decisions. For instance, Kevin will apply his knowledge and experience as his district pilots new curricula for next year, letting him have “a direct impact on all of the students in my district who will step into a math class next year.” For Lorie, she and the other panelists have already made a critical contribution by being part of the CURATE process: “I wish all educators knew that teachers do have a voice, especially when it comes to decision-making at the state level.”
Applications are now open for next year’s CURATE panelists! If you are a Massachusetts educator interested in participating in CURATE, find more information about the project and apply now. Do you have a colleague who would make a great CURATE Fellow? Nominate a colleague for the CURATE Fellowship! Feel free to reach out to Annelise Eaton at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.