Information on our webinar in partnership with the CDE:

The Role of High-Quality Instructional Materials to Support Distance Learning

 The Value of High-Quality Instructional Materials in Distance Learning

The Challenge: As districts seek flexible approaches to teaching and learning, the reliance on instructional materials to support high-quality instruction has increased. Research demonstrates that instructional materials matter for student success. It mattered before COVID-19 —and it will matter even more as teachers transform approaches to teaching and learning in ways that ensure all students have equitable access to content that supports college and career readiness.

There is a critical need for coherent, standards-aligned curricula that support students, teachers, and parents to know what content will be taught all year long. Digital specifications, and now the ability to use materials remotely, has never been more important. There is growing demand and need for curriculum to better support the needs of all students, especially as schools physically reopen.

A  new study from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) projects the following as a result of the crisis:

learning gains 2020 graphic

This has demonstrated the importance of curriculum in supporting students’ to become college and career-ready. The approaches used over the coming months and even into next year can have significant short and long-term effects.

The Role of Instructional Materials to Address this Challenge: Teachers need a coherent, standards-aligned, curriculum to support distance learning. If you have strong materials, teachers can focus on adapting instruction for distance learning and to the needs of their students. If you have misaligned or incoherent materials or materials that lack a strong platform, teachers spend their time looking for materials, which results in time lost in adapting their instruction to the distance learning environment. 

Ideal State: In an ideal world, all districts would already be using high-quality curriculum options. Starting with quality makes the path forward much more clear  in student- and teacher-facing work and  engaging students in college and career standards  over the course of weeks and months during the school year. Additionally, high-quality materials ensure students have access to standards-aligned, grade-level materials and instruction—a key equity challenge. With strong instructional materials in place,, students are able to benefit from a fully sequenced, coherent learning experience whether they are in-person or learning remotely. Teachers are then able to spend their time supporting students through differentiation, scaffolding and navigating the new requirements of a distance learning environment. 

About Distance Learning and Digital Instructional Materials

“Distance learning” means instruction in which the student and instructor are in different locations. This may include:

  • interacting through the use of computer and communications technology;
  • delivering instruction and check-in time with their teacher;
  • video or audio instruction in which the primary mode of communication between the student and instructor is online interaction, instructional television, video, telecourses, or other instruction that relies on computer or communications technology; and
  • the use of print materials incorporating assignments that are the subject of written or oral feedback.

Models of distance learning include:

  • Fully Synchronous: teaching and learning happenin real-time through delivery platforms such as video conferencing. 
  • Fully Asynchronous:  learning happens at the convenience of students,  independent of the teacher, through learning management platforms like  Google Classroom or Canvas-using self-guided modules, work packets, etc.
  • Hybrid: teaching and learning happens in a blend of both synchronous and asynchronous interactions.

High-quality instructional materials: 

  • Are standards aligned
  • Provide student access to the depth and breadth of standards
  • Support diverse learners 

Selecting digital materials should follow the same best practices as any other format of curriculum. Engaging a dedicated team to evaluate resources that includes teachers, administrators, and content-area experts with additional expertise in supporting English learners and students with special needs. When making the move to distance learning, consider what, if any, resources are provided by the publisher to assist in rolling out the model best suited for your community. Here are some of the many questions to ask your publisher:

  • Will these materials work in a remote setting? How?
  • If materials are digital, can students work offline as well?
  • Are there options for differentiation in a remote setting?
  • Are there videos available to assist students and teachers with the content?
  • What collaboration tools, if any, do the materials provide?

District Profiles for Leveraging Instructional Materials in Distance Learning


This crisis has illuminated inequities in curriculum availability, quality, and use within and across districts and schools. Districts without comprehensive curricula are scrambling to find multiple weeks’ worth of content to share either in packets or in online classrooms. Other districts may have quality, standards aligned curricula, but are struggling with implementation in a distance learning environment. Here are four hypothetical profiles of what a district may have experienced with regard to high-quality instructional materials (HQIM):

district profiles2

In planning and preparing for future distance learning situations, here are some key questions and possible next steps to consider 

Assess the online/distance capacity of the instructional materials. 

  • Are materials providing student access to the depth and breadth of standards? EdReports reviews of alignment provide more than a 1:1 check for the presence of standards, and encourage all review processes to do the same. Focus on coherence, connections within and across grade levels, and how well the materials support teachers to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners is important. If choosing multiple digital supplements, it is difficult to ensure that students are getting this depth and breadth. Consider how well the resources promote coherence, provide opportunities for students to grapple with different problem types, or support students in grappling with phenomena. 
  • How well do materials support diverse learners? Students do not come in a “one size fits all” category, and it is important that your materials do not either. Investigate materials to ensure they provide resources to address diverse student populations that require support for learner variance and language acquisition. In your search, look for content that includes English learner content and lesson objectives that are grade-level appropriate and of equal rigor to help English learners meet grade-level standards. 

District questions have now evolved from ensuring materials could be accessed on older browsers and versions of operating systems to detailed questions about interoperability, compatibility, security, support, and digital design. These questions have become even more important during the pandemic as districts assess what instructional materials may work best in their communities not just in-person, but also remotely and in hybrid settings. EdReports has created an Instructional Materials Technology Information Template to address these questions.

  • Usability Snapshot
    • Are the materials designed so that students are able to access and complete work online?
    • Does the technology facilitate a teacher’s ability to differentiate lessons, tasks, or other content for students?
    • Are there tutorials, videos, or other integrated supports in the materials to help educators to understand and/or utilize the materials?
  • Design
    • Is the digital design of the materials intended to replicate a textbook experience?
    • Do the materials include opportunities for online collaboration among students?
    • Are there online professional learning supports to help teachers utilize the materials?
  • System Access
    • Can the platform manage staff assigned to multiple schools with a single sign-on?
    • Can students who move between teachers or schools using the same materials be re-assigned without losing their work/progress?
  • Technical Support
    • Is technical support provided to districts during initial set-up and deployment?
  • Compatability 
    • Does the product use responsive design for rendering on smartphones?
  • Data Security & Privacy
    • Are data elements encrypted at rest, i.e. in a database or file system?
    • Does the product conform with FERPA regulations (e.g., allows districts to maintain direct control of the student record, implements permissions to prevent unnecessary disclosures, etc.)?

Adjust your pacing and materials delivery based on data about what your students need.Begin with understanding the demands of grade-level materials and content. 

  • To begin this process, study the standards alongside year-long scopes and sequences to understand what standards and topics will be covered when, how students will apply their knowledge of the standards, and how they will show that knowledge. This means looking closely at the standards, the topics, and the tasks within a unit and across the year.

Understand what unfinished instruction there is for your students

  • Use diagnostic assessments and/or universal screeners to map what students will need in their ELA and math instruction to access grade-level content
  • Gather other data on unfinished instruction from the prior spring—consider utilizing Pivot Learning’s Equitable Learning Recovery Toolkit 

Adjust pacing calendar and expectations for delivery of ELA and Math instruction and materials for the school year

  • Identify the most critical prerequisite skills and content knowledge students will need to access grade-level content when they encounter it throughout the year. Adjust scope and sequence based on data to ensure students have access to grade-level content
  • Ensure learning recovery isn’t happening at the expense of access to current grade-level instruction. Don’t spend your entire year remediating. 

Provide support to all members of your school community

  • Offer professional learning on how to leverage the online components of your adopted ELA and math materials. 
  • Plan for introducing students/families to new materials
  • Provide support for teachers, students and families (office hours, tech troubleshooting videos
  • Institute progress monitoring by looking at data from online platforms
  • Provide support for teachers to implement high-quality instructional materials through distance learning.