A Case Study for Materials Adoption in San Leandro, CA

In the East Bay of Northern California, San Leandro Unified School District educates and supports a diverse student population. Nearly 60% of the students in this school district are identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged, with over one-quarter (26%) of all students classified as English Learners (ELs).

San Leandro Unified wanted new high school math materials and knew that it was crucial for these materials to address the needs of multilingual learners. As they awaited general instructional guidance from the California Math Framework, the district began its own materials review process for its high school math curriculum in 2021-22. They wanted to better understand how to identify and prioritize high-quality instructional materials to truly support multilingual learners. 

San Leandro’s Instructional Materials Review and Adoption Process

District leaders in San Leandro designed an inclusive process that would involve teachers, department leads, and district staff coming together in phases over three years. The process would provide the opportunity for different district stakeholders to come together to learn about what effective materials look like for multilingual learners in math, to try out instructional materials, make a recommendation on their preferred curriculum, and to plan for implementation and professional development in preparation for the implementation of a newly selected curriculum. Their thoughtful and inclusive approach was designed to ensure that teachers were involved in a high-stakes decision that would affect their daily routines and practice in the classroom.    

The first step in this process was conducting a data inventory of EL achievement in mathematics at the secondary level. The teachers, department leads, and district leaders evaluated the most current district performance for ELs on state math exams (2019 data). They looked at the comparison of EL achievement to other student groups and dove deep into EL subgroups including former ELs, ELs in the country for 12+ months, and more. They were surprised and pleased to see that redesignated ELs were faring well in comparison to other student subgroups.

The data review sparked the teachers’ interest. They saw that their ELs actually performed better on open-ended communication and reasoning than in other math content strands on the state exams, and they appreciated seeing assessment data that recognized  their students' strengths. The teachers realized that the data could give them some insight into the earlier achievement of ELs in the district’s middle schools that could inform their support in the high school math curriculum. They recognized that one program component that would really help them understand their students’ progress would be stronger assessment materials and shared assessment practices. The teachers also explored the language demands required in the content clusters assessed on the state exam, which led to a discussion of the kinds of math tasks that would further develop students' language and content knowledge simultaneously. 

“No sailing questions, please!” San Leandro’s teachers and culturally responsive materials

As teachers moved towards the prospect of getting new math materials, they began to imagine what it would be like to trust their materials and not have to put so much effort into tailoring them for their students. One teacher noted, “Sometimes if the materials aren’t good, a teacher won't use the materials at all. But they still need to do their job everyday.” SLUSD asked the teachers to begin initially with their own criteria within the major categories laid out in what was still, at the time, a draft of the California Math Framework. Specifically, teachers were asked what features they wanted to see in the materials to better support their multilingual learners. Their responses reflected what they thought they could reasonably expect in materials to provide multilingual learners with more access to the content: online translations, student materials, and glossaries provided in different languages. They soon realized that they would need much more instructional support if they were to be successful in helping their multilingual learners thrive in mathematics.

The teachers needed to refine their criteria as they discussed more deeply how they wanted to realize their vision for their specific math programs. To help SLUSD teachers visualize high quality materials, ELSF provided the teachers with examples of the Mathematics Benchmarks of Quality - an ELSF tool that synthesizes research-based practices into five key areas that effectively support multilingual learners in math materials. The benchmarks were designed with this exact purpose in mind - supporting curriculum adoption committees to better understand what to look for when choosing materials that support multilingual students.

ELSF provided examples of what language and content integrated math problems looked like. The teachers looked at specific math content standards and derived the relevant language demands and teaching objectives that multilingual learners would need for those content standards. Teachers also looked at examples of assessments and evaluated the efficacy of those math assessments using both ELSF indicators and their own criteria for quality assessments. The result was clarity in the kinds of assessments they wanted and that they felt would better help monitor student learning. They discussed how such features in materials would be beneficial to students and provide students with more opportunities to develop language and content simultaneously.

After reviewing several curriculum examples, the teachers began naming many other features they thought would help their students have better math learning experiences. They had the opportunity to practice a review of sample math materials provided by their district, using the criteria they developed.

Here are a few of the additional features SLUSD teachers added to their adoption criteria to amplify and accelerate language and mathematics learning for their multilingual learners: 

  • Authentic, real life, culturally relevant application questions/performance tasks involving multiple components and skills. These take time to write and design, and teachers would appreciate having these provided  (Hence, the “No sailing questions, please!’)
  • Open-ended exploratory problems that support discussion, with multiple entry points 
  • Reading supports for students developing literacy 
  • More spiraling of concepts, with the materials defining the prerequisite skills needed for a lesson and a unit’s math standards so that teachers can support gaps in understanding  
  • Problem sets that are accessible to students (scaffolded, step by step, with guided notes or examples for students to compare answers) 
  • Assessment rubrics with language included in the focus
  • Language objectives already created within the materials

Teacher perceptions and reflections on reviewing instructional materials

Following these professional learning sessions, participants reported a clear growth in awareness, understanding, and confidence levels regarding their ability to identify materials that would effectively support their multilingual learner students. A survey was administered prior to and after the two sessions. When asked to respond to the statement, “I know how to assess the strengths and weaknesses of instructional materials for multilingual learners,” the pre-session survey had a mean score of 3 (out of 5). In the post-session survey, the mean score increased to 3.5, indicating that they felt more knowledgeable in how to evaluate their materials. 

Similarly, in the pre-session survey, respondents had a fairly positive mean response of 3.6 to the statement, “My organization’s curriculum adoption process is inclusive of the needs of multilingual learners.” After two professional learning sessions, the mean response went up to 4.5, indicating that respondents recognized the importance of careful attention to the needs of multilingual learners in their district criteria.

The teachers in San Leandro clearly expressed that their district’s inclusive materials review process made a difference for them and they thought it would make a difference for students. Before the professional learning sessions, one teacher said, “This is the first time I can remember that we have made a conscious effort ” in considering the needs of multilingual learners in the materials adoption process and another noted that “[multilingual learners] weren't a clear part of the process {before} for math materials.” Another teacher explained,

Not all of our math department are trained in ELD standards and practices. In the past 5+ years, there have been only 3 out of 15 of us who actually teach the ELD Math courses. Just recently our multilingual students have scattered to mainstream classes and we're all not prepared for it. So yes, this adoption will help us immensely, but I'm not sure if we're aware of what to look for.

After these activities, teachers felt “awareness that the needs of multilingual learners was a priority” and that moving forward they “will definitely consider the language” in math. One teacher said, “I am very happy we are making this a focus.” They felt that the needs of multilingual learners were explicitly considered in the new process and that they would “love to see examples of "outstanding" materials.

San Leandro’s story is exceptional but not unique. The district invested time in a professional learning space for the teachers to discuss their hopes and wants for their instructional materials. The district worked with the high school administrators to protect time so that the teachers would be able to develop an evidence-based understanding of what to look for, provide input, and craft criteria for adoption that were aligned to their values and students’ needs. While they continue to navigate their adoption and review process, preliminary findings from the partnership are clear.

The San Leandro team walked away with a sense of urgency regarding the type of instructional strategies that prospective new materials must include to best support multilingual students. They now have the practical knowledge to be able to identify this content and the experience to move forward with their review and adoption process with a newfound sense of confidence in piloting materials next year. As their review and adoption process continues, they are well-positioned to navigate the complexities they will face, be able to make effective final decisions about proposed materials, and know how to better serve their students once those materials have been adopted.

Before retirement, Linda Carstens was the Director of Professional Learning at the School Redesign Network at the School of Education, Stanford University.  She has 30+ years of district-level administrator experience in California, in San Diego City Schools and other school districts, in the areas of standards, assessment, curriculum and instruction, and in services for English Language Learners. She served as a Visiting Educator in the Accountability Branch of the California Department of Education. At WestEd, she worked with California districts in the area of systemic reform and second language, and for two years, co-provided the state’s Title III technical assistance obligation to districts. She earned a Ph.D. in multicultural education from Claremont Graduate University in 1993. Linda resides in New Mexico.  She has been a member of two national advisory boards related to education for EL students and serves as a peer reviewer for federal ESSA applications, for Achieve, Ed Reports, and ELSF projects.

Joanna Yip is the Director of Tools and Implementation, supporting ELSF to develop, implement, and improve tools and resources used to improve curriculum and instructional materials for multilingual learners. Before joining ELSF, Joanna partnered with educators to support language and literacy development for multilingual learners. She developed lab sites for Bridges to Academic Success to implement a curriculum for new comers with emerging home language literacy; facilitated a professional working group for the Internationals Network for Public Schools; and co-facilitated a district-wide Train-the-Trainer program with Strategic Inquiry for New York City high schools. Most recently, she served as the Lead Instructional Specialist for New Visions Charter High Schools, leading the charter network’s literacy initiatives. She has worked in the field of education as a classroom teacher, a college counselor, and instructional coach. She has served as an instructor in the teacher education programs at Hunter College and Brooklyn College in the City University of New York, and Long Island University. She has a BA in English Literature from Barnard College, a Master's degree in TESOL from Hunter College, and a Ph.D.  in urban education policy from the CUNY Graduate Center. She received her training in school leadership and education administration at the New York City Leadership Academy and a diploma in professional coaching at New York University’s School for Professional Studies. Joanna is a proud Cantonese-speaking native New Yorker who was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, and still lives in the city with her family.

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