In the fall of 2021, Sunshine County Public Schools (a pseudonym) underwent a textbook adoption process, following the Florida Department of Education's timeline for statewide K-12 math curriculum adoption. With over 81,000 students across 96 schools and over 3,600 students labeled as English Language Learners (ELLs), this process would go on to have a significant impact on Sunshine County's students.
Luckily, Sunshine County knew that selecting high-quality instructional materials would make a huge difference for multilingual learners and that deliberately including their needs in the adoption process is critical to that effort. Teachers themselves have also highlighted the urgency of this need. In a recent study on teacher perceptions of multilingual learner inclusiveness in instructional materials, ELSF and San Diego State University found that only 30% of teachers feel fully prepared for teaching multilingual learners. Additionally, over 60% of them don’t feel as if they can rely on their instructional materials to support them in teaching their multilingual learners.1
Like all Florida school districts, Sunshine County used state guidance and specifications to develop its instructional materials review cycle, process, and procedures. For the 2021 math curriculum review process, they developed and published an instructional materials evaluation tool (IMET) to guide those tasked with selecting the new curriculum.
The Florida Department of Education's Specifications for the Instructional Materials Adoption for K-12 Math is an essential reference document for districts. Still, it is not designed in a way that explicitly prioritizes choosing materials that support multilingual learners. In developing its own IMET, Sunshine County included criteria specifically focusing on multilingual learners and their needs, like the inclusion of English Language Development standards, a dedicated section for considering universal student access, the explicit integration of language and math, and more. Traditionally, Math teachers haven't seen themselves as language teachers, so these features regarding language development and a focus on multilingual learners' needs represents an important step forward in educators' minds. Even more, their inclusion demonstrates Sunshine's commitment to meeting the needs of multilingual learners.
That being said, the Sunshine Math IMET revealed a few opportunities to further elevate how instructional materials could accelerate math and language learning for multilingual learners. Overall the criteria were broad and could be open to interpretation. More specific examples of what to look for would go a long way to supporting reviewers in their efforts to identify the best materials for the district's students.
Sunshine County believed that Sunshine educators would benefit from a deeper analysis of the strengths and gaps of selected materials, so they engaged the district English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) team in this work in early 2022. This involved a series of professional learning exercises conducted in partnership with ELSF. The exercises helped the ESOL team develop a greater understanding of what to look for in prospective materials and ways to gauge how effectively future materials could meet the needs of multilingual learners.
The first step in this process was identifying what Sunshine County knew to be research-based best practices and what they hoped the math materials would include. Then ELSF guided the team through a review of ELSF’s new Benchmarks of Quality. The Benchmarks of Quality were developed by ELSF to synthesize research-based practices into five key areas that effectively support multilingual learners in math materials. These Benchmarks serve as a resource for those tasked with reviewing and recommending new curriculum materials in their districts. In this professional learning session, the Sunshine County team looked at example instructional materials that reflected the recommended features in the Benchmarks of Quality and discussed how those features could support multilingual learners.
After this training, all participants either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I have a clearer understanding of the features of high-quality instructional materials for multilingual learners." The session enhanced participants’ understanding of what high-quality materials look like and helped them develop a new sense of confidence regarding their ability to effectively review materials with multilingual learners in mind.
All participants in the professional learning session noted that they would like to see strong considerations for multilingual learners included in the district's curriculum process moving forward. One district leader even suggested that all instructional staff be included in the decision.
A team of nine reviewers from the district were then charged with making a final recommendation for which course-specific math materials best met the needs of multilingual learners. They reviewed the prospective materials using the Benchmarks of Quality and provided the analysis of their ultimate rating of the materials on the Sunshine Math IMET.
Ultimately, while the ESOL team was not involved in the final decision submitted to the school board, the district’s preference for the publisher at each grade level aligned with the ESOL department’s suggestions. Families were invited to an information night to learn more about the selected materials and the materials considered the best choice for the district were the ones with the most support for multilingual learners.
When choosing new curriculum materials, it's easy to prioritize the end result, but the process districts take to select those materials is equally important. By including criteria intentionally focused on multilingual learners in the Sunshine Math IMET and then providing the time and space for team members to dive deeper into what high-quality materials look like, Sunshine County made great strides in centering the needs of multilingual learners.
At the end of the day, curriculum adoption processes don't have to sacrifice the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students to support the broader student population. The choice is not an either/or, but a both/and. Developing a thorough understanding of what high-quality materials look like for multilingual learners will help districts choose materials that are beneficial for all students and set teachers up for success.
1 Wynn, L, Zahner, W, (2022), Raising Teachers’ Voices: What do teachers say about how well their instructional materials support English Learners?