2013 OER Review Summary

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license. These resources may be used free of charge, distributed without restriction, and modified without permission.

In 2012, the Washington state Legislature passed Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2337 that directed the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to create a collection of openly licensed courseware aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and conduct an awareness campaign to inform school districts about these resources. The Legislature saw this as an opportunity to both “reduce the expenses that districts would otherwise incur in purchasing these materials” and “provide districts and students with a broader selection of materials, and materials that are more up-to-date.”

As a part of the legislative mandate to identify and develop a library of openly licensed courseware aligned with the CCSS, OSPI conducted a review of OER in high school mathematics (Algebra 1/Integrated Math 1) and 11th - 12th grade English Language Arts with an emphasis on American Literature. The review process, conducted during May, 2013, made use of existing review instruments designed to gauge alignment with the CCSS, as well as overall OER quality.

The results from this review will be an extremely valuable tool as educators and content developers tap into the most powerful feature of OER: the ability to freely adapt and redistribute materials.

Review Background, Goals, and Process

While OSPI has over a decade of experience with reviewing instructional materials for their alignment with state learning standards in both reading and mathematics, the evolution of OER materials as an increasingly viable option for K-12 educators is relatively new. Thus, this will be the first review focused solely on OER for English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. In order to narrow the initial effort to a manageable scope, this review examined available OER in Algebra 1 or Integrated Math 1 (full course) and individual units in 11th - 12th grade English Language Arts. In early 2013, OSPI announced the OER review and sought materials to include in the process. While some OER developers requested to have their materials reviewed, the OSPI OER team also took the initiative to identify OER that met the scope of the review. The notification process is detailed in this report.

Quality assurance and standards alignment are priorities as districts assess any new instructional materials. The goals of the review were:

  1. Help educators select high-quality materials for their classrooms
  2. Provide districts with information to help with materials adoptions and a replicable process and instruments to evaluate CCSS alignment of instructional material
  3. Identify gaps in CCSS alignment that can be addressed by content creators or school district users

To conduct the OER review, OSPI, with the support of Relevant Strategies, LLC (project consultant and data analysis contractor), recruited and selected a committee of 10 ELA and 10 mathematics reviewers. The committee reviewed the materials with the specific goal of not just evaluating their quality by existing standards but specifically analyzing how well they address the CCSS.

It is important to note:

  • This review process was not intended to rank the materials; rather, the results provide rich evaluator feedback on changes necessary to bring the OER resource into closer alignment with the CCSS.
  • The results of this review do not represent an endorsement from OSPI as to the recommended use or adoption of the OER materials that were reviewed.
  • OSPI does not require the use of any particular instructional materials, including OER, by districts or schools.
  • Washington school districts have specific local policies and procedures that may govern the use and adoption of core and/or supplemental instructional materials. These should be reviewed as districts and buildings consider OER within their suite of instructional materials and resources.
  • The results of this review represent a point in time in a continually evolving process of OER materials. They are intended as a resource for schools and educators, as well as content developers creating materials for those audiences.
  • The instruments used in this review process were intentionally selected and are intended to be used in concert to consider the full breadth of the CCSS and the unique nature of OER materials. The suite of instruments and process may be used with any instructional material, OER or published, to gauge CCSS alignment.


In ELA, reviewers found many choices for educators seeking ELA units with some alignment to the CCSS. For 10 of the 20 units reviewed, reviewers on average indicated Agree or Strongly Agree to the statement, “I would use this material in my classroom.” An additional 6 of the 20 units received an average rating of close to Agree. Most ELA high school classes use a dynamic set of units through the course of a quarter or semester, rather than textbooks with a fixed sequence of units and materials. Educators can reliably consider many of the OER ELA units that were reviewed for use in their classroom and be confident that the units can be reasonably adapted to meet the CCSS by an experienced teacher well versed in the CCSS.

In mathematics, reviewers found that OER are an emerging platform for mathematics curricula with alignment to the CCSS. The platform shows significant promise as a viable selection in the future but is still evolving and not yet mature. Two products of the seven ranked above the others when all rubrics were combined. For the most part, the other products showed potential in some areas, but their comprehensive scores were lower, and a majority of the reviewers did not recommend the full course for use.

For both the ELA and mathematics reviews, extensive reviewer notes provide a huge step forward along the pathway of modifying materials to meet the specific needs of districts and students. By and large, OER have the capacity to provide equitable opportunities to access strong content materials for all students, regardless of the fiscal situation in their school.

The OSPI OER Project website provides the results of this OER review as well as the process and instruments used. In addition, the results of past OSPI instructional materials reviews, including state laws and guidance for the selection of instructional materials, can be found on the OSPI Instructional Materials Review and Resources website.