2015 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 this legislative mandate, OSPI conducted a review of OER in middle school mathematics and units in English Language Arts (ELA) that built on the work of the 2013 and 2014 Washington OER Reviews for high school level instructional materials. Teams evaluated full-course middle school mathematics and units in ELA. This middle school instructional materials review covered grades 6–8. Minor revisions to the review process were informed by feedback from the first two cohorts of reviewers.

The results from this review enable educators and content developers to tap into the most powerful feature of OER: the ability to freely adapt and redistribute materials.

Review Background, Goals, and Process

OSPI has over a decade of experience with reviewing instructional materials for their alignment with state learning standards in both reading and mathematics. Today, the instructional materials umbrella covers far more than just textbooks; it includes not only core curricula, but also supplemental resources from a number of sources, in both print and digital formats. OER are an important part of this new instructional material ecosystem. OSPI provides supports that help educators become critical consumers of any type of instructional material. As district interest in OER increases, so too does the need to provide an unbiased evaluation of their quality and alignment to Washington state learning standards.

In 2013, the inaugural OER review examined available open resources in Algebra 1, Integrated Math 1 (full course), and individual units in 11th and 12th grade ELA. The 2014 review cycle focused on Geometry, Integrated Math 2, and individual units in 9thand 10th grade ELA. The 2015 review focused on middle school level instructional materials in mathematics (full-course) and ELA (unit level).

In November 2014, 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 the Process and Materials Overview.

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 recruited and selected a committee of 10 ELA and 10 mathematics reviewers. Reviewers were chosen from across the state, representing a variety of teaching environments from large districts to small schools in both rural and urban areas. All reviewers demonstrated deep expertise in the content area they reviewed. The committee reviewed the materials with the specific goal of analyzing how well they address the CCSS. Each resource was reviewed by four different reviewers.

It is important to note:

  • Though this particular review is focused on OER, the actual review process and tools are not specific to OER. They can and should be used with any instructional material under consideration by school districts.
  • 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 CCSS alignment.
  • The results of this review do not represent an endorsement from OSPI as to the recommended use nor 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. The results 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.

Findings

Overall, the reviewers found a number of resources in both mathematics and ELA that were well-aligned to the CCSS, and worthy of consideration by districts choosing instructional materials.

Mathematics

Reviewers found that four of the reviewed resources show significant promise as a viable selection now and several more could be considered with adaptation. These four mathematics resources consistently received an overall average score of 2 or higher (on a 0–3 point scale) across most criteria. 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, although their use as supplemental material or a portion of a unit was well documented.

English Language Arts

In ELA, reviewers found many choices for educators seeking units with alignment to the CCSS. For 7 of the 20 units reviewed, reviewers gave an average score of 2 or higher (on a 0–3 point scale) across all criteria. An additional four units had average total scores at or above the midpoint of the scale. Most ELA middle school classes use a flexible 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 a teacher well versed in the standards.

As OER are developed to address the fundamental shifts in teaching and learning inherent in the CCSS and not just re-purposed, greater alignment is being achieved. 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 opportunities to access strong materials for all students regardless of the fiscal situation in their schools.

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.