The 2020 global pandemic that closed school for millions of students and forced a sudden transition to online learning—in some cases for more than a year—continues to cast a long shadow. It’s now even clearer how much U.S. education systems suffer from the lack of teaching and learning coherence: federal, state, district and school leaders and educators often are working at cross purposes, with different visions and differing expectations for teaching, testing and school improvement. In particular, this lack of quality and consistency contributes to marginalizing and poorly serving those struggling the most in how our systems are currently designed—particularly Black, Indigenous and other students of color and students living in low-income communities.
Greater coherence can come from ensuring all teachers have access to high-quality instructional materials, training and support to infuse culturally-relevant ideas, materials and methods into their classrooms. It also can come from policymakers, civil rights advocates and community stakeholders better aligning on the role of summative assessments and better balancing the need for data that advances equity and transparency with improving instruction. And it can come from redesigning school accountability measures and supports to ensure they generate real help for underperforming schools and sustained school improvement.
As one of our primary focus areas, Education First works with school district, charter management, state and national education leaders, funders and advocates—one-on-one, with senior leadership teams, and in networks or communities of practice—to help envision and advance more effective, equitable and coherent instructional, assessment and accountability systems. This work with system leaders and educators emphasizes making sure disparate policies, initiatives and resource decisions—from choices about curriculum and instruction, to local and state testing, to supports for struggling schools—reinforce common visions and goals for improving teaching, learning and student well-being.
Our core expertise within Coherent Instructional, Assessment and Accountability Systems includes:
- College and career-ready standards, high-quality instructional aligned materials and curriculum-connected professional learning
- Reimagining intervention at scale for COVID-19 recovery of unfinished learning
- Summative, interim, diagnostic and formative assessments
- State accountability system design
- School improvement and intervention practices
Some of the recent ways we have helped the field make states’ and schools’ instructional, assessment and accountability systems more coherent include:
- Since 2019, we have collaborated with the Bill & Melinda Gates and Walton Family Foundations and leaders in 10 states and CMOs to flesh out and test possible new approaches to state testing and other statewide measures of student success.
- We have worked with over 30 SEAs on major state education strategy, planning and communication projects, such as Race to the Top (four winning applications and technical assistance to 19 winners, 2009–2015), ESSA planning (19 states, 2016–2017), the Coherence Lab Fellowship (seven states, 2017–2021) and state-by-state policy development, program design and tool development (25 states, 2008–present).
- With leading mathematics educators and funders, we supported the incubation and start up of EdReports in 2014 to provide regular ratings on the quality of different textbooks and curriculum packages.
- We coach state education agency chief academic officers as part of CCSSO’s Instructional Materials and Professional Development 13-state network.
- We led the Core to College Network and High Quality Assessment Project Network to support advocates and states to adopt and implement better assessment systems and policies.
View Examples of our Work