Do Teachers Think Their Curriculum Materials Are Appropriately Challenging for Their Students?

Research Questions

  1. How do teacher perceptions of how challenging their materials are differ according to teacher and school characteristics and characteristics of the curriculum materials that they use?
  2. How do teacher perceptions of materials’ challenge level relate to the share of instructional time they report using required or recommended materials?
  3. Which factors within school and district control could improve teacher perceptions of the appropriateness of their curriculum materials?

Nationwide, a growing percentage of kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12) teachers report regularly using standards-aligned English language arts and math curriculum materials. Despite this uptick in the regular usage of standards-aligned materials across the United States, not all teachers use these materials for the majority of their instructional time, even when the materials are required or recommended by their districts. For education leaders who hope to use curriculum materials as levers for improving instruction, adopting standards-aligned materials is only the first step. Encouraging teachers to use these materials with integrity remains a challenge.

In this report, the authors use results from the 2023 American Instructional Resources Survey to explore whether teachers feel that the curriculum materials required or recommended by their schools or districts are appropriately challenging for their students.

Key Findings

  • Three in ten K–12 teachers consider the curriculum materials that are required or recommended by their schools or districts to be too challenging for the majority of their students.
  • Teachers in high-poverty schools and less experienced teachers were significantly more likely to report that their materials were too challenging for their students.
  • Math teachers who reported that their required or recommended materials were too challenging were significantly less likely to use these materials for 75 percent to 100 percent of their classroom instructional time.
  • Teachers who reported that they had been using their required or recommended materials for less than a year were more likely to consider those materials to be too challenging for their students.
  • Teachers who reported that their professional learning helped them use their materials to meet student needs were less likely to consider their required or recommended materials to be too challenging for students.

Research conducted by

This research was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation and was conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. All users of the publication are permitted to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and transform and build upon the material, including for any purpose (including commercial) without further permission or fees being required.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

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