Why high-quality instructional materials?

When it comes to student learning and success, teachers bring the magic. However, a growing body of research bears this out: along with the influence of teachers, curriculum has a significant effect on student learning. That’s why, over the last few years, high-quality instructional materials, or HQIM, has become a familiar term among educators. 


States and districts across the country are focusing on materials that have been rigorously reviewed and deemed high-quality by EdReports.org, the leading third-party curriculum reviewer (or, in Louisiana, by a Tier 1 designation). EdReports defines high-quality instructional materials as materials that are closely aligned to rigorous standards and easy to use.

The curriculum effect

Research shows that students learn primarily through their interactions with teachers and content. Materials influence students directly, and they influence the way teachers teach. They are an essential part of the equation, with a proven and direct impact on outcomes. According to the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy report Hiding in Plain Sight, “Research suggests that, in the aggregate and for specific instructional programs, changing from ‘business-as-usual’ to a high-quality curriculum, or from a low-quality to a high-quality curriculum, can boost student achievement.” The report calls this overall impact “the curriculum effect.” 

Individual studies cited in Hiding in Plain Sight also show that: 

  • High-quality curricula increased student achievement in reading, math, and science from the 50th to the 60th percentile and higher: “a potentially transformative impact if aggregated across an entire class, grade, or school.” (Data from David M. Steiner et al., “StandardsWork: A Narrative Research Review,” Center for Research and Reform in Education; Institute for Education Policy, Johns Hopkins University, January 2017.)
  • Access to rigorous materials increased achievement for Black and Latino students (Card & Giuliano, 2016).
  • English Language Learners acquire knowledge and vocabulary faster when using grade-level content (with supports) (Zwiers, 2008; Walqui & Heritage, 2012).
  • Math textbook choice has a significant effect on test scores (Bhatt & Koedel, 2012 & 2013; Agodini et al, 2010).

A cost-effective approach

And high-quality materials don’t have to come with sticker shock. Early evidence suggests that switching to a high-quality curriculum is not only more effective, but also more cost-effective, than other familiar school-led approaches to boosting student success.

For example, a 2015 study from the Center for American Progress found that the average cost-effectiveness ratio of switching curriculum “was almost 40 times that of class-size reduction in a well-known randomized experiment” (Boser, Chingos, and Straus, 2015). 

High quality is not defined in a vacuum—it’s all about curriculum that supports teachers in the classroom. When teachers have high-quality instructional materials, they don’t have to spend their valuable time searching for resources and creating their own materials. They know they are using materials that have been developed and reviewed by researchers, academic experts, and teachers like them. They have curriculum that works harder so they can do what they do best: teach.