In SCORE’s report, Priorities for Progress, one recommendation was for the state to provide teachers with high-quality instructional materials and support use of those resources for strong instruction. That recommendation was inspired by the work of Leading Innovation for Tennessee Education (LIFT), a group of dedicated district, school, and classroom leaders across Tennessee who have been working since the spring of 2016 to provide teachers with high-quality, aligned instructional materials in English language arts (ELA) classrooms.

As a result of their investment in high-quality instructional materials and aligned professional development for teachers, LIFT districts have seen exciting results. The 2018-19 TNReady ELA assessment showed that:

  • Eight out of 12 LIFT districts saw increases in the number of third-grade students scoring on track or mastered.
  • Every LIFT district had at least one school engaged in the LIFT literacy work that exceeded growth expectations.
  • In five LIFT districts, every single school engaged in the LIFT literacy work exceeded growth expectations.
  • Twenty schools engaged in the LIFT literacy work were named by the state as reward schools, with four of those schools moving from a TVAAS score of 1 in 2017-18 to a TVAAS score of 5 in 2018-19.

The LIFT network recently released an annual report highlighting what they have learned this past year as they worked to sustain their progress in early literacy.

Their first learning is that sustaining progress requires that leaders maintain relentless focus and investment in their strategy. To do this, LIFT leaders prioritized maintaining the investment of all stakeholders, including board members, families, the community, school leaders, and teachers. This included celebration of early wins, as well as regular communication about successes, lessons learned, and areas of focus moving forward. It was particularly impactful to ground their celebration in student work by looking at before-and-after student work samples to highlight the growth in student learning and encourage persistence in the work.

Second, they highlight that teachers need structures and support to reorient their daily work with rigorous materials. This includes carving out and protecting time for teacher collaboration and reflection — allowing teachers to work together on intellectual preparation at both the unit and lesson level.

Their third learning is that teachers’ expectations rise when they see their students succeed with more rigorous materials. The LIFT network surveyed teachers to benchmark their expectations for students and were pleasantly surprised to find their expectations outpaced the expectations of teachers nationally and also grew substantially from fall 2018 to spring 2019. Teachers’ ability to see firsthand that their students can succeed with more rigorous materials is slowly challenging and changing expectations.

Their fourth learning is not to underestimate the magnitude of transformation required in the shift to explicit and systematic foundational skills instruction. Despite decades of reading research pointing to the effectiveness of this approach, many districts and schools across the country — including many in the LIFT network prior to this work — have not embraced this approach. Although the network initially saw a huge increase in the quality of foundational skills instruction after introducing more rigorous instructional materials, that growth dipped as their pilots expanded to more teachers. Ongoing and continuous training and support is critical to sustain progress.Lastly, they learned their best practices can be replicated to expand impact. As LIFT expanded its work to additional districts, those districts were able to replicate LIFT’s growth, but at a faster pace. Working with peer districts who have engaged in instructional materials work is a powerful on-ramp for districts new to this work. LIFT’s Instructional Materials Implementation Guidebook is a valuable resource for districts adopting high-quality instructional materials as they think through the supports that teachers and leaders need to effectively leverage high-quality materials to dramatically improve outcomes for students.

As the LIFT network continues implementation work through the 2019-20 school year, there will be continued focus on building the capacity of leaders and teachers to ensure that students are owning the learning, as well as leveraging standards-aligned materials to meet the needs of all students. Additionally, they will work to ensure coherence across strategic initiatives and sustain the sense of urgency needed to drive improvements over the long-term.

Courtney Bell is the senior director of research and innovation at SCORE.

Read more about the LIFT network: