Why Do High-Quality Instructional Materials Matter?


In U.S. schools, teachers bear a significant responsibility for shaping what and how students learn. Often, they invest significant effort in researching and developing their own instructional materials. Additionally, many teachers supplement district-mandated materials with internet-sourced content. Both of these inevitably lead to a variability in educational quality and consistency. This approach also requires considerable time, with teachers spending an average of seven hours weekly searching for and five hours creating materials.

Recognizing these challenges, many states and school districts in the United States are increasingly prioritizing the adoption of high-quality instructional materials (HQIMs) to support teachers and enhance student learning outcomes. This shift is part of a broader effort to align with practices seen in top-performing nations such as Finland, South Korea and Canada, which employ rigorous, content-rich curricula at national or provincial levels, contributing to their strong student performance.

HQIM might sound like a vague term or even a marketing phrase, but it is surprisingly well-defined. According to EdReports, a leading curriculum reviewer, HQIMs share several key characteristics: standards alignment, evidence-based pedagogical approaches, a commitment to equity and inclusion, and comprehensive teacher support, including both initial training and ongoing professional development.

Pivotal Role

U.S. studies reinforce the idea that our students would benefit from greater access to HQIMs. Research indicates that the choice of ELA, math and science programs have marked effects on assessment scores, with other studies suggesting that the most dramatic impact of HQIM occurs when they’re placed in the hands of less experienced teachers. Many U.S. districts have implemented HQIMs successfully, reporting improvements in student performance; Louisiana and Tennessee have made significant strides in HQIM adoption, achieving near-universal access to high-quality curricula in math and ELA.

Recognizing the importance of curriculum in student success, the demand for HQIMs has increased, leading states and districts to prioritize these tools. Imagine Learning has developed a portfolio of core curricula, including Imagine Learning EL Education, Imagine IM, Twig Science and Traverse, which aim to exemplify the principles of HQIMs. These programs focus on enhancing the teacher and student experience through inquiry-based learning, hands-on activities, digital investigations, and real-world connections.

Examples of high-quality multimedia to engage students in Imagine Classroom curricula.
Examples of high-quality multimedia to engage students in Imagine Classroom curricula.

Guiding Principles

Through collaboration with various states and districts and rigorous evaluation by independent assessors, Imagine Learning has developed an approach to HQIMs based on six guiding principles:

  • Standards alignment: Meticulously crafted curricula aligned with state and national standards
  • Best-practice pedagogy: Research-backed teaching methods and strategies to promote student engagement and understanding
  • Equity and inclusion: Diverse perspectives and resources to meet the needs of all learners
  • Teacher and student experience: Intuitive and easy-to-implement curricula, facilitating enriching learning experiences
  • Measuring student learning: Comprehensive tools to track growth and personalize instruction to individual needs
  • Professional learning: Ongoing support and training opportunities to help teachers refine their skills and practices

Certainly, saving teachers time is a big part of the appeal of HQIMs. As one social studies teacher said of Traverse, “It’s so valuable because of the sources that have been selected. Most of them are really great quality and have already been pared down. I think that’s incredibly important, not just for engaging students but also for saving teachers time. It takes a ton of time for teachers to find sources.”

The Imagine Classroom portfolio of core curricula empowers educators and students with HQIMs.

Professional Learning

The final principle — professional learning — is crucial. Providing high-quality resources is not enough; teachers also need support in using them effectively. To maximize the impact of HQIMs, it is essential to combine these materials with in-program teacher support, implementation guidance and ongoing professional learning. Schools benefit from comprehensive professional learning offerings that build on the pedagogical principles of the core products, incorporating authentic demonstrations, meaningful collaboration, and structured planning. For example, following the implementation of Imagine IM in one Colorado school, the principal noted, “We did that first training the very first year [with Imagine Learning], and our teachers wanted more and more. And every time we give them a little bit more, they continue to grow and add to what they received in previous professional developments.”

Equally important is how HQIMs can help create equitable and inclusive learning environments where all students can access rigorous, standards-aligned content. This consistency is crucial in mitigating the “educational lottery,” where student success often depends on their learning environment. High-quality, standardized, yet differentiated content ensures every student receives grade-appropriate assignments and high expectations, fostering academic growth and closing achievement gaps. Diverse perspectives within curricula can also promote inclusivity, enrich classroom discussions and broaden understanding of different cultures and viewpoints. Following the implementation of Imagine Learning EL Education at his school, a school counselor reported to us, “Students feel like, ‘Yo, I can learn from this because that person looks like me or that person acts like me.’ It’s amazing for them. They feel included and like they are part of the story, which influences their love of reading and storytelling, and desire to learn more.”

Enhancing the Teacher’s Role

The purpose of HQIMs is not to diminish the teacher’s role but to enhance it. Research indicates that while teacher quality is critical for student achievement, the choice of instructional materials has a similarly significant impact. Adopting HQIMs is a cost-effective strategy for improving educational outcomes compared to other reforms, such as class-size reduction. HQIMs provide a robust framework to support teachers in delivering effective and engaging lessons. These materials free teachers from developing content from scratch, allowing them to focus on pedagogy and personalized student support. By ensuring all students receive consistent, high-quality content, HQIMs empower teachers to maximize their impact. As states and districts continue to embrace high-quality instructional materials, we expect to see more students reaching their full potential and more teachers empowered to excel.


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