Emergency stimulus funds for education present a rare opportunity for schools and school districts. This is a once-in-a-generation moment to make lasting investments that will reap benefits for decades to come. At the same time there are a myriad of immediate demands districts will have to consider including COVID-related expenses and greater than anticipated student needs1. It is therefore vital school and district leadership be intentional in the allocation of stimulus dollars. 

Wise leaders are seeking opportunities to use funds to simultaneously address the immediate needs of their student population and faculty while also laying the foundation for transformational changes that will dramatically improve academic achievement and chose achievement gaps.  

But there is a way that districts and schools can address both – and it’s by focusing on what gets results: Alignment. Schools continue to need a strong system built around a high-quality core curriculum, with tightly aligned assessments, and professional learning that builds educator capacity.  

This is not a flash in the pan or the latest trend. In fact, we’ve been talking about it for years. Rather, it’s a chance to cultivate lasting change that will drive equity and excellence for all students.

We recommend that leaders invest in these three areas: 

  1. High-quality curriculum
  2. Proven, aligned classroom assessments
  3. Meaningful, relevant professional learning

Invest in high-quality curriculum

Research and leadership from industry-leaders such as Chiefs for Change, UNESCO, and EdReports, as well as individual states actively prioritizing education, like Louisiana, prove the positive impact a high-quality curriculum has on student learning.  

Districts, CMOs, and schools now have the financial wherewithal to invest in a well-designed, standards-aligned, and highly rated curriculum that sequences learning both within and across grade levels to build students' knowledge, skills, and abilities. There are a number of highly rated curricula on the market that may be adopted and adapted for implementation. Alternatively, a district may decide to build a high-quality curriculum that works in its unique context, as Chicago Public Schools has recently done  


Invest in proven, aligned classroom assessments

Achievement gaps have long existed. The pandemic disproportionately widened those gaps – particularly for historically marginalized students. More than ever, teachers need a way to accurately and quickly pinpoint areas of growth to adapt instructional practice and communicate any additional resource needs to appropriate stakeholders.  

Diagnostic and interim assessments tightly aligned to the curriculum provide teachers with the right data at the right time so they can address learning gaps, pivot to teaching content in a different way, or accelerate instruction to meet student needs. These types of assessments are assessments for learning because they are designed to be part of the instructional process embedded within classroom routines. Resulting data can reveal areas in need of additional support within a school or district. School leaders can use this information to amend progression maps and identify areas of curriculum strengths and weaknesses to inform future professional learning opportunities.   


Invest in meaningful, relevant professional learning

Data has become an occupational buzzword. Many in education argue they understand how to read and interpret data. But to what extent? An error in interpretation may lead to misunderstandings about student learning. To interpret data well, one must be fully data literate.  

Districts and schools should provide high-quality professional learning connecting their high-quality curriculum with assessment and then connecting the resulting data to teacher instructional practices. In an aligned system teachers can trace a direct line from the standard they are teaching to the assessments they administer. To adapt instruction to student needs in the moment, teachers must be data literate. They should possess the ability to view real-time data and make sound pedagogical choices at the point and time of need. To do so requires professional learning.

Learning the art of data literacy is particularly effective when teachers collaborate to analyze data.  

When teachers work with their colleagues, they calibrate a shared understanding of the vision and goals for their students. Without alignment amongst teachers, there is increased likelihood assessments will be administered without clarity of purpose. Assessments for learning are given with intention. The objective is to use the resulting data to drive student learning. Absent those conditions, assessments become merely accountability measures. 


Invest in lasting change

School and district leaders are now presented with an opportunity to build consensus around a high-quality aligned assessment and instructional process. For lasting change, this process should be built to survive any future leadership changes. We recommend educational leaders collaborate with building-level leadership and teachers to develop a multi-year roadmap outlining efficient spending of stimulus funds on high-leverage tools and services for student achievement. Building from the ground up with all stakeholders encouraged to participate establishes a foundation of transparency and agency designed to stand the test of time.  

CenterPoint works closely with schools and districts to provide curriculum review, development, and implementation services. Our services are customizable to align with school and district instructional priorities, address trends in student and teacher data, include technologies that fit your existing infrastructure, and always meet school and district schedules. 

As a complement to high-quality curriculum, our aligned suite of pre-built and customizable assessments measure student growth, achievement, and progress towards college-and-career standards beginning day 1 of each school year with Fresh Start screeners and diagnostic assessments to identify student strengths and areas of unfinished learning. 

For total alignment, CenterPoint also offers professional learning in assessment and data literacy to ensure teachers get uncompromised value out of every assessment administered to feed PLC’s and best inform instruction. Contact us today for a free demonstration of the power of alignment.  

After 13 years teaching secondary Social Studies, Sarah Bidwell is now a manager at CenterPoint Education Solutions. CenterPoint is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting schools and districts in implementing coherent instructional models consisting of high-quality curriculum, tightly aligned assessments, and professional learning.  

1 https://www.erstrategies.org/cms/files/4709-cost-of-covid-updated-2.pdf