SIMRA and Digital Content 2014

The mission of the State Instructional Materials Review Association (SIMRA) is to support state education agencies in affecting student achievement through thorough review of  core alignment of content, accessibility to all learners without bias and  and pedagogical design of instructional materials.

SIMRA bases its work on the following common criteria for vetting quality instructional materials:

  • Content is aligned to core standards and objectives that lead to college and career readiness and is structured to ensure that all students meet grade-specific expectations as they develop literacy skills.
  • Accessibility – Materials are free from bias in their portrayal of ethnic groups, gender, age, disabilities, cultures, religion, etc., and contain accommodations for multiple learning styles, students with exceptionalities, English Language Learners, and cultural differences.  They are durable and of high quality in physical structure, and are designed to promote optimal learning experiences for all students.
  • Pedagogical Design – Materials provide tools for a balanced approach to assessment including both formative and summative assessments in multiple formats not only to guide instruction but also to identify student mastery of content.  Information is organized logically and presented clearly using multiple methods and modes for delivering instruction that motivate and increase literacy as students engage in high interest, authentic activities.  Instructional design utilizes research-based instructional strategies, offers suggestions for appropriate scaffolding, emphasizes the importance of vocabulary acquisition, provides opportunities to engage in high interest, age-appropriate activities that mirror real-life situations, and make cross-curricular, global connections.

The criteria listed above apply to all kinds of instructional materials, regardless of their format.  Specific requirements relating to the physical/structural characteristics of the resources are listed in the Manufacturing Standards and Specification for Textbooks (MSST) as specified by the Advisory Commission on Textbook Specifications (ACTS http://simra.us/wp/acts/ ).  SIMRA recognizes the tremendous potential and power of digital resources to house and deliver highly engaging and rich content, while noting that traditional textbooks and other print based learning materials can also provide rich learning experiences in the hands of skilled teachers and motivated learners.  Teachers and students should have access to a wide variety of resources that best meet the needs of the learner.

How the instructional materials review and adoption process is evolving to accommodate digital content

The instructional materials that are reviewed in SIMRA member states are properly classified as “courseware”, meaning that they are specifically designed to align with core standards and objectives for particular courses of study.  They may be designed for entire courses, or produced to target specific segments of a course (supplemental).   Various forms of digital content that are so designed are carefully evaluated in state review procedures.  Some states are engaging in review procedures that are accomplished entirely online.  Many, if not all, states are evaluating digital materials that are stored on digital media (cds, dvds, etc.) as well as online.  Product specifications are mandated in numerous states, and some currently require that all publisher samples be submitted in digital format for review.

Many state education agencies have “one-on-one” initiatives in process which are requiring each student to have access to a digital device.   Review processes are in place and are being developed to evaluate materials developed to fulfill this need.  Publishers are encouraged to submit samples of digital materials for review.  Open Education Resources, which are produced in digital format and are available to schools and districts free of charge, are also being reviewed.  These resources are carefully evaluated and listed in online databases along with items submitted from publishers.

Future Directions for SIMRA

The instructional materials review process is essential to support high level educational experiences and academic rigor.  SIMRA is uniquely positioned to provide meaningful service to educators to help them sift through the vast number of available teaching and learning resources.  Member states are able to provide guidance for local patrons in selecting materials that are aligned to state core standards and objectives, are accessible to all students, and that promote quality instruction.  Each state has identified processes for thorough review that are carefully structured to meet state mandated rules and policies.

SIMRA representatives collaborate frequently in monthly webinars, an annual conference with Advisory Commission on Textbook Specifications, and as needed through electronic communications including email and web postings (http://simra.us ).    This sharing process has created a support network for members, leading to improvements in each state’s procedures.  Recommendations and standards for instructional materials have been created and circulated to publishers through partnerships established with the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Book Manufacturers Institute (BMI).   SIMRA reflects the perspective of state educational agencies in proposing measures for guidance and policy.  The collaborative nature of the organization helps all members to be aware of trends in other parts of the country, and to formulate strategies for practical action to deal with the wide variety of materials being produced.

SIMRA members are participants in the on-going discussion of Common Core resources, instructional pedagogy that accompanies them, and subsequent assessment strategies being developed to evaluate their impact on student learning.  Representatives meet frequently with state and national curriculum specialists to insure that review procedures are closely aligned with approved standards and assessments.

SIMRA seeks involvement with state, regional and national initiatives that relate to the instructional materials review process.  We strive to be aware of the latest trends in technology that provide shareable databases and digital resources.  Linkage to many of these resources is provided via our website (http://simra.us ).  As publishers adopt new strategies, SIMRA serves as a resource to assist in the dissemination of their materials by providing publicly available reviews.

–Alan Griffin

Revised February 11, 2014