Getting a new math curriculum is MORE than just an adoption process

Here we are in October, 2023. As you have likely heard, this past July the California Board of Education unanimously approved the new revision of the California Mathematics Framework (this in itself should be a series of blog posts, but I’ll save that for another day.), which means school districts throughout Merced County will soon be champing at the bit to adopt a much-needed new curriculum.

But here’s the thing:  As your school/district begins to think about implementing a new curriculum, resist the urge to think the job is complete once the shrink-wrapped curriculum arrives in the classroom.

It is only then that the REAL work begins!

If we want to see the explosive student achievement that we dream comes with a new math curriculum, then TWO things must happen:

  1. The adopted curriculum must be high-quality instructional materials that intentionally build knowledge content rather than merely reinforce discrete skills;
  2. Teachers must be provided with professional development that enables teachers to actually experience, understand, and practice with the new materials.


It has long been known to scholars that when all classrooms are filled with high-quality instructional materials, students are more likely to learn.[1] The OECD’s 2014 report showed that the highest performing – and most equitable – countries expose all students, not merely those deemed “gifted or accelerated”, to high-level, rigorous mathematics. Unfortunately, less than 20% of the materials in use in classrooms are considered high-quality.[2]

When we refer to high-quality instructional materials, we mean those that include lessons directly aligned to content standards and with the proper emphasis on the major clusters for each grade level. We also expect to see instructional strategies that create space for student-centered, inquiry-based learning with teacher support materials to foster the teacher’s own growth in addition to the growth of students.[3]

EdReports is a wonderful resource for whittling down the massive array of curricular choices to just a few, promising products. The next step would be to use a rubric such as the Instructional Materials Evaluation Toolkit[4] to really dig deep into each potential curriculum in search of the focus, coherence, and rigor one would expect to see in HQIM.

Our own MCOE Math Team utilizes a consensus-based curriculum adoption protocol to guide school districts through an adoption process that ensures the adoption of high-quality instructional materials in an edifying manner rather than one built upon conflict. Most important, districts need to consider how to deeply investigate possible curricula without subjecting students to a series of disjointed pilot processes with different publishers.

Curriculum-based PD

Once the HQIM is selected, the REAL work is ready to commence. Systems must be put in place to create professional learning communities that empower teachers to

  • unpack and understand the mathematics curriculum;
  • learn how to implement the student-centered and inquiry-based instructional strategies within each lesson; and
  • figure out the pacing at each of the three grain sizes:  the year, the chapter, and the lesson;
  • integrate formative assessment strategies within the lesson

To achieve these four goals, teachers must experience sustained, ongoing professional development that is directly related to the new HQIM they have adopted. This PD should create an atmosphere of professional learning communities that allows teachers to learn as much about THEMSELVES as it is to learn about the students. It is through the skillful use of curriculum-aligned professional learning communities that enables teachers to actually experience, understand, and practice with the new materials


For students to experience the greatest benefit of the HQIM, teachers themselves must develop a deep and profound understanding of the mathematics content they will be teaching. Teachers should understand the mathematics they are teaching and how that content aligns with the grades below and above. Moreover, teachers need the ability to analyze the student thinking that led to an incorrect answer, identify the mathematical understanding a student does not yet have, and decide how to best represent a mathematical idea so that it can be understood by students. Deborah Lowenberg Balls calls this Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (MKT).


As teachers grow their MKT, they are better able to implement student-centered instruction that invites students to engage in inquiry and exploration prior to formalizing their understanding with abstract numbers and symbols. As teachers incorporate new instructional strategies into their repertoire, they will necessarily need to examine their ingrained – almost subconscious – beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning to identify which parts of the “old way” they will remove in order to make room for the “new way”.


Teachers will use their math content knowledge (MCK) and their MKT to thoughtfully make decisions about pacing and prioritizing their work at the three grain sizes of lesson, chapter, and year. These decisions must be made through the lens of MCK and MKT to ensure students will receive a coherent, focused, and rigorous math experience.


Lastly, teachers continue the work of their PLC to grow their mathematical knowledge for teaching to gain insight into how each lesson creates space for formative assessment opportunities and mid-lesson adjustments. Equitable and humane formative assessment cannot happen without a teacher’s deep mathematical knowledge for teaching. MKT enables teachers to analyze student work, determine why a student might have made a particular error, and then make instructional decisions to make math accessible for the student.


As your school or district considers adopting new curriculum that honors the thinking of our state’s framework make sure you keep in mind these two powerful things:

  • Utilyze the consensus-based adoption process that results in selecting high-quality instructional materials that are tightly aligned with the framework.
  • Establish a sustained and ongoing commitment to a professional learning community that develops the mathematical knowledge for teaching necessary for teachers to make impactful decisions about pacing, student-centered instruction, and equitable assessment.

The MCOE Math Team is available to help you and your community with these endeavors!





[1] “The Opportunity Myth (PDF) – TNTP.” 21 Sep. 2018, Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

[2] “EdReports.” Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

[3] “The Elements: Transforming Teaching through Curriculum-Based ….” Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

[4] “Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool –” 21 Aug. 2013, Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.