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Ask a REL Response

Implementing new ELA curriculum — September 2019


What does the research say about the challenges teachers may have and supports they receive when implementing a new ELA curriculum?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the challenges teachers face when implementing a new ELA curriculum, as well as the supports they need. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Alterman, E., Balu, R., & Haider, Z. (2019). Writing instruction and technology in the classroom: Supporting teachers with the Drive to Write program. New York, NY: MDRC. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Around the country, high school teachers are being called upon to improve student writing, but they often lack the tools and requisite know-how to make a difference. An ambitious new program called Drive to Write is attempting to change that. This report describes an evaluation of the program’s implementation in 11 public high schools in New York City during the 2017–2018 school year. Key findings include: (1) The program rolled out as intended throughout the 2017–2018 school year. Coaches tailored their feedback for teachers and helped them focus on writing instruction by using technology to support workflow and data to guide their approach to individual students. Overall, teachers expressed a high rate of satisfaction with, and adoption of, the tools and support provided by Drive to Write; (2) Teachers customized their use of technology tools and writing instruction to suit the needs of their students and the constraints of their classroom. Nevertheless, practices related to writing and technology use among the 15 program teachers in the 11 Drive to Write schools were similar to those of the 17 teachers in 12 comparison schools. Teachers in program schools, however, exhibited greater understanding of, and proficiency with, higher-level writing instruction; and (3) It is unclear whether the program had a positive effect on student writing after one academic year of implementation. The analytic sample included 1,008 program students and 936 comparison students. Several factors could have dampened early effects, such as comparable writing improvement among all students during ninth-grade, similar technology practices between program and comparison students, or a sample of schools too small to detect modest effects. It could also be that the assessment score outcome may reflect student skill at timed test taking (which all schools address), rather than the intervention’s core focus on intensive writing composition (on which program schools spent dedicated time). This evaluation contributes to the growing literature that highlights the support teachers require to integrate new technology and data tools into their instructional routines, the role of individualized coaching for teachers, and the sustainability of data-driven teacher feedback to students. An understanding of these elements can lead to better implementation of writing programs in high schools across the country and, potentially, improved student writing.”

Fishman, B., Konstantopoulos, S., Kubitskey, B., Vath, R., Park, G., Johnson, H., & Edelson, D. (2013). Comparing the impact of online and face-to-face professional development in the context of curriculum implementation. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(5), 426–438. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “This study employed a randomized experiment to examine differences in teacher and student learning from professional development (PD) in two modalities: online and face-to-face. The study explores whether there are differences in teacher knowledge and beliefs, teacher classroom practice, and student learning outcomes related to PD modality. Comparison of classroom practice and student learning outcomes, normally difficult to establish in PD research, is facilitated by the use of a common set of curriculum materials as the content for PD and subsequent teaching. Findings indicate that teachers and students exhibited significant gains in both conditions, and that there was no significant difference between conditions. We discuss implications for the delivery of teacher professional learning.”

Green, J. D., Gonzalez, E. M., López-Velásquez, A. M., & Howard, E. R. (2013). Hands-on professional development: Middle school teachers’ experiences with a curriculum intervention research project. Middle School Journal, 45(2), 27–32. Abstract available from and full text available from

From the abstract: “The importance of professional development (PD) is clearly understood; however, little is known about how the most effective PD influences teachers' learning and how teachers perceive PD that goes beyond the typical two-hour session on an aspect of instruction. In this article, the authors present the response of a group of middle school teachers to a university-led, eight-week curriculum intervention study that served as a form of PD for the teachers. In this study, researchers from a university and a non-profit educational research organization conducted a vocabulary intervention study at four middle schools in New England. Part of a federally funded intervention study, this initiative focused on the academic vocabulary learning of Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs). The teachers were first presented the curriculum during a 12-hour training session and were coached for eight weeks throughout the implementation of the curriculum in their classrooms. The original intent of the intervention training and coaching was to promote fidelity of implementation of the curriculum, not to research the effects of the intervention training as professional development for teachers. However, as the intervention progressed, the teachers often expressed to researchers and coaches that they were learning new aspects of vocabulary development and instruction. Therefore, during final interviews conducted following the completion of the intervention, teachers were asked to talk about their perceptions of the intervention as a PD opportunity. The findings reported in this article are based on these final teacher interviews. The findings presented here suggest that using university-school partnerships through curricular interventions can serve as valuable opportunities to provide effective PD, because these types of interventions allow for both content and instructional learning as well as sustained support. The article begins with a summary of what is known about effective professional development, continues with a description of the intervention, and concludes with a focus on the teachers’ experiences in working collaboratively with the researchers as a form of professional development.”

Woulfin, S. L. (2016). Duet or duel? A portrait of two logics of reading instruction in an urban school district. American Journal of Education, 122(3), 337–365. Abstract available from and full text available for a fee from

From the abstract: “This article presents findings on the institutional logics of reading instruction in an urban school district, portraying how district leaders and coaches enacted two logics. Findings are grounded in observation, interview, and document data on district leaders and literacy coaches from a 13-month period. Using neo-institutional theory, this article highlights the interrelationship between macrolevel structures and microlevel practices, particularly discussing the ‘lived logics’ used throughout the implementation of a new reading program. I explicate two logics of reading instruction: Accountability First and Just Read, which coexisted within the district to provide formal and informal rules to structure action. To reveal the complexities of educators’ enactment of logics, this article portrays how district leaders advanced each logic. It also depicts how coaches hybridized the logics, with consequences for the direction of reform. It shows how educators in different leadership positions engage together with logics. The findings have implications for structure-agency theory, district leadership, and school reform.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

The Aspen Institute –

From the website: “The Aspen Institute has earned a reputation for gathering diverse, nonpartisan thought leaders, creatives, scholars and members of the public to address some of the world’s most complex problems. But the goal of these convenings is to have an impact beyond the conference room. They are designed to provoke, further and improve actions taken in the real world.”

REL West note: The Aspen Institute has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Wiener, R., & Pimentel, S. (2017). Practice what you teach: Connecting curriculum and professional learning in schools. Washington, DC: Aspen Institute. Full text available from

The Brookings Institution –

From the website: “The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Our mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.”

REL West note: The Brookings Institution has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Polikoff, M. (2018). The challenges of curriculum materials as a reform lever. Evidence speaks reports. Washington, DC: Center on Children and Families, Brookings Institution. Abstract available from and full text available from

Education Resource Strategies (ERS) –

From the website: “We are a national non-profit that partners with district, school and state leaders to transform how they use resources (people, time, and money) to create strategic school systems that enable every school to prepare every child for tomorrow, no matter their race or income. Our work integrates data analysis, benchmarking, strategic design, consensus building, implementation and monitoring in the areas of school system design.”

REL West note: ERS has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Miles, K. H., Rosenberg, D., & Green, G. Q. (2017). Igniting the learning engine: How school systems accelerate teacher effectiveness and student growth through connected professional learning. Watertown, MA: Education Resource Strategies. Full text available from

Learning Forward –

From the website: “Learning Forward builds educators’ knowledge and skills to lead and sustain effective professional learning. Our learning programs provide strategies and tools to strengthen learning systems and build capacity at all levels.”

REL West note: Learning Forward has two resources that are relevant to this request:

Davidson, B., & Pimentel, S. (2018). Strong materials in the hands of great teachers: A year of school visits highlights what makes curriculum work. Learning Professional, 39(6), 36–39. Abstract available from and full text available from

Freitag, E. (2018). Step by step: Preparation and professional learning support implementation of quality materials. Learning Professional, 39(6), 40–42. Abstract available from and full text available from

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) –

From the website: “The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student.”

REL West note: NASSP has one resource that is relevant to this request:

Lesaux, N. K., Burkhauser, M. A., & Kelley, J. G. (2013). Supporting teachers. Principal Leadership, 14(2), 40–44. Abstract available from and full text may be available upon request from the archives of NASSP


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(challenge OR support) AND (“English Language arts” OR English) AND (curriculum OR program) AND (implementation) AND (teacher OR educator)]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.