Integrity over Fidelity

April 5, 2022

In the recent, excellent article for EdReports, 3 Common Misconceptions About High Quality Instructional Materials, author Janna Chan makes a distinction between fidelity and integrity. Fidelity, in the context of curriculum adoptions, usually means “do this word for word or there will be consequences.” Integrity suggests something else: adapting materials to the needs of you and your students, while also respecting the philosophy and intent of the curriculum.

As Chan states in the article, “Adaptation is a necessary and important aspect of implementing any set of high-quality instructional materials.”

I love the distinction between fidelity and integrity here. In fact, we wrote our summer curriculum in the first place to replace a scripted curriculum. (I loathe scripted curricula. Even when the activities are good, treating teachers as cogs who just need to mouth the correct words at the correct time is radically disrespectful to teachers. I believe that disrespect makes these curricula less useful for students as well.)

We try to underline that the curriculum is not there to be covered, or adhered to perfectly. It’s there to aid the teacher in building the best possible environment for students to learn math. At the same time, we want to state our values as clearly as possible, so teachers have a sense of exactly what working in integrity with our program involves.

Here’s our latest version of this articulation, excerpted from the introduction to our most recent update to the summer curriculum.

The goals are to strengthen student understanding and deepen their enjoyment of math. The values of the program help work toward those goals:

  • Students should play, with both games and ideas.
  • Students should have hands-on experiences, exploring math with manipulatives.
  • Students should experience math as a meaningful, compelling activity, with multiple ways to approach solving a problem, representing a situation, and developing a strategy.
  • Students should have time to think deeply about mathematics.

In short, this curriculum is designed to help you build a classroom where students are doing math and thinking math.

I like that we put the agency with the teachers right in the book: “this curriculum is designed to help you build a classroom…”

The EdReports article is worth reading for its first two points as well. In brief:

  • Don’t ask teachers to make their own instructional materials.
“A more consistent, equitable, and commonsense approach would be to relieve teachers of curriculum development responsibilities and let them focus their energy where it matters most for student outcomes—on classroom instruction.”
  • Make sure teachers have the support they need to learn how to teach a new curriculum.
“Half of teachers do not feel that their professional development prepared them to use their district curriculum.”

Overall, there’s a picture here that I’d like to see more textbook publishers and administrators abiding by:

  • Curriculum is written with the understanding that it will be adapted by teachers to serve their specific students.
  • Curriculum adoptions include high-quality training for teachers, and combine clarity about the goals and values of the program with the openness to let teachers be professionals who will take control of the material and potentially make improvements.

A Professional Training Session (pre-pandemic)

At our trainings, we say: we’ve provided you with a default option, so you always have a good move to make. But if you see, an option that better serves your students, in accordance with the goals and values we’re all striving for, take it (and tell us what you did, so we can include it in our next version.)

Integrity, that is, trumps fidelity.

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