Evaluating Alignment Between Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction

Dec. 24, 2009

Source: Review of Educational Research. Vol. 79, Iss. 4; pg. 1332-1361. (December 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Alignment is a means for understanding the degree to which different components of an educational system work together to support a common goal. In this age of accountability, it is important that state organizations, districts, and schools support each other to send a consistent message to teachers and students about what is required. Alignment research is one method to demonstrate this consistency of message or to understand what changes need to be addressed to ensure every student has the opportunity to learn the content on which they are assessed, and to demonstrate his or her proficiency. 

The authors discuss the importance of alignment for facilitating proper assessment and instruction. The authors describe the three most common methods for evaluating the alignment between state content standards and assessments.

Approaches to Alignment Research

1) Webb Methodology - Webb developed a comprehensive and complex methodology to investigate the degree of alignment between assessments and standards. His method explores five different dimensions to understand the degree of alignment: content focus, articulation across grades and ages, equity and fairness, pedagogical implications, and system applicability (Webb, 1997). However, only the area of content focus has been applied in alignment studies. Therefore, this review focuses on the applied piece of the Webb methodology. The results of a study using the Webb approach illustrate the relationship between what is being asked of the students, how that is being assessed, and what trade-offs are made in the process.

2) Achieve Methodology - The Achieve methodology is an alignment protocol that is adapted to reflect the concerns of specific subject areas (English language arts, mathematics, and science). It yields both a quantitative and qualitative alignment comparison of a state's assessment to its related standards. A first step in the method is a verification of the blueprint that maps the test items to the objectives. Then the method is based on a team of carefully trained SMEs reaching consensus on the degree of match between the standards and the assessment based on specific criteria (dimensions). 

3) Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (SEC) Methodology - Porter and Smithson (2001) developed the SEC alignment methodology to help people involved in the education process see the connection between what is taught in the classroom and what is assessed. This methodology was developed to quantitatively compare degrees of alignment for standards, assessments, and instruction across schools and states. The SEC methodology builds on a content validity approach but also measures the instructional content purportedly taught and captures this information at both a detailed and more general level of analysis. 
Then, the authors discuss the relative strengths and limitations of these methods.
Furthermore, the authors discuss examples of applications of each method.

The authors conclude that choice of alignment method depends on the specific goals of a state or district and that alignment research is critical for ensuring the standards-assessment-instruction cycle facilitates student learning. Additional potential benefits of alignment research include valuable professional development for teachers and better understanding of the results from standardized assessments.

Porter, A. C., & Smithson, J. L. (2001). Defining, developing, and using curriculum indicators. CPRE Research Report Series (No. RR-048). Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

Webb, N. L. (1997). Criteria for alignment of expectations and assessments in mathematics and science education (Research Monograph No. 6). Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

Updated: Feb. 21, 2010