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The Benefits of Curriculum Alignment

Essentials on education data and analysis from research authority AEL

Auto mechanics perform alignments by lining up the direction of the wheels so the vehicle is pointed in a straight line. Curriculum alignment follows the same principle, with the "wheels" being curriculum, instruction, standards and assessment. Research indicates this kind of alignment can point a school or district toward improved student achievement.

But there's a catch: It can't be done in 30 minutes or less (in fact, it's more a process than an event), and all the work can't be done in one "shop" (different components are done at the state, district and school levels).

Perhaps the complex nature of the task is one reason for existing gaps between what's outlined in the written curriculum, what gets taught and what gets tested. Researchers Blank, Porter and Smithson documented such gaps when they examined math and science instruction in 11 states in 2001. Researchers of the Second International Mathematics and Science Study attributed the poor performance of U.S. students to uneven exposure to mathematics topics in their classrooms.

These and other findings indicate districts are missing out on some potentially significant benefits of curriculum alignment. What kind of benefits? For one, improved student performance on standardized tests can result when teachers carefully align instruction with learning goals and assessments. An analysis of international studies shows implementing and monitoring an aligned curriculum to result in a measurable impact (31 percentile points) in student achievement. Several studies show that alignment "cancels out" more traditional predictors of student achievement such as socioeconomic status, gender, race and teacher effect.

Other benefits include better communication and collaboration among teachers, helping them understand how their instructional decisions contribute to students' overall learning.

With NCLB calling attention to district accountability requirements, the role of curriculum alignment is getting more attention. District leaders should be aware of the following:

States, districts and schools have distinct responsibilities The state department of education sees that state tests are aligned with state standards and state curriculum frameworks. Many use the Webb alignment process to align assessments and standards according to categorical concurrence, depth of knowledge consistency, range-of-knowledge correspondence, balance of representation, and source of challenge (on test items). The district writes or adopts a curriculum that is aligned with state documents, supports teachers in delivering it and monitors implementation and results. The school provides teachers opportunities for periodic review of curriculum documents, alignment of instructional strategies and classroom assessments to meet state standards, and relevant professional development.

Teacher involvement is essential Without teacher buy-in, alignment efforts can be a fruitless exercise. Teachers should be involved in curriculum development and alignment, and professional development offerings should address their concerns (e.g., how to combine individual teaching styles with effective delivery of the curriculum).

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