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We know you are facing the challenge of learning loss recovery for the 2021–2022 school year and your ultimate goal is for students to recover their learning—effectively and efficiently. You will need a plan. You will need a plan that is focused on learning loss recovery throughout the year. And this plan must ensure that all aspects of learning are coherent. In other words, you need a plan that is an aligned curriculum, instruction, and assessment system.

Why Build an Aligned System?

For a learning loss recovery plan to succeed, all parts must be in sync. For example, what students need to learn should be what teachers teach. How students need to learn should be how teachers teach. And what students need to demonstrate should be what teachers assess. Curriculum, instruction, and assessment must be in sync, must be aligned, and must be coherent.

The Glossary of Education Reform defines “coherent curriculum” as this,

“The term coherent curriculum, or aligned curriculum, refers to an academic program that is (1) well organized and purposefully designed to facilitate learning, (2) free of academic gaps and needless repetitions, and (3) aligned across lessons, courses, subject areas, and grade levels (a “curriculum,” in the sense that the term is typically used by educators, encompasses everything that teachers teach to students in a school or course, including the instructional materials and techniques they use).

In most cases, the term refers to the alignment of learning standards and teaching—i.e., how well and to what extent a school or teacher has matched the content that students are actually taught with the academic expectations described in learning standards—but it also refers to coherence among all the many elements that are entailed in educating students, including assessments, standardized tests, textbooks, assignments, lessons, and instructional techniques.”

Understanding the value and purpose of an aligned system is the first step. Building it is the next step.

How to Build an Aligned Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment System

So, where to begin? Follow these five steps…

1. Examine the Standards by…

    • understanding the patterns inherent in the standards that support the development of integrated units.
    • analyzing the conceptual redundancy built into the organization of the standards.

2. Develop a Standards-Driven Scope and Sequence by…

    • determining criteria for mapping standards across a course.
    • mapping the standards into a scope (the number of times a standard is addressed) and sequence (the order in which standards are addressed).
    • utilizing the patterns in the standards to create integrated units that culminate in an authentic application.

3. Build Integrated Units by…

    • determining resources that support mastery of the standards.
    • creating outcomes from the standards that include what students will learn and how they will show mastery of that learning.
    • sharing instructional strategies that support mastery.

4. Develop a Learning Assessment Blueprint by…

    • determining the purpose of the assessment system and the number of administrations of the assessment.
    • creating criteria to build individual assessments that include total number of items, standards to be assessed, number of items per standard, percentage of each item type, and percentage of Depth of Knowledge levels.

5. Build Learning Assessments by…

    • following criteria to create assessments using valid and reliable items.
    • determining a protocol for the administration, reporting, and analysis of the student learning data.

A Few More Details About Building Learning Assessments

There’s a reason why we are talking about “learning assessments” and not just assessments. As Niemi, Vallone, Wang, and Griffin stated,

“High quality assessment is not possible without clearly identifying the purposes of the assessments. Assessments have to be judged against their intended uses. There is no absolute criterion that can be used to judge assessments and assessment systems that do not have clearly spelled out purposes. It is not possible to say, for example, that a given test is good for any and all intents and purposes. It is only possible to say, based on evidence, what purpose the test is valid for.”

In other words, a learning assessment should be clear in its purpose and always focused on student learning.

So, how do you build a learning assessment? Widely-accepted assessment development criteria (e.g., AERA, APA & NCME, 1999; Hambleton, 1996; Linn, 1993; CRESST, 2007) call for the following conditions to be achieved:

  1. Clarify Purpose: The purposes of the assessment are clearly defined.
  2. Determine Content: The standards/skills to be assessed are driven from the course scope and sequence. There is credible evidence that what is being assessed is what is being taught.
  3. Mirror Format: Item development supports the student’s ability to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways (i.e., various item types, depth of knowledge ranges, etc.).
  4. Develop Criteria: Selection criteria and selection procedures are accurately documented. (criteria includes total number of items, number of items per standard, depth of knowledge ranges, percentage of items by type, etc.)
  5. Document Decisions: Blueprint and assessment development, assessment administration, and scoring procedure decisions are accurately documented and explained.
  6. Share Reporting Mechanisms: Procedures for reporting student learning data in a variety of ways are available.
  7. Utilize Data Analysis Protocol: Procedures for analyzing student learning data begin to answer “why” students performed as they did.

Harness the Value of an Aligned Learning System

An aligned system allows teachers to focus on what is important this year. And what is important this year is learning loss recovery.

“Teachers who develop useful assessments, provide corrective instruction, and give students second chances to demonstrate success can improve their instruction and help students learn.”

In other words, remaining focused will help you help your students recover from what they lost this past year.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • A successful learning loss recovery plan must have the curriculum, instruction, and assessment in sync, aligned, and coherent.
  • 5 steps for building an aligned curriculum, instruction, and assessment system.
  • How to build learning assessments that are clear in their purpose and always focused on student learning.
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