Special Report
Education

A Primer on Alignment

By The Editors — January 11, 2001 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Alignment between academic standards and student tests is critical to the success of standards-based school improvement. Traditionally, “alignment” meant going through a checklist to see if a test question measured a standard.

The nonprofit group Achieve, which works to promote state standards and assessment initiatives, based its alignment work on the idea that the traditional method was not good enough to tell students, parents, teachers, and the public whether test results reflect the attainment of standards.

What is good enough? While no mathematical formula exists for matching a test to a state’s standards, Achieve has devised some guiding criteria:

Content. Does the test evaluate what the state standards indicate all students should know and be able to do at a particular grade level? If not, is it because the standards are too vague to make a determination, or is it because test items measure only part of what the standards ask for?

Performance. Are students asked to demonstrate the skills the standards expect? For example, if the standards say that students will analyze the characteristics of various literary forms, does the test ask them to evaluate different literary forms, or does it merely ask students to identify one type of literature?

Level of difficulty. Are test items easy, medium, or hard, and is the range of difficulty appropriately distributed across all the items? What makes them difficult--the content they are assessing, or another factor, such as the language of the question? Overall, is each assessment appropriately rigorous?

Balance and range. Does the test as a whole gauge the depth and breadth of the standards and objectives outlined in state standards documents? If not, are the standards that are assessed the most important ones for the grade level? Overall, do the assessments for elementary, middle, and high school focus on the most important content that all students should know?

Once the tests are analyzed against those criteria, Achieve uses the data to help states answer fundamental questions about their standards and assessments.

First, does each test measure only the content and skills reflected in the standards? In other words, can everything on the test be found in the state standards? That question gets at the heart of the fairness issue: If schools and students have used the standards to guide curriculum and instruction, they should not be surprised by material on the tests.

Other important issues center on the emphasis the tests place on certain content and skills. Does each assessment effectively sample the important knowledge and skills in the standards? To what extent does each assessment measure the core content and skills for that grade, and, taken together, do the tests for elementary, middle, and high school stress the most important concepts?

Finally, do the assessments for elementary, middle, and high school grow in sophistication and rigor from grade level to grade level?

Answers to those questions are intended to help states understand if their assessments are truly aligned to their standards, and whether the standards and tests taken together are a solid foundation for school improvement.

In March 2024, Education Week announced the end of the Quality Counts report after 25 years of serving as a comprehensive K-12 education scorecard. In response to new challenges and a shifting landscape, we are refocusing our efforts on research and analysis to better serve the K-12 community. For more information, please go here for the full context or learn more about the EdWeek Research Center.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 2001 edition of Education Week

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: June 19, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: June 12, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 29, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 8, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read