To the Editor:
The architects of the common-core state standards are right to be worried about the alignment of curriculum materials to the standards (“Curriculum Producers Work to Reflect Common Standards,” Aug. 25, 2010). The fact is that curriculum developers make all kinds of claims about the alignment of their materials to different states’ standards, and these claims are seldom verified in any scientific way. The result is that the materials teachers use are, at best, not as well aligned with the standards as they could be, and, at worst, poorly aligned, leading teachers to teach content not specified in the standards at all.
It is surprising, though, that the common core’s developers would say that there are no solid processes in place to evaluate the alignment of curriculum materials with standards. This is not true. The Council of Chief State School Officers and researchers at the University of Wisconsin have developed such procedures, based on the prior work of Andrew C. Porter, that have been in use for a decade now. The Surveys of Enacted Curriculum, or SEC, can be used to content-analyze curricula to provide detailed information on the similarities and differences between instruction, standards, assessments, and/or curriculum materials. The methodology can even be used to design a curriculum that is maximally aligned to the standards based on the available lessons from a variety of curriculum resources.
Such analyses do require time and money. Content analysis of a typical textbook can cost from $6,000 to $12,000. Nonetheless, such costs represent a tiny fraction of the development budget for textbooks, and the common-core standards have already been content-analyzed, making the alignment analysis of any given curriculum a straightforward and inexpensive process.
Being able to objectively describe the nature and level of alignment of any curriculum to the new common standards (or any state content standards, for that matter) certainly offers an improvement over the current, ad hoc system for making claims about curriculum alignment.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2010 edition of Education Week as Ways Do Exist to Check Alignment to Standards