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Testing        < Previous        Next >


How the Tests Drive the Curriculum


Q. What is meant by "curriculum alignment"?


In the olden days, your teacher would select just a couple of thousand facts, dates, names, ideas, patterns and topics from the whole universe of things that he or she could choose to teach you in any given subject. To get ready for a test, you would study and study, never knowing exactly what would be on the test. You would be relieved if you knew most of the material you were asked, and never stopped to think about all the things that you learned that you were never tested on . . . but still learned, and oftentimes, you learned a lot extra.


Well, things are different now. Now, teachers don't have as much leeway. There are certain things that they know are going to be on the standardized tests that you are going to have to take, and so they focus on teaching you those things, and those things alone, very well. Oh, the good ones slip in extra topics and material, but class time is getting so chopped up, the extras are possible less and less. So maybe you do very well on the assessment, because you studied what you were taught. But guess what? You weren't taught much else extra, that WASN'T on the assessment . . . so you didn't learn anything extra.


This is why some people - people like me - raged against the "school restructuring" movement of the 1990s. This is what we knew would happen. And now it's hard to see a way out of it.


Remember the term "Outcome-Based Education"? It's from the 1980s. Do you remember that it was controversial among parents and teachers, but got put in place, anyway? They changed the wording from "outcomes" to "standards," but it was the same thing - the curriculum.


Remember how policymakers were all saying that we need to run our schools more like businesses, and make them "performance-based," and put continuously-evaluated "Management By Objective" systems in place?


Well, we did it. And now we have systematized, programmatic schools based on standardized, benchmarked curriculum measurement by pre-engineered assessments that have reshaped the curriculum through the back door into pretty much the same curriculum in schools nationwide.


What that means is that the assessment drives the curriculum. If you know what your students are going to be asked on an important test - the state standards that are "benchmarked" to your statewide assessment -- you make sure that you teach that material so that they will have a good chance at scoring well on the test.


That is called "curriculum alignment."


Since the learning standards in the various school subjects that have been adopted by state legislatures all around the country are virtually the same, we have a de facto national curriculum, even though the various statewide assessments might be slightly different. Some people believe it's only a matter of time, though, before we'll have one national assessment, probably the National Assessment of Educational Progress. There are lots of hazards over having just one exam for the entire student population of a country, but the powers that be decided this would be best, and so this is what we have.


Homework: There's a good explanation of curriculum alignment on page A-164 of the appendix of the book, The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, which is available online at


By Susan Darst Williams Testing 03 2008

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