Project 2061 Approach to Assessment Alignment

High-stakes testing in key subject areas has become a significant factor in determining teacher and school quality and student achievement. Increasingly, statewide test results have become the basis for funding and policy decisions and for student advancement or graduation.  But how effective are these tests at evaluating what students really know?    

One measure of effectiveness is how well tests meet (or align with) their state or local learning goals.  In other words, tests that claim to assess the ideas and skills specified in these learning goals should be effective at evaluating whether and how thoroughly students have learned those concepts.   With support from the National Science Foundation, Project 2061 has been studying this issue to produce a clearer definition of alignment and to develop a procedure for analyzing the relationship between K-12 assessments in science and mathematics and the national, state, and district standards and benchmarks that students are expected to achieve.  Rather than focusing on whether assessment tasks fit within large goal topics (such as "cells" or "fractions"), Project 2061 seeks to probe more deeply in order to determine how well each individual task gets at the exact idea or skill specified in the standards.

Aligned and Effective

Using this innovative analysis procedure, educators are able to identify the specific learning goals that an assessment task targets and then to judge the effectiveness of the task in probing what students actually know. For example, answers to questions like the following can illuminate what an assessment task can-or cannot-reveal about student learning:

  • Is the exact knowledge specified in the learning goal needed to make a satisfactory response? Is that knowledge enough by itself or do students need additional knowledge?

  • Are students likely to understand what they are expected to do and what sort of response is considered satisfactory?  Is the task's context appropriate?

  • Could students respond satisfactorily to the task by guessing or employing other general test-taking strategies?

Project 2061 will also study the usefulness of its procedure in revising existing assessment tasks and developing new ones.  

When finished, this work will result in an assessment analysis procedure and a pool of items that are well aligned to specific science and mathematics learning goals.  Together, these can benefit developers of instructional and assessment materials; districts and states that create, select, and administer large-scale testing programs; and classroom teachers who create their own tests.


Linking Science and Mathematics Assessments to Standards
In a new NSF-funded effort, Project 2061 will use its experience in evaluating assessment items to develop a collection of high-quality middle- and early high-school science and mathematics assessment items-including multiple choice and open-response questions. The resulting bank of items will be electronically linked to state and national science content standards and accessible online. To learn more, read the proposal.


Accountability & Assessments (2002)
Bricker, L.

Analysis of Students' Assessments in Middle School Curriculum Materials: Aiming Precisely at Benchmarks and Standards (2002)
Stern, L., Ahlgren, A.

Aligning Assessment with Learning Goals (2000)
Nielsen, N. 2000.