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Aligning Course Objectives with School Assessments

Learning requirements for the current century are quite different than that of any time before. Students from different demography need to develop their intellectual abilities and problem solving capacities to become independent learners. This paper will delineate the importance of maintaining alignment between course objectives and assessments for students’ meaningful learning through schooling based on Bateman, Taylor, Janik, & Logan’s (2009) research on curriculum coherence and student success at the CEGEP education system. Here, I will discuss how their findings have inspired me to engage the same idea into different demography of students learning process.

In an effective learning process, maintaining coherent curriculum is a prerequisite for student’s success. As Cohen (1987), mentioned that there are three highly interrelated instructional components, the course objectives, instruction, and assessments, in a curriculum. These instructional components are used to determine the success of expected learning outcomes from a learning process. To maintain the coherence in the curriculum, it is important to have course objectives, instructions, and assessments aligned together. Each of these components needed to be well coordinated, otherwise learning will not be meaningful, or the process of instructions will be unproductive (Pellegrino, 2002).

Discussion of curriculum coherence and student success

Course objectives contain the necessary knowledge and skills that students are required to learn to achieve the mastery of a concept in a subject that teachers teach (Pellegrino, 2002). They describe what learners will be able to do after a particular learning experience. In the course objectives, each competency is designed with an intention to develop student’s cognition to a defined level. Therefore, for a given course, learning objectives should not only list the topics that students will learn, but also consider the expected cognitive levels for each of the topics. Articulated course objectives make students and educators aware of the learning expectations and teaching goals, respectively.

Realization of the course objectives relies on the effectiveness of the instruction. Through instruction teachers apply different methods of teaching and the learning activities to help students master the content and objectives specified by curriculum. Although instruction is an integral part of a learning process, evaluation of the instruction methods may not always be necessary to determine whether course objectives were met or unmet. Bateman et al (2009) left this matter to be decided by the course teachers/administrators.

In their study, while evaluating the course objectives, Bateman et al (2009) put emphasis on the assessment procedure; here she was considering each competency and different sections of a course, and also different courses within a program. They collected all the information related to student’s performance and analyzed each tasks, assignments, projects etc. given to measure their performance. Based on student’s performance results teachers could measure the outcomes of education and the achievement with regard to important competencies. Moreover, teachers could also compare what students are actually being taught and the cognitive level that is being intended to teach in each course objectives.

To understand students’ achievements at a higher level of learning, it is necessary to align course objectives and the assessments based on levels of cognition. Lack of alignment between course objectives and assessments is a major reason for students adopting a surface approach to learning rather than developing higher order cognitive skills. As Bateman et al (2009) mentioned in their paper, teachers with clear understanding about the effects and benefits of aligned course objectives and assessments would maintain alignment. This will enable teachers not only inform their expectations to students but also measure their meaningful learning efficiently without compromising to the learning standard.

There are several methods which were used to align course objectives and assessments based on the cognitive level. Benjamin S. Bloom was one of the first educators to realize the universality of a finite number of verbs across a variety of subject matters. He has built a framework for categorizing educational objectives in 1956 with the expectation to help the teachers, administrators, professional specialists, and research workers to deal curricular and evaluation problems, which is widely known as Bloom’s taxonomy. The cognitive domain (Bloom, 1956) of Bloom’s taxonomy involves the development of intellectual skills.

Later, in 2001 Anderson & Krathwohl revised the cognitive domain of Bloom’s original taxonomy and developed a framework to measure different types of knowledge (factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive) and levels of cognitive complexities (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating). The categories can be thought of as degrees of difficulties. That is, the first one must be mastered before the next one can take place.

Bateman et al (2009) by applying the framework of revised Bloom’s taxonomy (RBT) (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) identified different types of knowledge and levels of cognition that were embedded into the assessment while assessing students’ performance. Initially, there were eight Departments (English, Humanities, Psychology, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Mathematics, and Social Science Methodology) participated in her research. Department teachers as a subject matter specialist coded and analyzed all course outlines, syllabi, assignment, and assessments collected from each department.

The subject matter experts coded each competency in their courses by adjusting the vocabulary used in the taxonomy to determine the cognitive level that intended to develop. Moreover, they analyzed the level of alignment in each course and throughout the different sections of the same course; specifically firstly, the cognitive levels of course objectives and the levels in each competency that students have learned, secondly, the level of course objectives that students have been learned and the level they have been assessed, and thirdly, the level of course objectives and cognitive densities of different assignments, tests, tasks etc. Both qualitative and quantitative methods applied to analyze coded data. They found massive misalignment between course objectives and assessments in both types of knowledge and the level of cognitive complexities. Therefore, they wanted to develop the awareness among course teachers about the existing misalignment in the curriculum, and its effects on student are learning. Moreover, they wanted teachers in each discipline to eliminate the existing misalignment between course objectives and assessment by adopting a common framework of RBT. This would eventually help teachers to establish a shared insight towards the types of knowledge and levels of cognition that are intended to teach to students in a subject.

Bateman et al, able to justify that by incorporating taxonomy of level of cognitions to the course objectives, Departments could develop a framework preparing the assessments tools for students effectively. To support Departments to reduce their unique curriculum misalignment and to maintain continuous curriculum reviewing process, Bateman et al (2009), first selected subject matter experts within a Department. These experts were selected in a way that, apart from coding and analyzing they can also share their findings with other members in each related Department. This would develop a collaborative group work in each Department which would help teachers/administrators work together to bring curriculum coherence. Bateman et al mentioned that by maintaining coherent curriculum through effective curriculum reviewing process strengthened the opportunities for all students to learn successfully. Furthermore, she and her group also motivated different Departments at Champlain St-Lambert CEGEP to adopt the taxonomy framework and to continue a curriculum review cycle to maintain curriculum coherence.

Applying Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy into a different demography of student success

Findings about misalignment RBT Tool (Anderson & Krathwohl 2001) have been successfully used in multiple studies to evaluate the cognitive levels of course objectives and of assessments. However, these studies are focused on courses for general stream students and no such evaluation is currently available for students with learning disabilities.

The benefits of applying the RBT Tool in learning process and in learner’s success encouraged me to study the alignment between the objective and assessment for courses attended by the students with learning disabilities in High School settings. Without any physical disabilities, students with learning disabilities could have major difficulties in memorizing, sequencing, time management or other social and learning skills. Having average or above average intelligence they could have difficulties in information processing to learn specific content knowledge (Special needs opportunity window, 2010).

Replicating Bateman et al (2009) research procedure, I would firstly, like to apply the RBT Tools to code course objectives and assessment tasks then to analyze the alignment between the stated course objectives and the questions asked for assessment for different competencies of each course, secondly, to analyze students’ grade to investigate the association of levels of cognition in an assessment question on their performance, and thirdly, to analyze students’ grade to investigate the impact of variation in assessment with course objective at a different level of cognition on students’ performance.

This study may generate data indicative of perfect alignments or possible misalignments between the learning objectives and the assessment procedure in a course designed for the students with learning disabilities. This information will either confirm the existing strength in the design of a course to the teachers or the curriculum coordinators and provide support for sound strategies or on the contrary this information will aware about the possible alignment weaknesses in the design of a course to the teachers or the curriculum coordinators and facilitate the implementation of corrective measures towards the improvement and enrichment the course. That resonate to the findings of Bateman et al (2009), that the development of awareness is a prerequisite for the continuous implementation of the effective curriculum review process to maintain the curriculum coherence that bring success in students’ meaningful learning.

Findings from this study will be useful to inform the teacher education programs to make teachers aware of the importance of maintaining curriculum coherence for efficient teaching and effective learning. As Anderson (2002) mentioned that proper curriculum alignment enables teachers to understand the differences in the effects of schooling on student achievement and misaligned curriculum results would not reflect the actual effect of instruction on learning.

Furthermore, like Departments at Champlain College, St. Lambert created tools and procedures (bank of short answer questions, literature committee etc.) to help faculty members to integrate changes suggested by Bateman et al (2009) research findings into their practice. Findings from this study might create an urge to producing an instructor’s guide to the course objectives with specific examples and active learning activities that can be used in class and aligned exam question banks that could be used for effective assessment purpose. Furthermore, researchers could generate suggestions if any modification is needed in relation to better reflect key principles of learning for students with learning disabilities.


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