Curriculum and Assessment: The Peanut Butter Cup of Education

As part of the recent launch of CurriculumHQ, Jocelyn Pickford, author of the site’s Curriculum A-B-C blog, sat down with Dale Chu, her counterpart at its sister blog, Testing 1-2-3 at Assessment HQ, to talk about the important links between curriculum and assessment. Both former teachers, Jocelyn and Dale had a lot to say on the synergy between the two – including how, like a favorite candy, they’re better together. The following is a snippet of their conversation.

Why is testing important in this era of unprecedented investment in public education?

Dale: After a year and a half of intermittent and interrupted schooling, we need state-level test data to have an honest accounting of where our kids are and to be smart about driving resources strategically and effectively. And because these federal dollars come with an expiration date, states should encourage and incentivize using them for non-recurring expenses like high quality instructional materials!

Jocelyn: Many states are prioritizing investments in high quality materials and aligned training for educators because they’ve seen the evidence that state leadership matters here. It’s never been more important to give all students access to proven instructional programs and to give educators the support they deserve for accelerating learning. I’m especially interested in efforts to align formative and summative tests with high quality curriculum and instruction in Massachusetts and Texas, two states with a long history of strong assessment systems.

What’s promising out of Massachusetts?

Dale:  Political craziness notwithstanding, Massachusetts’ work to develop new science assessments as part of the federal testing pilot will be worth watching. For example, science items tend to be more expensive to produce than those for ELA and math. Will the effort become cost prohibitive, politically prohibitive, or perhaps both? It will also be interesting to see the extent to which they attempt to align these exams with the curricula being used to teach science.

Jocelyn: I’m following the innovations around OpenSciEd science curriculum and assessment and how it’s being supported in Massachusetts, too. A recent Knowledge Matters tour visit to Taunton highlighted the benefits of this collaborative, student-centered, standards-aligned curriculum approach. And a leader from the state agency recently told me that some district leaders using OpenSciEd are noting some improvements on the open response end-of-year assessment questions among their students. That kind of trend is exactly what we want to see — quality curriculum and instruction helping students effectively show what they know and can do.

What’s worth watching in Texas?

Dale: I recently had a chance to meet Mike Morath, the state’s incredibly talented education commissioner. In my mind, the Lone Star State is at the leading edge of using its assessment data as part of its education recovery efforts – perhaps not surprising given Texas’s historical commitment to using assessment data to drive policy and school supports. This example reinforces for me the importance of strong leadership in both protecting assessment data and ensuring it’s leveraged to make sure the kids with the highest needs get the supports they require and deserve.

Jocelyn: I’m impressed by TEA’s commitment to empower educators to use a variety of assessment data linked to research-based instructional strategies and to support aligned training. Texas Home Learning gives educators access to free, digital Tier 1 instructional materials that include embedded formative assessments, and TEA is providing professional learning and coaching to support implementation through CRIMSI (COVID Response Instructional Materials Support Initiative). Leaders there tell me that over 100 districts are currently participating in this initiative. In addition, the Texas Formative Assessment Resource is a free, optional tool that allows educators to design formative assessments aligned to state standards, and the Texas Instructional Leadership platform includes resources on data-driven instruction, lesson alignment, and formative assessment. So there’s lots to learn from here.

Dale: The fact of the matter is that curriculum and assessment go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Of course, both are great individually, and it’s been encouraging to see a renewed attention to the former vis-à-vis the science of reading, and the latter when it comes to recognition of the heightened need for objective and reliable student performance data post-COVID. But states and districts need curriculum and assessment to complement one another well if they’re going to get our students back on track.

Jocelyn: And educators and families need those materials and metrics to be clear, timely, and actionable to accelerate learning. This is all in line with a recent EdReports piece highlighting research on how school leaders see the benefits of curriculum-aligned assessments to inform instruction. I’m eager to see how future state assessment results align with local curriculum and formative assessment choices. Data is so important here.


Want to join our conversation? Feel free to reach out to Jocelyn and Dale on Twitter!

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.