University of California, Riverside

Evaluation and Assessment



Provide Learning Opportunities


In the context of assessment, alignment refers to the clear and direct relationship among learning outcomes, learning opportunities, and the evidence used for assessment. We can think about alignment at the level of the curriculum for a program, within the activities of a given course, or at the level of assignments where students are asked to provide evidence of what they have learned.

Alignment

When an assessment clearly links to a learning outcome, comes after students have had the opportunity to learn relevant knowledge and skills, and includes plans to gather evidence of student mastery, we can talk about good alignment. To the extent that one or more of these elements is missing, alignment is weaker. For example, if we assessed student writing using an end-of-term paper in a composition course we could say there was good alignment: Students were given instruction on composition, and evidence of writing skills were assessed. Assessing student writing using a term paper from a course such as Psychology 001 may result in poor alignment if course content focused more on disciplinary knowledge than on writing skills.

Mapping

Mapping is a strategy to plan or describe the alignment between outcomes and learning opportunities. Mapping can be a forward-looking planning strategy, or it can be a way to describe and document what is already happening. In either event, mapping helps us focus on ensuring teaching aligns with goals and intended outcomes.

Maps are most often set up as a grid, with learning opportunities (class meetings or courses) running down the left and the various outcomes listed across the top. If the given learning opportunity aligns with an outcome, this is indicated at the intersection of the row and column for that class and outcome.

We can use these techniques to develop a curriculum map for the various courses in a program of study and program-level outcomes. This map indicates that Outcome 1 is covered in Course 001, whereas Course 005 covers Outcomes 2 and 4; at the same time, we can see that Outcome 1 is covered in Course 001, Course 100, and Course 150.


 Outcome 1Outcome 2Outcome 3Outcome 4Outcome 5
Course 001
X
       
Course 005  
X
 
X
 
Course 010  
X
     
Course 020  
X
     
Course 100
X
 
X
X
 
Course 110    
X
   
Course 130    
X
   
Course 150
X
   
X
X
Course 160  
X
 
X
X
Course 190        
X

An alternative to the simple “X” way of noting alignment above is to use a scheme to show the depth or quality of coverage. For example you could use the following notation system:

  • Introduce (I): This learning opportunity introduces students to the outcome at a basic level.
  • Develop (D): This learning opportunity gives students the opportunity to practice using something they already know, but with increasing sophistication.
  • Mastery (M): This learning opportunity will give students a chance to demonstrate knowledge or skills at the level expected of degree holders.

Mapping can also be used to trace how activities and lectures across the various classes align with course-level outcomes. We call this a course map.

 Outcome 1Outcome 2Outcome 3Outcome 4Outcome 5
Class 1
X
X
     
Class 2
X
X
 
X
 
Class 3
X
 
X
 
X
Class 4  
 
X
X
 
Class 5
 
X
X
 
X
Class 6    
 
X
 
Class 7
X
X
X
 
X
Class 8
 
 
X
X
X
Class 9
X
X
 
X
 
Class 10    
X
X
X
           
Text A
X
X
 
X
X
Text B
X
X
X
 
X
           
Assignment 1
X
X
     
Assignment 2    
X
X
 
Assignment 3
X
X
X
X
X

Aligning Assignments

Thinking about aligning assignments to learning outcomes can make assessment more effective by ensuring you will have good-quality evidence to analyze later, as well as providing a more focused learning opportunity for students. A good assignment is likely to:

  • have clear, specific, instructions for students
  • ask students to focus on an issue that is appropriate to their level of development or background knowledge
  • break down larger tasks into smaller ones either logistically, by having students turn in drafts or parts of an assignment throughout the quarter, or conceptually, by scaffolding students’ learning.

A significant resource in creating effective assignments is the National Institution for Learning Outcomes Assessment Assignment Library (http://www.assignmentlibrary.org). Here you can browse a collection of high-quality assignments selected through a peer review process that are organized by discipline as well as the general kinds of learning outcomes they address. These assignments come with reflections from instructors about what has worked well and what could be improved. Many of these assignments also include a rubric. These can be used as is or modified.

Although exams or quizzes typically do not produce the diversity of responses that open-ended assignments do, they can still be aligned with learning outcomes and used for assessment. You might align all, or most, of the questions on a final exam to assess all course learning outcomes. Alternatively, you might select a few questions from an exam in one (or more) course(s) to assess program-level outcomes.

 

Next Section: Gather Evidence

Return to Assessment Handbook

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