Curriculum: What Is Being Taught and Learned?

Perhaps it is time to finally put informative assessment into action.

My work involves collecting, reporting, and analysis of student performance data from common assessments taken by students. With schools closed and the suspension of state and local assessments, there is no data to collect and use for guiding schools and teachers. Due to this situation I have had time to revisit the topic of formative assessment and the underlying concept of curriculum and instruction.

Facets of Curriculum
The intended curriculum refers to the curriculum documented in state and local curriculum guides. These curricula are also further refined and detailed in curriculum unpacking and pacing guide resources. These documents and resources form the outline of what is to be taught from a policy and standards perspective.

The assessed curriculum is closely linked to the intended curriculum when assessments are built to determine the extent to which the intended curriculum was learned by the student. It is understood and expected that there is alignment between the two curricula. Frequently, the assessed curriculum is documented in statements of the standards and the weight each standard is represented on the assessment used to measure mastery of the curriculum.

There is a danger of creating a mismatch between the intended curriculum and the assessed curriculum when teachers create assessments of what they have taught. Differences in interpretation of the standard, poor matching of items to assess the standards, and lack of rigor in the teacher’s assessment can provide teachers with what may appear to be valid results but may not provide meaningful information as the students’ performance relates to the intended curriculum.  At the core of assessment is validity. An assessment item or task must be representative of the intended learning outcome.

To compound the problem of alignment and validity, what is taught in the classroom may not be aligned with the intended and or assessed curriculum. The enacted curriculum is what is actually taught in the district and classroom. District differences between intended and enacted curriculum may be due to local emphasis on some content, availability of instructional materials, teacher preparation, and school or teacher bias. Efforts have been in place for decades to ensure there is an alignment between the intended curriculum and the enacted curriculum at the classroom level. Principals have had a practice of reviewing teacher lesson plans and more recently long –term instructional plans as a means of monitoring alignment.

The final facet of the curriculum paradigm is the learned curriculum. While this concept is closely linked to the assessed curriculum, it differs in that the learned curriculum is what is actually acquired by the student. The learned curriculum connects the enacted curriculum to student performance and requires some means of assessment to determine if there was a positive connection between the enacted and received curricula.  

Documenting Enacted Curriculum
The curriculum schools need to be informed about is what teachers actually teach: the enacted curriculum. From this data evaluation can be made which compares what is going on in the classroom to what should be going in the classroom from a curriculum perspective. Documenting the enacted curriculum has been done by looking at a teacher’s lesson plans and surveying teachers.

There are two major problems with this information: 1) planned instruction is still in the realm of intended curriculum and 2) surveying teachers may not be an accurate representation of what was actually taught if the data collection is not done regularly and in a systematic way.

In a short-term limited study in math, I had a teacher each day select from a list of math curriculum standards, skills that were being taught that day. Additional information such as the depth of knowledge (DOK), the instructional methodology employed (direct instruction for example).were also in the online data collection system. Over time, the system was able to provide reports of the dates, standards taught, a count of the standards taught, and the sub-skills for each standard. This information was then compared to the district pacing guide.  It was determined by this data collection that the teacher’s enacted curriculum was matching the district’s intended curriculum. While this data collection could be done daily, the data was collected each time a new standard and its sub-skill was taught. The strength of the data collection system was the granularity of the data collected and the reporting.

Documenting the Received Curriculum
While it was worthwhile to know what was being taught, a missing component was being able to gain insight into the received curriculum. Essentially, this took on the form of curriculum-based assessment. Phase two of the study added a student performance data collection using a simple 6 point scale (0-5). For each class the teacher’s instruction was recorded in the system, the teacher also recorded each student’s performance from absent = 0 to 5 = being full mastery.  Using this data, the data system could then report a class average of performance by standard, and a student profile of all of the standards and the average performance on each standard. Teachers could use this data as informative assessment and modify classroom instruction to improve class performance or to identify students who need extra instructional attention. 

The resulting information provided a summary look at the long-term enacted curriculum, data on class and individual student performance, and a student report which could be shared with the student. Student performance as recorded in this system could then be compared to the student’s benchmark or end of year’s assessment results.