Curriculum and Assessment Alignment Mapping

May 3rd, 2019 | Category: Research in Education
By Kimberly M. Sekulich

The process of faculty members’ communicating and collaborating on aligning curriculum and assessment systems is a very important part of maximizing student learning. As a program leader at the graduate school level and a former principal in several school districts, it was a privilege to work with faculty members to implement a curriculum and assessment alignment system. Key terms are defined in this article to support the understanding of a curriculum and assessment alignment system and of the examples that are provided.

Key Terms

Key terms related to a curriculum and assessment alignment system need some clarification, as they may be commonly understood, but somewhat incorrectly used. The subsequent quote provides an example: “The curriculum should reflect common-core state standards, local community priorities, professional-organization best practices, and faculty content priorities” (Warwick, 2015, p. 60). In this quote, “common” means shared priorities and “core” means essential. The following are definitions of key terms:

  • Curriculum is “a set of intended learning outcomes for students” (Gareis & Grant, 2015, p. 182).
  • Curriculum Alignment is used to refer to both external and internal student learning priorities/values. External alignment occurs when the curriculum addresses mandated standards and content objectives. Internal alignment occurs when the instructional strategies and classroom assessments address the content of the standards (Drake & Burns, 2004).
  • Assessment is the evaluation of instructional methods and student performance (Warwick, 2015).
  • Curriculum and Assessment Alignment Mapping is a process used to align curriculum content and assessment strategies.

Purpose and Benefits of Curriculum and Assessment Alignment Mapping

The purpose of curriculum and assessment alignment mapping may be described in the following manner: “[When] done in a collaborative format, the curriculum-mapping process helps faculty identify alignment, gaps, overlaps, inconsistencies, and strengths within a program (Jacobs, 1997 as cited in Liu, Wrobbel, & Blankson, 2010, p. 239). Faculty members need to identify priorities and eliminate gaps and redundancies in the curriculum. Areas of alignment to be considered are horizontal alignment (e.g., through multiple content areas within one grade level), vertical alignment (e.g., within one content area in multiple grade levels), alignment of curriculum with standards, and alignment of curricular objectives with higher levels of critical thinking. Strengths in academic performance are determined as a result of analyzing student-achievement data from assessments that are aligned with the curriculum. A gap is content that needs to be taught, but is not now taught. In contrast, a redundancy is content that is being taught in an unnecessary and repetitive manner. The identification of redundancy and gaps is a step toward developing a coherent curriculum that will be implemented at all levels within educational systems. The curriculum-mapping process is student-centered, rigorous, and well-articulated. When discussing curriculum mapping within a school district, Jacobs (2004) states:

Curriculum mapping provides the channels of communication about how the work of schools should be done. The focus must always be on what the child needs in order to be a successful learner and, hence, a citizen of the world…The goal of mapping is to have a spiraling and challenging curriculum that is developed by the teachers and will meet and exceed the level of standards your system or state requires. (p. 65)

A spiraling curriculum means that content is reinforced and addressed at increasing levels of complexity from grade to grade.

Some of the benefits of implementing the Curriculum and Assessment Alignment Mapping System are professional learning, collaboration, clarity about student learning expectations, greater focus on the student learning expectations, and an increase in student achievement. When a curriculum-mapping system is used to inform instruction, “(t)he curriculum mapping and comprehensive course review process serve(s) to improve the quality of teaching and lead(s) to significant improvements in student satisfaction” (Jacobsen, Eaton, Brown, Simmons, & McDermott, 2018, p. 84). Additionally, “Conversations with students (are)situated within a grand, shared conceptual framework of the program as a coherent graduate education and research experience” (Jacobsen et al., p. 91). Jacobs (2004) also investigated the benefits of curriculum mapping. He quoted a teacher stating:

Mapping has empowered me as a professional to develop a coherent curriculum for my students. I am able to design a curriculum that teaches what is really important and integrates content in a way that makes sense for kids. I can also use the maps as an essential communication tool with parents and other teachers. It was worth every minute I put into it. (p. 70)

Communication and collaboration are necessary in order for the mapping process to be successful. “In our experience, curriculum mapping provided a method to not only align and articulate the curriculum, but also a way to foster collaboration and collegiality of those participating in the process” (Uchiyama & Radin, 2009, p. 278). Warwick (2015) discusses the necessity not only of collaborating, but also of reaching consensus to benefit student learning:

Through the process of curriculum alignment, the faculty comes to agreement on the academic expectations for each grade level and course and understands their relationship to previous and future academic expectations. As student academic expectations are clarified at each level by the appropriate faculty, the curricular system is identified and affirmed. (p 62)

Curriculum Mapping Process

A clearly-defined and collaborative curriculum mapping process is essential. The following steps apply to implementing the process within higher education and in school districts:

  1. Clarify the academic vocabulary in the content that will be aligned. This could be, for example, the vocabulary in curricular objectives and the vocabulary in standards.
  2. Create a matrix electronically as a visual representation of alignment between, for example, curricular objectives (placed in rows) and standards (placed as column headings). Share the matrix with faculty to obtain feedback and make adjustments as needed.
  3. Develop a coding system to represent the degree to which the content is taught and applied.
  4. Use the coding system to complete the matrix electronically.
  5. Analyze the findings collaboratively. The following are examples of questions to guide the analysis. What are the priorities regarding alignment? Are there gaps between what is being taught and what needs to be taught? Are there redundancies in the content? Are there areas that are logically related that may be integrated for instruction? How will the content be sequenced? What do student achievement data indicate are areas of strength and areas for improvement?
  6. Develop an action plan collaboratively to enhance the curriculum system.

Curriculum and Assessment Alignment Mapping Example

Student learning expectations. The Illinois Licensure Testing System (ILTS) provides objectives and descriptive statements that identify the knowledge and skills that candidates need to demonstrate as a part of seeking administrative licensure for principal (Illinois State Board of Education [ISBE], 2014). In the curriculum-mapping example that is provided, the descriptive statements are aligned with course content in a principal-preparation program. Because some descriptive statements contain multiple skills, the statements are parsed to enable more specific alignment.

The matrix presents the descriptive statements in rows and the course in the column heading. The following coding system is used to show the degree to which the content is addressed in the course.

I: Instructor INTRODUCES the skill/concept.

U: Students demonstrate that they UNDERSTAND the skill/concept through discussion and examples.

M: Students IMPLEMENT the skill/concept through activities and/or assignments (or propose how to implement the skill/concept).

E: Students EVALUATE the implementation of the skill/concept. Students gather and analyze data regarding implementation and evaluate its achieving the goal.

Once the process moves beyond the instructor’s introducing the skill/concept, note the levels of critical thinking that students demonstrate. The progression is from students’ demonstrating understanding through discussion and examples to students’ implementing the skill/concept (or proposing how to implement the skill/concept), and followed by students’ evaluating implementation of the skill/concept. Phase 1 of the progression relates to the Understand level of critical thinking. Phase 2 relates to the Apply level of critical thinking. Phase 3 relates to the Evaluate level of critical thinking (Gareis & Grant, 2015, p. 56). This process holds the students accountable and moves their thinking into an action mindset. See Table 1 for an excerpt from the curriculum mapping matrix. The parsed statements are presented in the rows. The course is presented in the column. The coding system is I/Introduce, U/Understand; M/Implement; and E/Evaluate.

Table 1

Excerpt from Curriculum Mapping Matrix

Parsed Skills (ISBE, 2014) Course
Analyze the role of assessment in accountability. I, U
Define gaps between current outcomes and goals and close achievement gaps. I, U, M
Analyze how various types of formative and summative information can be used to improve student learning. I, U, M, E

Assessment of curricular expectations. After the curricular expectations are clarified and aligned, assessments also need to be aligned to the expectations. Warwick (2015) identified a process to assess students’ proficiency related to curricular expectations:

It is critical to assess academic-program results in order to establish whether or not students are learning the required knowledge and meeting expectations. The student-performance data demonstrate the effectiveness of the instructional system and the achievement of the curriculum system. Student-performance data show the result of all the hard work on the part of everyone in the school system. In order to assess data on student curricular expectations, the following steps are needed:

  1. Clarify curricular expectations at each grade level and course level for each content area.
  2. Identify criteria for each student curricular expectation.
  3. Identify observable indicators of acceptable performance for the criteria.
  4. Determine the type of performance data to be gathered.
  5. Determine the method of gathering the data.
  6. Determine the method of analysis of the data.
  7. Determine how the findings will be used to improve the system.
  8. Determine how recommendations will be implemented. (p. 106)

Application of the steps to assess curricular expectations. These eight steps of alignment are applied to a required curriculum and assessment graduate course in a principal preparation program.

Step 1: Clarify the curricular expectations. To guide teaching within a principal preparation program, Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) are used (National Policy Board for Educational Administration [NPBEA], 2015). The Standards identify the knowledge and skills that instructors focus on as they support graduate students’ development as future leaders. An example of the use of these standards is seen in the construction of a course objective that aligns to a standard: Understand the difference and uses of assessments for and of learning (formative and summative). This objective is aligned with Standard 4: Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Standard 4 states, “Effective educational leaders develop and support intellectually rigorous and coherent systems of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to promote each student’s academic success and well-being” (NPBEA, 2015, p. 12). The objective is also aligned with the following descriptive statement from ILTS: “Demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics, benefits, and limitations of formative and summative student assessments and the use of assessment data to improve student learning” (ISBE, 2014, p. 2-5).

Step 2: Identify the criteria for the curricular expectation. One way that graduate students demonstrate their understanding of the use of formative and summative assessment is by completing an assessment audit.

Step 3: Identify observable indicators of acceptable performance for the criteria. The observable indicators of acceptable performance regarding the assessment audit are provided on a scoring rubric.

Step 4: Determine the type of performance data to be gathered. Data include the score for each criterion on the rubric and descriptive feedback.

Step 5: Determine the method of gathering the data. The instructor reviews the rubric scores and descriptive feedback that is provided.

Step 6: Determine the method of analyzing the data. The instructor analyzes the data to identify patterns that emerge regarding strengths and areas for growth as demonstrated by students when completing the required components of the assessment audit.

Step 7: Determine how the findings will be used to improve the system. The instructor uses the analysis to guide future instruction.

Step 8: Determine how recommendations will be implemented. Recommendations are considered as a part of curriculum, instruction, and assessment review and program development.


Participating in a curriculum-and-assessment alignment mapping process and analyzing data on curricular expectations is a powerful method of professional learning for faculty. It may be implemented within departments in higher education, within principal preparation programs to help prepare future leaders to implement the process within their schools, and also implemented within school districts. Aligning and integrating the curriculum system and assessment system maximizes the learning for all students. LEJ


Drake, S. M., & Burns, R. C. (2004). Using standards to integrate the curriculum. In Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. Retrieved from

Gareis, C. R., & Grant, L.W. (2015). Teacher-made assessments: How to connect curriculum, instruction, and student learning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Illinois State Board of Education. (2014). Illinois licensure testing system study guide—Principal as instructional leader—Subtest 1. Springfield, IL: Author.

Jacobs, H. H. (2004). Getting results with curriculum mapping. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Jacobsen, M., Eaton, S. E., Brown, B., Simmons, M., & McDermott, M. (2018). Action research for graduate program improvements: A response to curriculum mapping and review. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 48(1), 82-98.

Liu, M., Wrobbel, D., & Blankson, I. (2010, October). Rethinking program assessment through the use of program alignment mapping technique. Communication Teacher, 24(4), 238-246.

National Policy Board for Educational Administration (2015). Professional standards for educational leaders 2015. Reston, VA: Author.

Uchiyama, K. P., & Radin, J. L. (2009). Curriculum mapping in higher education: A vehicle for collaboration. Innovative Higher Education, 33, 271-280.

Warwick, R. (2015). The challenge for school leaders: A new way of thinking about leadership. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Dr. Kimberly M. Sekulich is an associate professor and program leader in the College of Graduate Studies at Concordia University Chicago. She teaches master and doctoral level Educational Leadership courses and served as a principal before coming to Concordia University Chicago.