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Opportunity to Learn

by
Michael D. King
"The single most important factor in predicting whether or not a teacher will
be effective is whether the curriculum that is delivered to students in their
classrooms is linked logically or empirically to the outcomes that are desired."
1 The heart of the proposition presented above is a concern with what is
sometimes called curriculum alignment, the congruence of the curriculum
with the outcome, the overlap of the curriculum with outcomes, or as it is
most commonly called, opportunity to learn. (Carroll, 1963; Cooley and
Leinhardt, 1980).

Minimum Guaranteed Curriculum


The Minimum Guaranteed Curriculum means assuring that the material taught in
the school matches the standards and assessments set by the state or district for
specific grade levels. It is a way of "mapping" the curriculum onto the standards to
be sure that the school is teaching the content that is expected. In states that use
tests to assess student mastery, schools may also align their curriculum with the
content of the test to assure that students have studied the required content before
taking the tests.

Increasing demands for accountability mean that schools must document that they
are achieving the objectives mandated by state standards. Whatever the
mechanism, standards are deeply imbedded in public opinion and state law. They
are not going away any time soon. Standards have become a very high stakes issue
in public education.

Today, more than ever before, educators are faced with the idea that in order to
improve instruction, they will need to create newer, faster and better systems to
assess their schools strengths and weaknesses. Educators are now responsible for
gathering an array of measures, including formative academic assessments,
attendance rates, suspension rates, public opinion ratings, and school climate
surveys. Educators must determine how they will assess progress and plan
instruction that expands beyond the data achieved through state-standardized
testing. New National and State school accountability reports are now including
such indicators as attendance rates, suspension rates, at risk student performance
rates, and student and community perceptions of school safety.
To accomplish the growing demand on data retrieval, educators will need to rethink
their approaches to the gathering of accountability data, and how they will use that
data, for the improvement of student learning. The day has arrived when educators
will need to have the skills necessary in making multi-measure data useful in the
facilitation of change. To facilitate positive changes, the educators will need a
number of data analysis tools for tracking the school improvement process. Such
data analysis tools would include monitoring curriculum delivery, measuring student
performances through content analysis, tracking at-risk student performance, and
providing real-time student assessment information.

No Child Left Behind and Accountability


The issue of outcomes accountability is one of the oldest issues faced in education.
Determining what knowledge is of most worth sparks continuous debate. Because of
the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of adequately resolving these
fundamentally philosophic questions, schools and teachers within the same district
may not share the belief that particular standards are expected for students at a
given grade or given course. When schools’ and teachers’ share no common beliefs
about what constitutes a desired set of skills for a particular grade or course, the
issue of effective schooling or effective teaching is irrelevant. The present notion to
offset this irrelevant notion of school and teacher effectiveness is now more
relevant than ever as legislation begins to promote higher degrees of accountability.
In essence, the new No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to make clearer
judgments on curriculum delivery and the measurement of individual obtainment of
specific skills. As quoted from the Official U.S. Department of Education Website,
“Under No Child Left Behind, each state must measure every public school student’s
progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during
grades 10 through 12. In the school year 2007-2008, assessments (or testing) in
science are now well underway. These assessments must be aligned with state
academic content and achievement standards. They will provide parents with
objective data on where their child stands academically.” 1

Under the new standards of the No Child Left Behind Act, effective schooling is
assessed by judging whether classroom or schooling process are related to the
intentions of the state in terms of curriculum delivery. School districts or individual
schools now caught with a curriculum guide and a state test that are not carefully
matched to each other are in great trouble as they report their effectiveness to both
the state and their communities. Now more than ever, it will be important for
schools to grasp the idea of alignment to state standards. It will be a critical factor
to school effectiveness reporting and should be noted that it will be impossible for
teachers and schools to be found effective if they teach one thing and find the
students tested on another. If students are to take a test that will be used to judge
the schools effectiveness then students must have the opportunity to learn what it
is that is on the test.

Sensible discussion of effectiveness cannot be measured unless the skills and


knowledge of instruction are convergent to the desires and responsibilities of
teachers to give each child an opportunity to learn the skills desirable. Any
achievement test used as an indicator of school effectiveness must be linked
logically to the curriculum that is delivered. The meaning of an opportunity to learn
is when students are successfully engaged in task that is related to skills they will
be assessed on in the future.

Curriculum Mapping
One method of real-time reporting of curriculum expectations is to develop
curriculum-mapping software that integrates effective teaching practices as
ordinances for tracking time engaged on individual curriculum standards. This type
of software program, once developed, would make provisions for an evaluative
means by which teachers can analyze the curriculum as it is delivered in a real-time
format. This type of curriculum reporting would give teachers and curriculum
designers insurance that students receive a balanced instructional program. Real-
time assessment and evaluation of student achievement could provide teachers
with an opportunity to think critically about their choice of content and the overall
effectiveness of instruction. Real-time reporting of curriculum progression would
provide the necessary frameworks for teachers and principals to systematically
review course content, instructional strategies, and assessment procedures to make
identified program changes to improve student learning. One method for managing
the real-time assessment of curriculum would be to design a curriculum-mapping
model that blends both content decision-making with effective instructional delivery
strategies.

Procedures for developing real-time curriculum mapping strategies is a simple


process that can be achieved by using software packages now made available on
most home computers. One example of a home software program that could be
used to develop real-time tracking of curriculum delivery is the Microsoft Excel
software application.

Curriculum mapping is a systematic approach to monitoring, the implementation of


the curriculum and the gathering of feedback. In other words, it is the
reconstruction of the real curriculum that teachers have taught. This type of
curriculum monitoring was first introduced by the Long Branch, New Jersey School
District in September of 1980. The primary problem that plagued the system was
the lack of technology to support real-time tracking of the curriculum and its failure
to processes timely data.

Most mapping procedures are based upon at least two constants: content taught
and time spent. The intent of a curriculum map is to show exactly how much time is
devoted to each major learning task within each classroom or subject area. This is
done through a self-log of units of topics, time, and/or sequence. The two most
common approaches for the self-log procedures are the blank sheet and the
checklist. Both the checklist approach and the blank sheet approach can only
emulate what already currently exist in every day teaching of the curriculum. Both
procedures for mapping can, with effective design, address the concept that the
single most important factor in predicting whether or not a teacher is delivering to
students a curriculum that is linked empirically to the outcomes that are desired.
The heart of curriculum mapping is to insure that each student is given the
opportunity to learn what is expected of him or her. Thus both the teacher and the
student must hold with crystal clarity a conception of the desired skills for the
student in a class or course. Modern technology now makes it possible to register
more complete information about the effectiveness of instruction and how it relates
to student performance.

For more information on Opportunity to learn join the discussion at the WestEd
Project.