Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Poetry of Item Alignment

When I was an associate editor at CTB McGraw-Hill, back in the day, we editors were all a little grateful for the seasonal winter slowdown. It gave us time to catch our breath, file the stacks that had piled up during bluelines, and reacquaint ourselves with our co-workers. Now that I have been self-employed lo, these many years, I like to keep busy--whatever the time of year. Summer, winter, don't make no never mind to me. Idle hands are the devil's workshop.

Just before Christmas, I was doing a bit of writing, some for National Geographic Extreme Explorer, and some for ETS. (When the NGEE article comes out, I'll be sure to let you know. The other is, of course, confidential.) Then my attention was directed to alignments. Or correlations. The two terms are often used interchangeably; both mean identifying the standard (performance indicator, objective, skill, subskill) assessed or targeted by a specific item or task.

The best case scenario in content development is to write the item or task to a standard. That process is more creative, more organic, in the sense that the item or task may be developed to meet the demands of the standard. But many companies find themselves with a bank or pool of perfectly sound items, and to recycle these items for multiple projects is both efficient and cost-effective.

Alignments can be tricky. Sometimes items are shoehorned into standards that are an obvious bad fit. New aligners are especially prone to falling prey to aligning by key word, which is a big mistake. When aligning, it's imperative to keep in mind the spirit of the law, as opposed to the letter of the law. Think about the task and what the task requires that the student know or do, then review the standards (performance indicators, objectives, skills, subskills), and select the one that cleaves unto those knowledge and skill requirements. There may be more than one; there often is a lot of overlap. If no skill fits, better not to force the fit. How can a bad alignment result in meaningful measurement of skill or knowledge?

What I've noticed in reviewing others' alignments is that I can get a sense not only of the breadth and depth of the aligner's content knowledge, but of the aligner's intuitive feel for the content area (and for language use in general)--of the aligner's capacity for understanding subtle nuance. In a way, it really is like reading poetry.

Which may sound ridiculous, and it would be, if we were discussing a simple skill, such as "Use end punctuation correctly."

1 comment:

  1. I have been an aligner for over 2 years. I am looking for other companies that have a need for K-12 aligners. Any company suggestions?