• Dr. John Tharp

Looking for Alignment to Improve Student Learning Outcomes.

When a school is struggling with low test scores the principal and administrative team at the school reviews the data in search of answers. The test results usually come out in the summer after the end of the school year and it serves as what many characterize as “autopsy data” meaning that it is good information, but the school year is over so it cannot be used to improve student achievement. During the school year, it is oftentimes a guessing game as to how well students will do on the end of year tests. The principal tries to inspire, cajole and good wish in higher scores but when there is no tool to find out how students are doing along the way, then the test results are left to fate.


In order to attain good test scores, a classroom’s instruction and learning must be aligned with the written standards for the course. Since the standardized tests are based on the standards for the course, it is imperative that alignment of instruction occurs. The alignment of what is written, taught and tested is a proven method to ensure that students are receiving the appropriate on grade level of instruction in a particular class. It is known that low test scores are the result of misalignment issues, meaning what is going on in the classroom is not what is written or tested. As a result, the students are not taught the correct content standards nor cognitively stretched in the class.


Classroom walk throughs can help administrators determine if classroom instruction is aligned or not. One particular method provides a way to check on the instruction and learning in classrooms to look for the alignment that will improve student test score results. Known as the Downey walkthrough model, it was popularized in the book The Three-Minute Classroom Walk-Through: Changing School Supervisory Practice One Teacher at a Time, written by Poston, Downey, Frase, Steffy and English (2004). With this method, classroom observers go into the room and looking for five items:

  1. What is written on the board for the lesson (the standard and a clear learning target).

  2. What is the teacher saying.

  3. What are the students doing.

  4. Is the instruction aligned to the standards (often this is determined in the office after the observation).

  5. Are there are any safety issues that need immediate attention.

If the written standards match the on grade level instruction and learning in the class is student centered, and what is tested is based on the standard taught, then the class is aligned and student learning outcomes will be positive. This method takes some practice, but it is an efficient way to get around a school and check in on the daily instructional practices that are going on in classrooms and plays a big part in increasing test scores with aligned instruction.

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