Aligning Your Assessments: Curriculum Design Part 5 [Episode 87]


Click below to hear how to align your assessments: 

Huge CONGRATULATIONS, teacher friend! You made it to the final part of our curriculum design mini-series! I am so incredibly proud of you! Even if you only completed part 1, you still made progress, and small progress is better than no progress! We have spent the last few weeks walking through the first four parts of curriculum design, but today, we are diving into how to align your assessments.

When I say “align your assessments,” I’m sure many think that means teaching to the test. That is NOT at all what I mean. What it does mean is that we are creating meaning and intentionality with everything we do in our instruction. 

We want our students to be motivated to complete their work and not just see it as busy work, which is why it is so important to ensure that your assessments are aligned to the learning and instructional activities that took place throughout the unit. In this episode, I’m sharing how I create formative and summative assessments for my curricula and the importance of making sure that every objective on the assessment is covered.

I am so grateful that you have been following along with the Summer Podcast PD. If you are getting value from this series or if this podcast is serving you, I would love it if you left a rating and review! This helps me reach and serve more secondary science teachers who could benefit from the podcast. Thank you so much!

Topics Discussed:

  • Why aligning your assessments matters
  • Why you should be spending minimal time creating formative assessments
  • How I use summative assessments in my curricula
  • The importance of circling back to the unit to make sure that EVERY objective is covered in detail

Resources Mentioned:

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Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

You’re listening to episode number 87 of the secondary science simplified podcast, y’all, you really did it, you made it to the last week in our curriculum design series, I am so proud of you. Even if you have only done one of the five parts and those action steps that progress, something is better than nothing. And you can tuck away this information for another day in another season when you have more time if it’s helpful for you. So far, though, for those of you who have been tracking with us all month long, we have strategically thought through your sequence. We’ve analyzed your aims for your course, we formed the foundation for your curriculum, and then we built out the backbone of instructional resources. And last but not least, we just need to align your assessments. And that is what today’s episode is all about. So let’s get into it. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time spin in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend. Let’s get to today’s episode.

Okay, so again, we’re having to end this series on a topic that’s like not the most fun, I don’t know, if anyone really looks forward to talking about into unit tests specifically, although I know there are a variety of assessments, which we’ll get to that too. But this does really, really matter. I know I’ve said this a couple of times. But when I decided to start writing curriculum for other teachers, not just my own students and selling it, and it’s not rocket science was born, I wanted to make sure what I was doing was different from other things that were out there. And there are other curriculum writers that have different strengths than I do and serve different groups of teachers, which is great. And I’m so glad because there are lots of people that need help. And there’s lots of people out there to help. But one thing that’s always just been a pillar of what makes it’s not rocket science, it’s not rocket science, is the fact that all the assessments align everything that you are doing in a unit with your students, from the bellringer, to that lab, to the lecture notes to the end of unit test, every single question on that test aligns back to experiences and instructional activities you’ve already done with your students. And all of those reinforce and work together for the good of the whole unit. And then the good of the whole course, this comprehensive nature is truly what I think sets apart. It’s not rocket science resources. Now, this matters. It matters so much, you guys. This isn’t just I think a lot of people think here align your assessments. And you think well, okay, are you just teaching them to the test, then? Are you just writing a test? And then making sure you basically tell them every single thing that’s going to be on the test? I mean, yes, and no, I don’t know. Like, I don’t want the test to ever be a surprise. I remember, teacher writer in the curriculum design space that I really respect, said once that he always let his students have open note tests. And I thought that was like, insane. I’m like, why would you do that? But then the more I thought about it, I’m like, I mean, honestly, though, I could do that. Because nothing on my test should ever be a surprise, because it’s also intentional, and also aligned to what we’ve already done. So like, if you want to use your notes fine. Like, it shouldn’t matter, because it’s all nothing. It’s not like I have these surprised questions where I’m really trying to get you, like my assessments are written to see did you get to where I wanted you to get in your knowledge and your understanding in your application of skills from what we did. And I personally also really like unit tests. I said this back in episode 85, and 86. I like unit test personally, and a lot people moved away from them just honestly, as a data point for me to see, I can really easily quantify year after year, what concepts my students are struggling with, where are the gaps in my own curriculum design that I need to flush out more to support them better for this assessment? And kind of where do I need to reinforce for my students, I find them really helpful, even though I do love alternative summative assessments too. So this is all about this part of our process. It’s about creating meaning and intentionality with everything you do. You have such limited time in your classroom, y’all don’t you want to ensure that everything you do matters, there’s no just like throw activities. There’s no throwing labs, there’s no busy work practice problems, okay? Your students will be more motivated to work for you and with you in your class, when they know that what they’re doing really matters and really does help them understand what they need to understand to be successful on the test. If they don’t see the connections and the meaning. If they finish every test that you have and say I didn’t know anything on this, there were so many things, you never taught us their data, then you’re probably not aligning your assessments with your instructional resources like you should. And don’t you want data from your unit tests that’s actually meaningful that you can grow from? Like, don’t you want to know if you taught a concept poorly or not? I know I do. And I again, I want my students to be motivated, I don’t want them to ever think that Miss joiners class is a busy work class. It matters. I remember, I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the years about like, your bathroom policy, and how you know, you manage that with students coming in and out and all of these things. And honestly, I’ve never really had a lot of drama around my bathroom policy, because students were scared to leave my class. And I mean that in the most positive way possible. I’m not saying I was like trying to traumatize them. But they knew Miss Joyner means business, every minute of this class period is useful and valuable, and there will be no downtime. So like, save your potty breaks for another class, or that you are doing busy work, like they didn’t want to leave, because they know if they left for three minutes, they were going to be behind, and they didn’t want to miss anything. And I think, again, it was a healthy amount, I shouldn’t be saying the word fear. It was a healthy amount of respect for the class and the time we had together because again, they saw the meaning in every thing we did. And I think that makes a really big difference. And that’s what this step is all about. This step in our curriculum design process is also incredibly integrated with all of the others, which is why it is so great to be last is the last thing that you do. And so we’re going to talk about this, this is now the time where you need to make your formative and your summative assessments. So your formative assessments, a lot of these are instructional resources you’ve already made, but also just the practice problems, you’re gonna throw in there too, just different assessments, you’re putting in there as part of the formative learning process as a part of them growing and getting better at understanding the content, but there’s not a penalty for it. That’s how I think of formative assessments. Like we’re walking through the learning process together with these assessments, these are going to be like little markers as as to where we’re at. But the stakes are low here. I never ever really, it’s hard to think of a time, collect formative assessments and grade them for accuracy. I mean, ever, if I’m grading you for accuracy, it would only be so they could just see where there are errors, but the final grade would be a completion grade. And I could go on a tangent about this all day. And so we actually have an entire month set out for me to talk more about grading practices and assessments. That’s coming in September. So stay tuned. But for now, the formative assessments, I just want you to think of them as like your practice and your reinforcement. And you’ll don’t spend a lot of time finding practice problems, especially if you have a quantitative science, where you need a lot of practice problems like in your chemistry and your physics, you know, to kind of get them practicing their skills. These can be trash, these don’t have to have beautiful formats, they don’t have to be creative. You can go on Google right now and find 1000 Practice handouts that you could use for any subject. Now, another tangent for another day. It’s coming in September. I don’t assign these for homework, because if you’re pulling them from Google, you best believe your students can pull the answers from Google too. But these are things they can do in class, while Imani monitoring them to make sure there’s integrity there, and they’re getting the practice they need. And doing it authentically so they can actually learn from it. Okay, so I want you to spend minimal time curating your practice problems for your curriculum, okay. You just grab them from everywhere. And here’s the deal. When you’re going over these in classes, here are some of these practice problems that you’ve put together. If you get to one that’s poorly written. Or I find this a lot like in physics, like you get an answer. That’s so like, unreasonable and unrealistic. You’re like someone just like plug random numbers into this problem. They didn’t actually think about like, does it make sense that you’re saying an elephant would weigh one kilogram? No, it does not. You can tweak those year after year, it doesn’t matter. You can laugh about that with your students be like, Wow, this problem was not written well, like it’s okay. I want you to majorly lower the bar for the formative assessments you’re including, this is practice for you. It’s practice for your students. It’s a learning experience for your students. It’s a learning experience for you. Okay, minimal time on that maximum time on your summative assessments, which will be your end of unit assessments. We’re really looking at the whole unit and being like, did you get to where I wanted you to get. Again, we’ll come back to this a lot more in September. But for me, personally, I like a test for each summative assessment. And then I also will include an alternative summative assessment that I can use in the gradebook. In addition to a test to help offset that grade, I can average the two together, I could replace a test with a summative assessment if I need to. Do you have to do this every unit not necessarily like especially if you’re in a class where you’re teaching a course and you’ve got 10 units, like my chemistry curriculum has 10 units five per semester, we’re gonna do like five projects or five lab reports per semester. That would be an insane amount of extra summative assessments. You know, you only need maybe two, maybe three for that kind of semester now by all mgf seven units, core units in my biology curriculum, I teach four in the first semester and three in the second. So I’m more likely to have one per unit there because the units are longer, and it kind of spaces them out more. So that’s just something for you to consider as well. And now, here’s what I want you to do, as you’re writing these assessments. I want you just to make your rough rough draft, just get something on paper, okay. And then here’s the most important part of this process of the is the alignment. It’s not just writing the assessment, it’s the alignment, you need to go back to every question on your unit test every multiple choice, every matching every open response, and circle back to the beginning of your unit. And make sure you have an objective and or a key vocabulary term listed for each question. Okay, so remember, we talked about this, in part to analyze your aims, where you wrote out your concepts, and you translate in your standards and to practical objectives and key vocabulary? This is where this matters, because now every test question is going to go back to one of those things, y’all. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve written out a test, I thought it was great, was like all this do a peek at my objectives and vocabulary that I’m giving students as a guide for the unit. When been like, wow, I

literally have multiple questions that don’t have any objective for them. Or I can’t tell you how many times in my early years teaching, I sat in a parent conference with a student and their parents, and we’ve looked at a test. And they’ve been like, you never taught me this. And I’m trying to justify to the parent that I did teach them that in a lab or whatever. But if they don’t see notes on it, or, you know, they don’t have the study guide that matches the test, they freak out and say that you didn’t teach them this. This is where you’re going to eliminate all that drama. Every test question is aligned to a practical objective or key vocabulary term. For the unit, you’re covered. You can point everything back, once I started doing the process this way, I was tickled to be in those parent conferences. And to sit with a parent and sit with their student, I would have the cover page for the unit up, which is my unit Overview Guide with my practical objectives and my key vocabulary. I don’t give my students study guides, I had them write study guides from this page, but I would sit with a parent, we’d have the test, we’d have that cover page, we would look at the question they missed, I’d point back to the exact objective it aligned with. And we could say here, this is where we covered this. Okay, this really helps to if you’re trying to decrease your lecture and not take notes on everything. So you’re doing a lot of inquiry activities in labs to fill in those gaps. Students often think there’s not notes, they don’t have to know it. And you can tie in those those important key understandings that you’re in skills you’re building in those activities, put them on that sheet, make them practical objectives, tied into key vocabulary, so then at least aligns to your assessment. And you’re gonna go back through this. And again, this is a cyclical process, I do this again, and again, each time I write a unit, you know, right now, in writing this chemistry curriculum, I know you’re like, please stop talking about it. It’s literally my life. Imagine me, my husband living with me for the last while he’s lived with me the last 10 years. But the last year of me writing this, he’s ready to poke his eyeballs out. So I can’t stop talking about it. But I have an editor, this time, for the first time a proofreader who’s helping me make sure I don’t have any typos and things like that. And I’m always like wanting to go ahead and send her parts of the curriculum, as I finish it, like I want to go ahead and send her the note lecture notes, I want to go ahead and send her the activities as I finish it, the packet, whatever, but I can’t, I literally cannot send it to her in chunks, I have to do it at the end. Because the last thing I do is the assessment. And as I’m doing the assessments, I’m going back and I’m tweaking every other thing, because I’m doing this part of the curriculum design process alongside everything else. And so there’s just no way I can do it differently. I can’t streamline that process anymore with my process. So it is going to be cyclical, you’re going to have to make tweaks, but it’s really eye opening too, because it tells you okay, I have two options, either need to eliminate this test question I wrote, or I need to go back. And I need to add a practical objective and a key vocabulary term, and potentially add more instructional resources to support the learning of this content. And I do this over and over and over again. And again, this is one of those things, it’s going to be the longest the first time you do it. It gets faster year after year, as you’re just making tiny, tiny tweaks until you kind of you know, you reach your point of chemical equilibrium. And it’s kind of balanced there and you’re not having to tweak it as much. Okay, so here’s your action step. For this episode, I want you to write into the unit assessments which for me, particularly tests if you can, for as many of the units of your year. If you’ve never if you don’t have any tests, you’re going from scratch, I would find something to work from which we’re going to talk about episode 88. That’s our coming out Thursday. That’s our last double episode of July where we’ve been doing double episodes every month I want to talk more specifically about like how to write a good test. I would not start from scratch unless you have a master’s in curriculum design and test writing. I would not start from scratch. So hopefully if you’re not starting from scratch, you can take some huge end of unit assessments and really flush them out, tweak them excetera for a couple of units that you have, preferably the first half of your year, so you have a really good head start going into the school year. Okay, if you need anything, check the show notes at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 87. And if not, I’ll see you back here Thursday, and we will talk more specifically about writing end of unit tests and I’ll tell you exactly how I structure them and how I walk through that process. So stay tuned. Alright, teacher friends, that wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend.

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