Standards-based reforms have been a major focus of education policy systems in the United States and abroad over the last several decades. At the heart of these reforms is the concept of ‘alignment’, defined here as ‘the degree to which expectations [i.e., standards] and assessments are in agreement and serve in conjunction with one another to guide the system toward students learning what they are expected to know and do’ (Webb 1997, 4). For example, the text of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the most recent reauthorisation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, uses the word ‘align’ or a variant more than 60 times.

There are three main approaches to alignment, but the two most widely used are the Webb (2002) and Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (SEC; Porter 2002) approaches. There are also a variety of newer approaches that have been used more sporadically. Both the Webb and SEC approaches involve the use of expert raters to examine test items and content standards at a fine-grained level of detail for the purposes of calculating various alignment indices. The Webb approach results in multiple alignment indices that are compared with thresholds for adequate alignment. The SEC approach results in a single alignment index that represents the proportion of content in common.

Owing to the importance of alignment in current policy efforts, there have been a number of advances in alignment methodology in recent years. For example, researchers have calculated critical values for alignment indices and determined the minimum number of raters necessary to achieve reliable results. However, there remains important work to be done as alignment continues to be an area of policy focus.