Clearly distinguishing between assessment and curriculum is trickier than you might think. The debate remains vibrant among academics across university programs, from psychology and education to medicine (Wehrli, 2011). The assessment and curriculum topic has considerable implications for any subject matter as these two broad categories of content are relevant to anyone who teaches.


Despite debates about how to precisely divide assessment and curriculum, there are pragmatic considerations for applied behavior analysts in the Autism and IDD care space. Let’s review the differences between assessment and curriculum and how ABA clinicians use both. 

Differences in Assessment and Curriculum 

Assessment and curriculum are two interrelated but distinct concepts. Understanding the differences between these two concepts is essential for behavior analysts to effectively design and implement instruction and evaluation strategies. While curriculum refers to the plan for learning, assessment refers to the process of evaluating learning outcomes. The results of assessments guide behavior analysts in identifying areas of strength and need to support the creation of individualized goals. From there, a curriculum outlines the content, materials, and instructional strategies to use to achieve those goals. 

For those interested in taking a deeper look into instructional design and evaluation strategies for assessment, consider watching Multi-Level Measurement: How to Avoid “Analysis Paralysis” and Maximize Client Progress. 

Assessments in ABA 

Behavior Analysts working in the Autism and IDD care space have long since relied on assessments to provide meaningful indicators of a learner’s present levels of performance. Formal assessments can establish a basis for treatment, assist in securing and maintaining funding, and inform what course treatment will take.  


Behavior analysts have a relatively broad array of assessments to choose from. To focus on one widely used category in ABA practice, criteria referenced assessments such as the ABLLS-R, AFLS, and VB-MAPP assist in identifying specific content areas and skills to address in treatment.  However, variability exists among the behavior analytic community on how best to use formal assessment data.  


Despite knowing that assessment and curriculum are different, there is conflicting information available to us. Some assessments, particularly criteria-referenced assessments, appear to encourage the direct use of assessment targets as training targets (Ackley, et al. 2019). These assessments differ from the psychometrically validated assessments such as the Vineland that draw attention to broader skill category vs. the kind of individual skill detail that can make criteria referenced assessment so helpful in treatment planning. Despite recent validity concerns of our criteria referenced assessments (Padilla, et al. 2023) the clinical value they provide likely means they will persist as part of our assessment activities. 


Transitioning from Assessment to Curriculum 

When we transition from our intake and assessment activities to teaching specific skills, we can be faced with a conundrum. Where do we source our curriculum from? In other words, where do we get our plan for learning? Some behavior analysts take directly from assessment results, while others may look more toward necessary pre-requisites and how those skills relate to assessment items.  However, there is are concerning implications of sourcing our plan for learning directly from our formal assessments. It is not good practice to create curriculum for a direct assessment item (Firestone & Schorr, 2004). Teaching to the test will likely show improvements upon reassessment but neglects key aspects that a well-designed curriculum independent of any formal assessment will produce. 


Enhancing Care with a Flexible Curriculum 

A carefully designed curriculum is flexible and adaptable to the needs of different learners, teaching arrangements, and styles. Our efforts with CR Elements embrace the idea that no matter the way you construct your assessment activities, an expertly created curriculum will better position your learners to achieve their individualized goals.   


Because we have maintained that curriculum is a comprehensive plan for what is to be taught, how it is to be taught, and what resources are necessary for effective teaching and learning, we ensure a proper division between curriculum and assessments.  

Achieve Best Possible Outcomes with Well-Executed Assessments and Curriculums

The primary difference between curriculum and assessment is their focus. Curriculum focuses on what is to be taught, while assessment focuses on how well students have learned what has been taught. Curriculum is a plan for instruction, while assessment is a process for evaluating the effectiveness of that instruction. When we collectively maintain this distinction, we are in better service to our clients, to our efforts to validate our interventions, and understand how to better improve our applied pursuits. CentralReach’s suite of education products can help your learners achieve the best possible outcomes with digital solutions tailored to each learner and organization’s needs.  


Learn how CentralReach streamlines care from assessments to curriculum


Timothy Fuller, Ph.D., BCBA-D
CentralReach, Instructional Designer

Timothy Fuller, Ph.D., BCBA-D is an Instructional Designer at CentralReach. Dr. Fuller brings his balanced experience and expertise in the theoretical, experimental, and applied aspects of behavioral science to CentralReach. Dr. Fuller’s applied experience started with Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI), where he worked with children with autism in an in-home ABA program. He expanded his applied experience to include Precision Teaching and parent, teacher, and staff training. Dr. Fuller also brings his expertise in contextual behavior science to CentralReach in an effort to support fellow scientist-practitioners in providing the very best of behavior analysis to those they serve.


He earned his B.A., MA., and Ph.D., at the University of Nevada, Reno. Dr. Fuller’s experimental work has primarily focused on derived relational responding and the role that context plays in human behavior. His theoretical foundations are rooted in a naturalistic, interbehavioral account of behavior



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Behavioral Education, 28, 362–388. 


Firestone, W. A, & Schorr, R. Y. (2004). Introduction. In W. A. Firestone, R. Y. Schorr, & L. F.

Monfils (Eds.), The ambiguity of teaching to the test: Standards, assessment, and

educational reform (pp. 1–17). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. 


Padilla, K., Weston, R., Morgan, G., Lively, P., & O’Guinn, N. (2023). Validity and reliability

evidence for assessments based in applied behavior analysis: A systematic review.

Behavior Modification, 47(1), 247-288. 


Wehrli, G. (2011). The nuts and bolts of curriculum and assessment. Journal of Clinical

Apheresis, 26(1), 29-46.