Category Archives: Assessment

Process and Professionalism

This post is written by member Galen Leonhardy.

GalenLeonhardyI wrote to an online student and, after assessment comments, explained her paper was not coherent and needed more editing before I would accept it. The student responded:


 So I read that comment you left on my paper. I don’t not have the time to use Tudors. Sorry. Just being honest. You are just gonna have to accept my papers without any revisions other than the ones you leave me or the other students. Sorry. Wanted to let you know.

The student is making two important points. First, she only has limited time for school. Accordingly, she will edit one time using my assessment (and peer assessment).

It’s an open-admissions school, and this student represents an everyday fluency/versatility/ perceptual/sociological reality. As composition theorists in community colleges, we interact with a vast range of versatility levels. That’s reality.

I meet such challenges by providing process-oriented assessments based on criteria and rhetorical possibility. I must trust that a student will do the best she or he can with what she or he has. I must allow a student to succeed on her or his terms. I can’t force learning.

In an authoritarian reality, this student would receive some kind of retribution for not doing what the teacher commanded. Composition theory, however, tells us linguistic versatility will change gradually if she persists. We believe in the process, not domination.

What I decided to do was give the student full credit for completing the process. It’s no skin off my back. I did not harm the student with a grade. Students in my classes have a binary evaluation based on completion of a process: the assignment is submitted for assessment and then for final assessment commentary and evaluation. Students get an A for accomplishing the process.

It is not my job to rank student proficiency or be a gatekeeper. Teachers from a different time and educational reality did that. I facilitate process-oriented instructional opportunities. It is each student’s job to do what he or she can with what he or she has to the best of his or her ability. Grades are meaningless in terms of what success is. Process-oriented instruction is really all we have. If I structure my classes around process and trust that process facilitates transference, then I am facilitating learning opportunities.

The student’s response was a bit abrupt, and the temptation might be to construct a rigid authoritarian response in order to maintain standards. But I know that if the student stays in the class and writes more while experiencing process-oriented interactions, then the likelihood of bettering her linguistic versatility increases. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but rudeness cannot harm me. If I relinquish authority, I increase my ability to serve.

We offer our learned opinions and facilitate. We also do what it takes to become better able to facilitate: write, publish, study, assess our strategies, and revise. If we accept that what we do is better our own skills, provide process-oriented learning opportunities, and facilitate, then we no longer need to worry about being the people who establish limits and enforce standards.

Galen Leonhardy teaches at a community college in Illinois. His work has appeared in CCC, TETYC, and other publications. He most enjoys spending time with his wife, Lea, and his daughters, Sarah and Hallie.

What Happened in Your State This October?

capitol buildingThis past month, twelve policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Higher Education

Dan Melzer analyzed the NCES Report on Remedial Coursetaking and the Center for American Progress Report on Remedial Education, offering his insights and concerns that both reports fail to cite the research on basic writing. Erin O’Neill listed Recommendations from the New Mexico English Remediation Task Force Report, July 2016, which include using multiple measures, sharing resources, supporting writing centers, and offering accelerated co-requisite composition courses.

Michael Gos noted the Dual Credit Concerns of college faculty in Texas regarding the rigor of dual credit classes. He described the 60×30 TX Initiative implemented to ensure that 60 percent of Texas’s workforce of 25-35-year-olds holds a postsecondary credential.

Alexis Hart reported that the Faculty in [the] Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education [Went] on Strike after working without a contract for more than a year.

P12 Education

In PARCC Controversy Continues after Release of 2016 Scores, Erin O’Neill addressed the concerns of teachers in New Mexico that the scores counted “too much” in evaluations.

Likewise, Stevi Quate wrote in Changes in State Assessments Impact the Whole System about how switching to PARCC in Colorado led to more students opting out and to Denver revising its rating system. Stevi also noted that despite an increase in high school graduation rates, Colorado is still ranked low nationally.

Although there are Rising Graduation Rates in Idaho, Darlene Dyer reported that the new tracking system reports a lower than expected rate.

Aileen Hower concluded that [Pennsylvania Was] Pulling Academic Scores from [Its Department of Education] Website for Further Review due to its failure to include scores of IEP students.

Emily Zuccaro shared that Kentucky [Was] Named the 15th Best State for Teachers measured by “Job Opportunity and Competition” and “Academic and Work Environment.”

Clancy Ratliff analyzed Louisiana’s Draft Framework for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), noting that many of the suggested changes are in line with NCTE positions. Derek Kulnis discussed ESSA Implementation in New York State, reporting that New York will continue to gather feedback from parents, educators, and students throughout the state in November.

Derek Kulnis also described how libraries are sharing Wi-Fi hot spots, in Internet Access for Students in New York City, and, in New York City Hosts Pre-K Learning Lab, how New York City invited policymakers and teachers from twelve cities to view the rollout of its universal preK program.

Jalissa Bates reported on the new mentorship initiative, in Louisiana Preservice Teachers Gain a Full Year in the Classroom with Pay.

Apropos for Media Literacy Week, Robin Holland reported that Ohio’s Brunswick City Schools Launch Partnership with Discovery Education to provide more digital learning.

“High-Impact” Teaching and the Role of Literature

This post is by NCTE member, Cody Miller. 

Cody MillerI was recently named “one of the highest impact teachers” in my state. This title was bestowed to public school teachers by the Florida Department of Education for high value-added model (VAM) rankings. Like many fellow teachers and teacher educators across the country, I find the emphasis on standardized assessments misguided. Yet, I must navigate teaching in a post-NCLB environment daily.

I teach at the University of Florida’s laboratory school, P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School. Our school’s mission includes designing and implementing instructional practices that will help all learners achieve. Our population, mandated by state law, must reflect the demographics of Florida. Our student body makeup is important because we know that too often students from middle-to-upper class families receive robust literature instruction, while the remainder of students are left with narrow curriculum that prohibits students from exploring important topics raised by literature. English classes are detracked at my school, meaning that all students are enrolled in my English Honors course, regardless of test scores. This situation requires me to constantly think about differentiation in instruction while maintaining a high standard for quality work. It also means that my class discussions are rich because of the diverse perspectives my students bring. All students read at least seven books throughout the year, ranging from YAL to AP texts. My focus on literature may seem notable in the age of Common Core, but it shouldn’t be.

It’s important to note that the Common Core’s call for texts to be 70 percent nonfiction by high school includes reading across all content areas. I often hear of teachers feeling that their ability to teach literature has been diminished since the introduction of the standards. I do not blame teachers for substituting literary works for nonfiction texts in order to secure their professional livelihoods. Indeed, I believe teachers should help students understand standardized assessments as a unique genre. However, I am suggesting a literature-rich curriculum prepares students for annual standardized assessments. More importantly, this type of curriculum helps prepare students to be critical and empathetic citizens. For example, my students make connections to current social movements like marriage equality when reading Romeo and Juliet. They read across texts and write from multiple perspectives; they analyze and synthesize in their writing. In short, they read the word and the world by engaging in literature, poetry, media, and art. And they still succeed on the standardized tests because they’re engaged in more challenging work throughout the year.

When I received the notification that I had been named a “high-impact” teacher I felt a sigh of relief. Teachers, regardless of their feelings about mandated assessments, feel the pressure of the results. It is an unfortunate feeling, but it cannot be ignored. I feel strongly that quality instruction that goes beyond the demands of the tests will result in students reaching the mandated benchmark. But more importantly, quality literature instruction will cultivate a sense of justice within students, and that is the greatest impact a teacher can have.

Cody Miller teaches ninth-grade English Language Arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K12 laboratory school. He can be reached at or on Twitter @CodyMillerPKY.

Insights from edTPA Implementation

edTPA tensionsLike any significant change to a major system, edTPA (a new performance-based assessment for licensing teachers) presents challenges and tensions for those who must accommodate this change. Those tensions were recently documented in the November issue of Language Arts by Amy Johnson Lachuk and Karen Koellner, two teacher educators in an elementary education program that offers degrees leading to initial teacher certification. In their article “Performance-Based Assessment for Certification: Insights from edTPA Implementation,” Lachuk and Koellner describe efforts to adjust programming in light of their state’s recent adoption of edTPA.

While the edTPA is new, the tensions it has brought are tensions familiar to many teachers. One is a tension between wanting our students to learn things for themselves through inquiry and wanting to give our students the answers. Lachuk and Koellner write:

As teacher educators, we aim to offer teacher candidates opportunities to reflect upon and inquire into their practices. We also aim to help them experience the complexities of teaching, so that they can grow in their practices. However, a formal, performative assessment such as the edTPA makes managing the tension between telling and growing even more complicated (cf. Berry, 2008); Berry questions: “What would motivate prospective teachers to seek their own solutions to teaching problems when their formal assessment is at stake?”

Lachuk and Koellner also found that the edTPA required candidates to think about teaching in ways the preparation program had not previously felt the need to push:

For example, writing and using supporting evidence about their planning, teaching, and assessment practices are how candidates are evaluated on their ability to engage in the assess-plan-teach cycle. . . . Several candidates were very skilled in writing retrospective reflective narratives about their teaching, yet when it came time to structure these reflections as academic arguments in which they used evidence to support their claims, they struggled.

The new reality meant teaching new skills, but it also meant eliminating some lessons. “[B]ecause edTPA is a time- and labor-intensive examination, we need to accommodate the process by requiring fewer assignments as part of the student teaching course.”

An even more significant tension may be the tension between wanting to give their students accurate, reliable information, and also wanting to be perceived as sufficiently knowledgeable. Lachuk and Koellner write:

Because the edTPA was a new examination for faculty, too, we wanted to project to teacher candidates that we had a firm grasp on what it was asking them to do, when in fact we did not. For instance, we created a series of face-to-face workshops and hosted several drop-in sessions for teacher candidates who were submitting and preparing their edTPA portfolios. These support workshops and drop-in sessions were intended to coach teacher candidates throughout the process, adhering to the guidelines for faculty support provided by Pearson publishing (the publisher of edTPA).

Participating in these face-to-face workshops was particularly difficult for Amy, who was concerned about unintentionally giving teacher candidates misinformation that would negatively impact their performance on the examination. Although she was familiar with the examination, Amy felt uncertain about her interpretation of the edTPAese, or the way certain concepts (such as finding a central focus for writing) were defined and interpreted in the examination. At the same time, however, for the sake of candidates’ peace of mind, she felt that she needed to present herself as knowledgeable and confident about the examination. Throughout the time she was helping to support teacher candidates with preparing their edTPA portfolios, Amy felt herself confronting this tension between appearing knowledgeable and confident while actually feeling rather uncertain.

But Lachuk and Koellner do feel confident that all these various tensions will lessen over time. “[C]andidates will be more familiar with the requirements and will have experienced more of the supports throughout our program (rather than only during their student teaching semester when they take the exam).” As with any change, the tensions felt now will shape our adjustments to that change and will ensure that, down the road, tensions will ease.


Read the complete article, “Performance-Based Assessment for Certification: Insights from edTPA Implementation.”

2016 Convention Proposal FAQ

2016annualconventionquoteAre you considering submitting a proposal for the 2016 NCTE Annual Convention? You should!

We’ve been getting some questions about the process and we thought it would be a good idea to address the most frequently asked ones below.

Check out this video in which Jason Griffith, one of our proposal coaches, shares his insights. You can also read his 6 tips for crafting a proposal here.

Is the proposal system live?

Yes! The proposal system went live on December 18 and can be accessed here. Full details on the word counts and fields you will have to fill in can be found here.

What if my session idea doesn’t have anything to do with advocacy?

First of all, all session proposal ideas are welcome for consideration and we are confident your proposal does involve advocacy of some sort.

A central argument of the 2016 convention theme, Faces of Advocacy, is that the very act of being a teacher is an act of advocacy. The work we do every day in making the best choices for our students and our profession involves advocating for what we know is right.

So if you have a session on a great new strategy for doing close reading, or apps that help teach about argumentation, you’re advocating for an approach. And if you have a session on infusing social justice themes into teacher preparation programs, that’s advocacy, too.

Think about the theme of the Convention less as a defined set of activities and more as a lens through which to view the important power and potential of our profession.

Still worried your session might not fit?

Consider this broad range of topics of emphasis the selection committee is looking for:

  • Advocacy
  • Argumentation
  • Assessment
  • Community/Public Literacy Efforts
  • Composition/Writing
  • Content Area Literacies/Writing across the Curriculum
  • Digital and Media Literacies
  • Early Literacies
  • Equity and Social Justice
  • Informational Text
  • Literature
  • Multilingualism
  • Narrative
  • Oral Language
  • Reading
  • Rhetoric
  • Teacher Education and Professional Development

What’s the criteria for selecting sessions?

You can read all about the criteria here. But here are some guiding ideas to help you:

  • Be clear and thoughtful. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for reviewers to imagine what this session might be like.
  • Think engagement. Susan Houser, NCTE president-elect and conference chair for 2016, has been clear from the start that she wants more sessions that are active and engaging and fewer that are driven by information delivery alone. How might you foster conversation and interactive learning as part of your session?
  • Make it relevant. There is so much going on in education right now that it’s likely any of your ideas will fit in, but bear in mind that attendees come from all over the country, from classrooms of every shape and size. Think about how what you’re thinking and doing in your local context could resonate with folks from lots of different contexts.

The NCTE offices will be closed December 24-January 1. We’ll make sure to answer any additional questions as soon as we get back.