Category Archives: Assessment

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: Policy Brief, Assessment and Back to School

Project: Policy Brief

Oh, the wonderful world of writing policy briefs. This week was spent working on a piece for the National Council of Teachers of English. We are trying to uncover who is teaching English and how these educators feel about a range of topics. There is data on teachers in general, but not a lot on teachers of English specifically. As an organization, we wanted to learn about this critical group of educators. Here are some questions that arose during my research:

  1. What might the race and gender of our teachers tell us about the ways we connect with our students?
  2. Why is it important to look at the levels of education a teacher has achieved?
  3. In a post–Common Core world, have levels of job satisfaction changed?
  4. What are the professional learning needs of teachers of English?

The most glaring fact so far has been the lack of current research on teachers. The U.S. Department of Education is set to release the next set of data end of summer/beginning of fall.

You know what they say about assessment …

I took a break from writing and research to meet with Miah Daughtery, the Director of English Language Arts and Literacy at Achieve. A fellow Wolverine, Miah and I discussed everything from ideas for getting kids to read—The Reading Minute by Kelly Gallagher—was new to me! to understanding why standardized assessments are so long (if you don’t know what a psychometrician is, then you probably don’t know the answer). One thing that was suggested in my district was that we write our own district-wide benchmarks. It was such a casual comment to our little department of 10 teachers that it seemed like a simple idea. Miah and I discussed how complicated writing assessment is, especially if it is assessment that you are going to use to make claims about student achievement. Miah has a presentation called “The Top 25 Ways a Test Item Can Be Flawed.” There are more than 25? The moral of the story is, folks, we need to revisit our benchmark plan. Miah suggested checking out the assessments from Achieve the Core, so I’m going to start there.

Oh and I’m back in the classroom on Monday

When my eyes got tired of looking at data, I turned my attention to my classroom. I have 6th and 8th graders reporting to me, excited yet sleepy, Monday. As most teachers do, I have grand plans for the year. These include, but are not limited to

  • infusing global education in all of my units, and building a website for my students to interact with me while I am on my study abroad, probably on Facebook or a page on my personal site
  • getting my kids to enjoy reading (also, getting them to actually read)—this means getting my classroom library in order, which terrifies me
  • doing daily read-alouds and maybe the Reading Minute
  • pairing contemporary texts with my mandated curriculum

I’m open to ideas!


Seriously, need to get it together! What a mess.

What Happened in Your State This June?

This past month, nine policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: Arkansas, California, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Higher Education

California: Daniel Melzer reported that the Cal State System Proposed to End Placement Exams and replace them with high school grades and course work, SAT, or ACT scores. He cited faculty concerns over “lack of local autonomy regarding assessment and placement.” Daniel also shared that the Report on Acceleration Writing Models in California Community Colleges revealed student success.

Michigan: In University of Michigan Offers Free Tuition for Low-Income Students, Robert Rozema described the Go Blue Guarantee program for high-achieving, low-income students.

New Hampshire: Alexandria Peary explained the House of Representatives Bill Requiring Annual Report of Remedial Courses. HB 180 would require postsecondary institutions to submit annual reports delineating the number and subjects of courses offered, enrollment, and costs.


Arkansas: Similar to her report last month, Donna Wake notes in Charter School Saved by External Resources that the Walton Family Foundation provided the funding to allow a charter school, initially slated for revocation, to remain open.

Idaho: Darlene Dyer shares that Preschool Funding and Enrollment Climbs Nationally but No Funding for Idaho, concluding that “If 90 per cent of Idaho’s 3- and 4-year-olds do not have access to preschool (as current figures purport), the impact will be felt for decades in the local economy.”

Montana: Anna Baldwin explains the Scholarship Tax Credit now allowed for contributions to a scholarship organization and the conflict over monies going to religious schools.

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower reported, [Governor] Wolf to Sign Law Granting Career-track Students Alternatives to Keystone Exit Exams. These students would be able to demonstrate competency through their grades and alternate assessments or industry-based certifications.  In Report Reveals Eye-opening Data on English Learners in Philadelphia Schools, Aileen submitted an excerpt from Newsworks revealing how quickly immigrant students in Philadelphia learn English.

Washington: Barbara Ward described the state of Washington grappling with Funding Woes in a special session to address the high court’s demand that the state pay a fair share of costs for teacher salaries. Barbara also wrote about Possible Changes in State Testing Requirements for High Schoolers, allowing students who fail state-mandated tests in English language arts to show their proficiency in other ways.

Both PreK-12 and Higher Education

New Mexico: In State of New Mexico Sued for Inequities in Educational Opportunities, Erin O’Neill notes that the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty sued, “claiming that budget cuts and underfunding are preventing Native American students, ELL learners, and low-income students from receiving the necessary educational opportunities guaranteed by the state constitution.”

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.