Approved by the NCTE Executive Committee, February 2007
No Child Left Behind Act Recommendations
The 50,000 members of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) affirm the principles of educational equity that shape No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCTE members are dedicated to closing the achievement gap through accountability, flexibility, and high quality instruction. Although the implementation of NCLB legislation has not always led to the desired ends, we believe that full funding and changes in the law could yield more positive results. Therefore, NCTE recommends that the following changes be made in NCLB through the 2007 reauthorization process.
- Multiple assessments are needed for an accurate portrait of the academic achievement of all students. No single test can provide an accurate portrait of students and schools. Smarter, more nuanced assessments can provide better information on achievement without increasing the testing burden and wasting valuable instructional time. Accordingly, NCTE recommends that multiple assessments be used to determine student and school progress and that assessment data be made available to teachers in a timely fashion so they can use it to shape instruction.
- Teacher quality is an important factor in enhancing learning. NCTE recommends increasing federal funding for capacity building in schools and districts. Title II funds need to be set aside for the on-going professional development of educators, not merely for class size reduction (the focus of most current spending).
- High-need students should have the best prepared and most experienced teachers. Unfortunately, the least prepared and least experienced teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools with the greatest need for expert literacy instruction. NCTE, therefore, recommends that federal programs be designed to support highly prepared, experienced teachers in schools with the greatest number of high-need students. In addition, providers of supplementary services should also be highly prepared teachers.
- Reading First, as the report of the Office of Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Education shows, has been riddled with ethical and legal violations which excluded many researchers from the grants evaluation process. To improve the reliability of grant review, NCTE urges that an objective peer review system be adopted that empowers independent panels of scholars representing multiple perspectives to make recommendations on the basis of observable data.
Re-examining the definition of “scientifically based reading research” under NCLB will improve the coherence and impact of the bill. NCTE recommends a definition that aligns with that of the National Research Council, emphasizing peer review and multiple methodologies. Finally, as required by law, rigorous research on the impacts of Reading First should be conducted.
- NCTE supports the adoption of growth models to track increased achievement and provide longitudinal data based on the performance of individual students and subgroups. Instead of the existing Adequate Yearly Progress measure that compares different groups of students to chart achievement, growth models (currently in use in several states) track growth of the same students over time, a more accurate indicator of academic success. In particular, growth models provide a more valid means of measuring success for English Language Learners (ELLs) and at-risk students, who need extended time to achieve and maintain proficiency in literacy.
On the Definition of Scientifically Based Research and Peer Review of Grant Proposals
Two issues have proven particularly problematic in the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act and similar legislation designed to enhance student learning and close the achievement gap: (1) application of the definition of scientifically-based research and (2) the peer review of grant proposals.
Currently, the definition of scientifically-based research prescribes a single preferred research method regardless of the question or context being investigated; it thus fails to acknowledge that different research methods are appropriate for different questions. Moreover, the current statutory definition of “scientifically based research” has been used to exclude the full range of knowledge about how students learn to read and write.
To remedy this situation, Congress must adopt a consistent definition of “scientifically based research” that conforms to the principles of research enumerated by the National Research Council (NRC). According to the NRC, scientifically-based research:
- Poses significant questions that can be investigated empirically (through observation). Questions must reflect understanding of prior theoretical, methodological, and empirical work.
- Links research to relevant theory. All inquiry is linked to some overarching theory or framework that guides investigation.
- Uses methods that permit direct investigation of the question. A variety of methodological approaches may be needed to answer the range of questions and issues involved in a line of inquiry.
- Provides a coherent and explicit chain of reasoning. Detailed descriptions of procedures, limitations or biases, error and counter-explanations, and analyses are critical so that others may critique, analyze, or replicate the study.
- Replicates and generalizes across studies. Scientific knowledge advances when findings are reproduced in a range of times and places and are integrated and synthesized.
- Discloses research to encourage scrutiny and critique. Scientific studies must be widely shared and subject to professional scrutiny.
Peer Review Panels
If the federal government is to reach its intended goal of advancing student achievement, it must ensure that research-based grant proposals are evaluated through a fair and thorough peer-review process. Grants under Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Higher Education Act should be awarded through an objective peer review system comprised of independent panels of scholars with deep knowledge of a range of relevant literacy research methodologies and content knowledge. These reviewers should be nominated by diverse organizations, including:
- Professional and scholarly associations
- Postsecondary institutions
- State departments of education
Higher Education Act Recommendations
Every student deserves highly qualified teachers who are well-prepared in both content knowledge and diverse instructional approaches. The National Council of Teachers of English advocates improved federal support for sound teacher education practices through the following changes:
NCTE advocates a stronger investment in State Partnership Grants. Among the changes that will strengthen this program:
- The definition of “scientifically based” research should be consistent with the six scientific principles defined by the National Research Council. Of most significance is Principle 3 that endorses a variety of methodological approaches that allow a researcher to use those most appropriate to the questions under scrutiny.
- The definition of teaching skills should include pedagogical knowledge, and the ability to help students master the full range of 21st century literacies:
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
- Communication Skills
- Creativity and Innovation Skills
- Collaboration Skills
- Information and Media Literacy Skills
- Contextual Learning Skills
- Alternative teacher preparation programs should be held to the same quality standards as traditional programs.
- The effectiveness of literacy teachers and the effectiveness of programs developing literacy teachers should be documented through multiple indicators, such as measures of student motivation and engagement, measures of student academic achievement, and indices of parental involvement.
- Increased funding should be provided for teacher induction and retention programs that are locally responsive and that include as program features:
- sustainable mentoring;
- content knowledge resources and pedagogical support;
- support for developing data-informed decision-making;
- research documenting the efficacy of such programs that will be widely disseminated.
- Because the Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grants have contributed to the improvement of literacy programs at postsecondary institutions and at high schools, and have improved graduation rates and eased the transition to college, we advocate that the FIPSE program be fully funded.
- As Congress looks to the future, we encourage investment in local initiatives that work to align school curricula and teaching approaches that both enhance graduation rates and prepare students for success at the next academic level.
The National Council of Teachers of English supports the passage of legislation encouraging the development of literacy initiatives — such as the Striving Readers Act of 2007 — to improve student achievement in middle and secondary schools through high-quality, long-term, inquiry-based professional development provided for all educators in a school or district. To that end, we advocate full funding for:
- Programs and practices that promote critical thinking, communication and collaboration, creativity and innovation to ensure that students are prepared to succeed in a global economy.
- Appropriate assessment structures and instructional support for the education of English Language Learners for whom research shows that long-term support integrating multilingual resources leads to higher student achievement.
- Ongoing support for the development of literacy coaches who engage in intensive, sustained study of literacy education and best practices in professional development.
- Formative and summative assessments that enable teachers to plan for instruction based on the individual strengths and needs of diverse students.
- Research that evaluates the efficacy of adolescent literacy programs and the dissemination of findings.