Writing, reading, language learning, and related literate activities are at the core of NCTE’s mission. For decades the organization and its members have investigated and acted on questions about how students should learn, how that learning should be assessed, and what conditions should exist to support learning from pre-kindergarten through college and beyond.
Recent initiatives such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as well as institutional, state, and local policies, have opened the possibility of innovative approaches to learning, assessment, and teacher support. These initiatives create opportunities to enact NCTE’s core commitments to literacy learning across grade levels and subjects.
These commitments include student access to knowledgeable teachers with expertise in literacy learning; the understanding that successful writers and readers analyze and adapt to expectations in different situations requiring literate skills; and the understanding that teachers should contribute to assessment processes and practices and to discussions about using assessment and accountability data. Enacting these commitments requires advocacy at all levels, from the national to the grassroots.
Ensuring Equitable Access to Learning
Ensuring equity is vital in a period when considerable control of education is moving to state, local, or institutional levels. Regardless of neighborhood, family circumstance, or personal situation, all students have a right to fully qualified teachers and to classrooms and curricula that enrich their lives and provide a foundation for growth as productive citizens.
We advocate to change learning and teaching conditions that create inequity for students through the following:
- Reduce the reliance on exclusionary, overly punitive disciplinary practices and on criminalizing minor infractions that reflect implicit bias and contribute to the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipelines.
- Ensure equal distribution of fully qualified teachers, resources, and technologies, especially in schools and colleges that serve students with fewer financial means.
We advocate to advance learning and teaching conditions that create equity in literacy education through the following:
- Provide equitable access to rich and compelling learning opportunities and transformative curricula for all students, including those students struggling with school expectations and English language learning.
- Ensure that alternate routes to college credit through dual enrollment are equivalent to courses offered on college campuses and that teachers of these courses have appropriate professional qualifications and support.
Assessment and Accountability That Open Life Pathways
Stakeholders in education have a collective responsibility to engage in assessment and hold each other accountable for helping students learn. As educators, we are accountable for using instructional practices that are most effective for the students we serve. State and local leaders must also be held accountable for providing necessary resources and policies.
Opening life pathways through literacy learning requires readiness. Institutions should be ready for the students they serve, just as students should be ready to take advantage of the opportunities and resources in those institutions. Educators play a primary role in determining both types of readiness, facilitating students’ progression from one site of learning to the next.
We advocate for appropriate assessment and accountability systems and for uses of data that are grounded in research and experience:
- Collect multiple and authentic data, including student work, that functions as evidence of student learning.
- Meet mandates through assessments that are grounded in the well-researched knowledge of the complexities of evaluating student literacy, with systematic consideration of consequential validity.
- Ensure teacher participation in the design or selection of assessments, including questions that are asked, methods that are chosen, how data are analyzed, and what decisions emanate from that analysis. We must respect the privacy rights and rights to know of all stakeholders.
- Make institutional quality, not just student achievement, an aspect of assessment. In choosing school quality indicators in their state assessment plans required under ESSA, consider measures such as student engagement, the presence of authentic and rich tasks, and enthusiasm for education.
We advocate for assessment and accountability systems that are used to make principled decisions:
- Use data to evaluate student learning and support its improvement through formative assessments and multiple measures, avoiding high-stakes decisions based on single standardized assessments.
- Use data to evaluate educators and help them improve their practice based on multiple measures that examine the entirety of their professional responsibilities.
- Focus improvement efforts on collective capacity building—sustained, whole-school, inquiry-driven educator collaboration—and ensuring equity of resources when accountability systems indicate the need for improvement, such as in the schools scoring in the bottom five percent in state assessment systems.
- Ensure that higher education accreditation and assessments are driven by the institutional missions and that teachers are centrally involved in determining questions, assessment methods, and use of results that are valid for their disciplines and contexts.
Valuing Teacher Expertise as a Condition for Literacy Learning
Literacy educators at all levels should be valued as professionals whose leadership is vital to literacy learning. All teachers must have a mastery of content and effective teaching practices and must have opportunities to teach and learn from each other. They must be able to meet the needs of diverse student populations and to participate in educational decision making. Because conditions for teaching directly affect conditions for learning, all teachers require appropriate time, resources, and compensation to design and offer thoughtful instruction.
We advocate for conditions that recognize teacher expertise and foster connections within classes and across grade levels and sites of learning:
- Direct state ESSA funds that are designated for professional learning to initiatives led by teachers, valuing teacher expertise in meeting literacy learning needs they identify. Build capacity in states, districts, and schools by facilitating collaborations among teachers and principals across content areas and grade levels, including providing protected time during the school day for collaboration.
- Ensure that pathways for certification require that prospective teachers acquire significant content knowledge of areas of English and writing studies (e.g., literature, composition theory, language development); gain mastery of a repertory of pedagogical practices that reflect 21st-century student populations (e.g., the interactions of class, gender, religion, ethnicity); demonstrate access to sustained practice teaching under the direction of a mentor; and develop a protean knowledge of how to use research skills and professional networks (including within disciplinary organizations) to adapt curricula and pedagogy for new situations.
- Ensure that those teaching classes granting college credit have appropriate credentials associated with the field or subject they are teaching: graduate coursework in that field; mastery of pedagogical practices that meet the needs of a diverse student population; access to and participation in a teaching community that supports developing professional practice; and the ability to use research and professional networks (including disciplinary organizations) to adapt curricula and pedagogy for new situations.
- Ensure that college and university contingent faculty, who are teaching subjects foundational for student learning and progress, have access to required resources by providing, at minimum, unemployment insurance and the collection of accurate data about the number of contingent faculty, their workloads, and their compensation.