Approved by the NCTE Executive Committee, November 15, 2006
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.
In the following pages we provide research-based rationales for each of these recommendations and identify in italics other groups and organizations that have made similar recommendations.
Recommendation #1: Multiple criteria should be used to determine student progress, and assessment should provide timely information that teachers can use to improve instruction.
Research has complicated the so-called “simple view of reading,” demonstrating that more complex measures are needed to assess reading ability (Johnson, 2006). The most recent research in the assessment of reading shows that multiple measures are essential because reading comprehension results from several abilities, not just one (Shuy, McCardle & Albro, 2006). Abilities ranging from word recognition, to making inferences, and accessing background knowledge are all essential to reading comprehension: a single test measure cannot evaluate them (Cutting & Scarborough, 2006; Rayner et al., 2006). Kids’ reading performance is not stable, and the same numerical score represents very different reading abilities (Cutting & Scarborough, 2006). In all, since the current view of research is that reading cannot appropriately be measured by a single instrument, it is essential that multiple assessments be used to determine the progress of students and the schools that educate them.
This does not suggest that students should take several tests of the same type. Research indicates that students are already taking multiple tests that duplicate one another and are losing instructional time as a result (Invernizzi et al., 2005). Rather, student progress should be determined by different types of assessments. Furthermore, assessment should inform instruction by providing teachers with information they can use (Invernizzi et al, 2005). This means addressing the tension between technical adequacy and instructional use in designing and/or selecting measures of student learning.
Numerous constituencies, from the public to business persons to professionals, also support multiple means of testing and timely and useful data for teachers.
- Results of a Phi Delta Kappa Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools published in September 2006 reported that 69% of respondents believe that a single test does not give a fair picture of whether or not a school needs improvement.
- The National Association of Secondary School Principals has stated, “AYP should not be based on the results of one test, but should be based on the results of multiple assessments.”
- The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, made up of large businesses and educational associations dedicated to learning that prepares students for the workplace and for citizenship, has affirmed, “Standardized achievement assessments alone do not generate evidence of the skill sets that the business and education communities believe are necessary to ensure success in the 21st century.”
- The Forum on Educational Accountability, with a membership of over 90 organizations, strongly advocates that we must move to “provide a comprehensive picture of students’ and schools’ performance by moving from an overwhelming reliance on standardized tests to using multiple indicators of student achievement in addition to these tests.” Other indicators suggested by the National Education Association include graduation and dropout rates, percentages of students taking honors classes, and results of state and local assessments. These state and local assessments need to be solidly based on the latest science of teaching and learning.
Data from multiple assessments then need to be available to teachers and schools in a timely way so that improvements can be made based on the data.
- The National Education Association recommends mandating that assessment results be available in time to use with students whose test scores are being counted in AYP so that data can inform instruction.
- The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development “supports the use of multiple measures in assessment systems that are fair, balanced, and grounded in the art and science of teaching and learning. These assessments should be used to inform and improve instruction.”
In agreement with these many groups, NCTE supports multiple measures for assessing student learning and school performance with use of data for timely and concerted application to instruction.
Recommendation #2: Professional development is essential to insure highly qualified teachers.
Teacher quality is the single most important factor in student achievement. The quality of the teacher influences student achievement more than factors like class size and classroom peers, and effective teachers produce better achievement regardless of which curriculum materials or pedagogical approaches are used (Darling-Hammond & Youngs, 2002). Research shows that well-prepared teachers raise the level of achievement for all students, not just the most able students (Abau & Medro, 2003; Rivers, 1999; Sanders & Rivers, 1996).
A growing body of research documents the connection between systematic and sustained professional development and improved student achievement (Langer, 2000; Estrada, 2005). Teacher quality is enhanced by professional development, and that, in turn, increases student achievement. Therefore, investment in professional development pays large dividends in student achievement. In fact, research suggests that for every $500 directed toward various school improvement initiatives, those funds directed toward professional development resulted in the greatest gains on standardized achievement tests (Greenwald, Hedges & Laine, 1996).
Many organizations suggest increased focus on and funding of professional development in the NCLB reauthorization.
- The Forum on Educational Accountability advocates ensuring teacher and administrator preparation and continuity through professional development based on research and experience that influence educational quality and student achievement.
- The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development calls for “increased resources and flexibility for comprehensive, high quality professional development for all stages of educators’ careers.”
- The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) advocates that “a portion of federal funds, including Title II and Higher Education Act funds, should be allocated for professional development programs specifically focused on local schools in the area of adolescent literacy and in the use of data to improve school achievement.” NASSP focuses attention on vulnerable new teachers facing challenging educational environments by suggesting “allowable use of funds under Title II of NCLB to create meaningful teacher mentoring programs that significantly sustain the retention and development of new teachers.”
- Reggie Weaver, president of the National Education Association, has on multiple public occasions praised the use of coaches to provide support for classroom teachers, a practice echoed by the American Federation of Teachers in calling for specialists to provide support to teachers through the use of research-based instructional practices. NCTE’s and the International Reading Association’s National Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse provides criteria, models, and resources for literacy coaches who can support reading and writing across the curriculum, as proposed in NCTE recommendation #4. Reauthorization of NCLB should target funding for such resources as this Clearinghouse to increase opportunities for professional development online.
- The UCLA Center for Program and Policy Analysis and Mental Health in Schools advocates for comprehensive learning systems that provide inservice education for all school educators who support student learning. The Center recommends this focus on inservice education “to foster social, emotional, intellectual, and behavioral development” of educators who can then engage students in the classroom and promote increased learning.
With these organizations, NCTE supports professional development as a means of improving student achievement and urges that NCLB legislation include designated funding for ongoing professional development embedded in the school day, focused on research-based practices, and assessed for its effect on teacher practice and student learning.
Recommendation #3: The most highly qualified teachers should teach and tutor in schools with the greatest number of high-need students.
Because teachers play such a key role in student learning, it is important for them to be as well prepared as possible. Unfortunately, the teaching force is becoming increasingly bi-modal, divided between one population of very well prepared teachers and another of distinctly under-prepared teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2006; Gere & Berebitsky, forthcoming). Research shows that the least well-prepared teachers lack skills essential for fostering student achievement because they have little background in methods of teaching, limited classroom experience, and modest preparation in the subjects they are teaching (Good et al., 2006).
Unfortunately, these under-prepared teachers are most frequently assigned to urban and/or under-resourced schools (Lankford, Loeb & Wyckoff, 2002). Meanwhile, the majority of well-prepared teachers serve in more affluent, usually suburban, schools, where students tend to be more school congruent and need less skilled intervention. The practice of out-sourcing tutoring for schools not meeting AYP exacerbates the distance between schools with well-prepared and less well-prepared teachers because agencies that provide tutors often do not employ highly qualified teachers.
Including in the NCLB reauthorization ways to attract and keep highly qualified teachers in low-performing schools is a high priority.
- In a summary of its nine hearings involving 1,300 people from September 2005 to January 2006, the Public Education Network (PEN) concluded that there is a “significant need for highly qualified teachers in low-performing schools.” PEN suggests implementation of “incentives, such as professional compensation, tax credits, assistance with home purchases, and loan forgiveness, to attract and retain high-performing teachers in low-performing schools.”
- The American Federation of Teachers advocates “requiring states to develop an accountability index for schools to ensure that high-needs schools have the proper teaching and learning conditions and financial incentive in place to attract and retain high-quality staff.”
Supplemental services also must be a priority in insuring high quality instruction.
- Public Education Network states that “Supplemental educational services (SES) staff should be ‘highly qualified,’ and the eligibility of SES providers should be approved by both the school district and the state education agency.”
- Regarding a specific need, The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) reports an inequitable access of English Language Learners to tutorial services because of the difficulty of finding qualified providers in the private companies now providing 63% of all state-approved service providers. NCLR states succinctly, “The providers lack capacity.” NCLR advocates that “The Department of Education and the Congress give states and school districts authority and resources to monitor and evaluate supplemental educational service providers.”
- The National Education Association agrees about the need to target choice and supplemental services to students in the particular subgroups that are not meeting AYP standards.
- Public Education Network concludes on a broader scale that supplemental support services “remain uneven in terms of availability and in terms of program and personnel quality.”
Agreeing with these organizations, NCTE recommends that incentives in the law should mandate highly qualified teachers in schools with high-needs students and that provisions should be made for supplemental services to be carried out by highly qualified teachers and fully educated support staff chosen and evaluated by states and school districts.
Recommendation #4: Establish for Reading First an objective peer review system of observable data by an independent panel that represents multiple perspectives.
The report of the Office of the Inspector General on the Reading First grant application process included the following findings:
- The U.S. Department of Education did not select expert review panels in compliance with the requirements of NCLB
- The Department’s process for screening for conflicts of interest was not effective
- The Department did not follow its own guidance for the peer review process
- The Department awarded grants to states without documentation that the subpanels approved all criteria
- The Department included requirements in the criteria used by expert review panels that were not specifically addressed in NCLB
- Department officials obscured the statutory requirements of the ESEA; acted in contravention of GAO standards; and took actions that may have violated the prohibitions included in the DEOA (www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/aireports/i13f0017.pdf.)
Recommendation #5: State growth models should be used to provide longitudinal data about individual students and subgroups.
As Secretary Spellings (2005) has affirmed, growth models can strengthen accountability by monitoring student progress across time. Not a way to evade accountability standards, they actually strengthen accountability. Growth models are especially useful for measuring the progress of English Language Learners, learning disabled students, and other subgroups that require extended time to reach the goals of NCLB. Research shows that measures like these can inform teachers about the educational progress of individual students and indicate areas of difficulty that may impede learning (Helman, 2005).
NCTE agrees with other organizations that all students can learn if provided with the right educational context.
- The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) offers rubrics for appropriate assessments and testing accommodations for English Language Learners that acknowledge the need for longitudinal data and expectations for students with special needs: effectiveness, validity, differential impact, and feasibility. NCLR advocates “firm guidance” to states to follow the law’s directives to assess ELL’s “to the extent practicable in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data.” As ELL students progress in English, their performance as individuals and place in AYP calculations for their schools will be more accurately indicated through a growth model practice.
- Growth models will mitigate perverse incentives in the current accountability system. Because students on the bubble, i.e., just below proficiency, who move to proficient status get schools so much credit in the current accountability system, they are often attended to more than any other set of students. Students who move from 2.1 to 2.9 (2.9 is just under the proficient level) are not credited for progress, but students who move from 2.9 to 3.0 (3.0 begins the proficient category) help a school make AYP. Witnesses at the July 27, 2006, House Committee on Education and the Work Force Hearing on NCLB and Growth Models called the current system a “zip code educational policy” that fails to recognize that some students who are progressing well need a longer time to meet goals and that schools with such students should not be considered unsatisfactory.
- Longitudinal data about individual students are necessary to show trajectories of learning. At the July committee hearing Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, called for “kinetic movement across all levels of learners,” so that high-performing students who do not currently need to progress for a school to achieve AYP would need to do so. Katy Haycock, director of The Education Trust, advised explicit goals for proficient students. A blended system that includes evidence of growth allows for a static look at current improvement but also a dynamic look at anticipated growth.
- In a September 8, 2006, letter to Secretary Margaret Spellings, Rod R. Blagojevich, governor of the state of Illinois, stated that “Growth model implementation is a top priority across all states as it would provide state and local education agencies with a clear picture of student progress.” States are not able on their own, however, to support the kind of growth models that are productive in generating longitudinal data on individual students supplied to teachers in a timely way with support for teachers in changing instruction to fit student needs. At the July committee hearing, Congressman Hinajosa insisted that the federal government must have “the political will to invest.”
In consort with these calls for assessing the progress of all individuals and states in a fair and useful way, NCTE urges that growth models be incorporated into the reauthorization of NCLB in order to more legitimately assess individual student learning with data available to teachers for instruction and to more legitimately assess schools’ yearly progress.
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