English Teachers’ Group Seeks to ‘Reclaim Assessment’

By Catherine Gewertz — March 03, 2015 1 min read
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With anti-testing battles simmering all over the country, the National Council of Teachers of English is advancing a message that seems to go against the grain: Reclaim assessment.

The 104-year-old association of English/language arts teachers has been hard at work on a project to protect and preserve assessment. And let’s be clear: They’re not talking about testing.

This organization, whose members are maniacally devoted to wordsmithing and all the other literary arts, wants you to feel the difference between testing—the standardized exercises for which thousands of teachers prep students—and assessment, a carefully thought out set of practices that can gauge each child’s learning and reshape instruction to enhance that learning.

The NCTE’s Assessment Story Project has been reaching out to teachers in K-12 and college to find out about what kinds of assessment are valuable to their practice. It’s conducting a survey, in which it seeks—no shock here—narrative responses about the kinds of practices that help teachers respond best to students as they learn.

Teachers are welcome to share their thoughts through the five-question survey, which is still available online. When the survey period closes, the NCTE will compile the responses into a report it hopes will offer something of a profile of the kinds of assessment practices English/language arts teachers consider important.

In a recent online chat that NCTE hosted about reclaiming assessment, teachers’ responses illustrated the distinction between testing and assessment. Here’s an example:

Literacy assessment is starkly different than literacy testing. One informs my practice; the other interrupts it." —@KevinEnglish

A post on the NCTE blog offers a few early highlights of teachers’ responses to the survey about assessment. What begins to emerge is a portrait of formative assessment, a set of practices that are woven into a teacher’s daily work to inform its shape and to support students as they work toward mastery.

That kind of assessment, however, is typically overshadowed in school by the other kind: standardized testing. Even as we speak, Congress is debating the role that testing will play in K-12 education as it weighs a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act. What it decides could tell us a good deal about the relative influences that testing and assessment will exert on teachers’ day-to-day work.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.