Empowering Teachers through Professional Learning and Assessment - National Council of Teachers of English
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Empowering Teachers through Professional Learning and Assessment

From the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment


This post was written by NCTE member Peggy O’Neill, a member of the NCTE Standing Committee on Literacy Assessment.


If you want to make teachers groan, just mention “mandatory professional development.” Tell them the PD is about assessment, and the groans might turn to even louder moans. As one teacher told us as part of the Assessment Story Project

“PLCs [professional learning communities] are really about raising test scores and not about best practices. We are meetinged to death. Constant discussions and pressure about test scores. Teachers cry. They are competitive in a fully unhealthy manner. Black and brown children are treated differently when it comes to gifted and talented identification.” 

This response was confirmed in a later survey we did in which NCTE state policy representatives explained that testing drives many PD sessions, which are dominated by training in reading score reports, often with test vendors providing materials and expertise for these sessions.

This approach is far from the rich professional learning opportunities described by NCTE in “Shifting from Professional Development to Professional Learning: Centering Teacher Empowerment,” which aims to disrupt the run-of-the-mill understanding of PD and embrace the potential of it to transform teaching and learning.

Many of the key components of professional learning identified in the statement align with the goals of our committee and our work, as we illustrate below:


Key Components of Professional Learning

Key Components of Effective Assessment

Teachers are seen as
professionals; their knowledge and expertise are valued.

Teachers are knowledgeable about assessment,
and effective literacy assessment begins with teachers’ expertise and
experience. (
ASP Findings 1 and 2; Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing Standard 2) 

Teachers are seen as
co-constructors of knowledge, not as passive recipients of knowledge, i.e.,
transmission model.

Teachers should be the primary participants in
literacy assessment and should be involved in all decisions related to
assessments. (
See ASP Recommendations.)

Collaboration is recognized as a vital component. When teachers share their own expertise, learning from each other, as well as from administrators and consultants, a different kind
of knowledge results.

Teachers value input from families, colleagues
and experts. (See
Collaborative Analysis of Student Work; Families as Assessment Partners; Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing Standards 8, 9 & 10.)   

Teachers are encouraged to
explore published research and given time to do that. However, this published
research is not presented to teachers as the sole source of expertise but
rather as part of a conversation with teachers that inspires their thinking
and helps them develop their own expertise.

Teachers need to both know
the literature on assessment but also understand the social nature of
literacy. “Literacy assessment is a social process, not a technical activity.
Accordingly, all student texts are assessed by knowledgeable humans.” (
NCTE Principles of Literacy Assessment; Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing Standards 3&4)

Teachers are encouraged to
use their expertise to study the learning in their own classrooms in a
systematic manner.

Teachers evaluate their students learning
through systematic gathering of information in authentic learning contexts
with the goal to improve learning. (See, for example, 
Listening in on Student Learners

Getting Serious about Classroom Assessment; Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing Standard 3)

Teachers become empowered
educators, visionary leaders, and inspired knowledge producers through
professional learning and cultural competency.

Teachers can shift the conversation away from
testing and accountability to learning by engaging in thoughtful
conversations about assessment in classrooms, schools, districts and

(Shifting the Focus from Testing to Assessment; NCTE Principles of Literacy Assessment)




We believe that assessment has the power to transform education, but only if it is considered a rich, authentic component of teaching and learning, and if teachers are empowered to use their expertise and knowledge. Assessment in this framework is the opposite of the top-down, mandated testing approach that has dominated public education for more than two decades.

You can help us change the conversations about literacy assessment by:



Peggy O’Neill, a professor of writing and associate dean at Loyola University,  Maryland, has been teaching writing for thirty years. Her primary scholarship is in writing assessment.