National survey: Teachers know best how to assess students’ literacy, want changes in testing system - National Council of Teachers of English

National survey: Teachers know best how to assess students’ literacy, want changes in testing system

August 24, 2016


Urbana, ILLINOIS — Teachers need to be much more involved in the development of large-scale assessments of students’ literacy—because they already assess students’ work on a daily basis, results of a national survey find.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has released its report based on the National Assessment Story Project Survey. The Assessment Story Project: What We Learned from Teachers Sharing Their Experiences with Literacy Assessment showcases the views of English and language arts, reading, and writing teachers in K–12 schools and higher education. It serves as a voice of and guide for the profession—and as useful information for state and federal policymakers and school system leaders as they consider changes to large-scale testing systems.

As the report shows, teachers express widespread dissatisfaction with high-stakes standardized tests that measure student achievement and growth in reading and writing. Teachers spend every day monitoring students’ progress, but the best practices in classroom assessments are rarely implemented in high-stakes tests. And states and school systems sometimes use the results from high-stakes test to judge school and teacher quality when the tests themselves weren’t designed for that purpose.

As states develop new student testing systems under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the report recommends that policymakers look to teachers for guidance.

High-quality literacy assessment, these teachers say, should engage students in real-world tasks, require students to be creative problem solvers, involve students’ classroom work, include presentations to educators and parents or others in the community, and provide feedback that can be used by the teacher and students to support learning during the school year.

The report compiles results from a survey that was available to educators online and included five open-ended questions. About 530 responses were gathered from an array of English educators ranging from the elementary grades through college and in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

“This project gives voice to our members at all levels of education on the overall direction of literacy assessment in our nation,” said Kathleen Blake Yancey, Kellogg W. Hunt Professor of English and Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University and an international expert in assessment and literacy teaching and learning. She chairs the Assessment Task Force convened by NCTE that developed the report and survey. “We can do better in assessing students’ literacy development than our current practices allow.”

“Teachers know more about how students learn and grow in reading, writing, and communication than anyone, and NCTE wants to help guide educators and policymakers toward more meaningful, useful types of assessment that include the classroom more directly,” added Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE’s executive director.

Among the key findings:

  • Teachers are the most knowledgeable practitioners and advisors in assessing students’ literacy—their reading, writing, and communication skills. Teachers already assess students’ progress every day in K–12 schools and postsecondary classrooms—with validity and creativity.
  • Until teachers are at the heart of design teams—from early discussions through test development—for every large-scale assessment, literacy assessments will deliver less useful data and timely information than they should.
  • More timely, useful assessments should draw on student projects, portfolios, and classroom-based formative assessments. These are richer forms of assessment that can accomplish what good tests are supposed to do: check students’ progress and help to guide classroom instruction.
  • High-quality classroom assessments allow for faster, meaningful results that can help teachers improve instruction.
  • Assessments should contribute to student learning. If they don’t, they’re not worth the time and expense. Professional learning for teachers is a much wiser investment.
  • Policymakers should consider testing only a sampling of students in specific subjects and grades over time. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, takes this approach—although even NAEP needs more involvement from educators.

Read the report here:


Contact: Alan Richard, 202.641.1300; or

The National Council of Teachers of English (, with 25,000 members worldwide, is the oldest literacy organization in the United States, based in Urbana, Illinois, with an office in Washington, DC. NCTE is dedicated to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts at all levels of education. With the expertise of its members, NCTE has led the nation in its most important decisions and trajectories around preK–16+ literacy.