Program Assessment in English Education: Belief Statements and Recommendations


The National Council of Teachers of English has long been concerned about the preparation of teachers of English, and since 1967, NCTE has published the Guidelines for the Preparation of Teachers of English Language Arts (Guidelines) which has been updated and revised at ten year intervals. Since 1987, NCTE has also published Standards for English Teacher Preparation Programs (Standards), derived from the Guidelines, which has been used by institutions seeking state accreditation and/or national accreditation through the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Since these documents are representations of the profession’s values and beliefs about what constitutes essential knowledge, dispositions, and abilities of beginning English teachers and the features of the programs that lead to licensure for beginning English teachers, NCTE must be able to demonstrate that these Guidelines and Standards reflect a professional consensus among English teachers. Obtaining that consensus helps build an informed and supportive membership, and being able to document that consensus is important in supporting NCTE’s position as the voice of the profession. At this time, the Guidelines are being revised in preparation for an anticipated publication date in 2006. The new edition of this document will prompt revision in the existing set of Standards.

Therefore, we recommend the following:

  1. There should be a membership validation of the proposed Guidelines. NCTE should take all appropriate steps to ensure that the full NCTE membership has the opportunity to review and comment on the draft and, when the final version of the Guidelines has been established, to formally indicate their affirmation that the Guidelines reflect the essential and important areas of knowledge, dispositions, and abilities needed by a beginning teacher of English.
  2. When a new Standards document has been prepared, NCTE should initiate a systematic content validation of the standards to ensure consensus among the membership that the Standards adequately and appropriately reflect the knowledge, dispositions, and abilities articulated in the Guidelines. Further, NCTE must ensure that program design and process requirements presented in the Standards are supported by research, theory, and/or precedent and are formally endorsed by the CEE membership and the NCTE Executive Committee.

In addition, we believe that English education program assessments should reflect the Guidelines and Standards and should include evidence that candidates are learning about and engaging in the English education pedagogies that contribute to student learning.

Key questions related to above statement that need to be addressed/clarified include:

We recognize that a paucity of research exists that draws direct (causal) relationships between teaching practices that align with NCTE standards and increased student learning. We first call for NCTE to support quality research to enlarge the body of evidence that we can turn to when advocating for teaching practices we believe are effective, ethical, and flexible enough to be useful in a variety of teaching settings. Such research would include a wide range of methodological approaches, but projects should have as their basis an examination of practices our constituency believes are ethical and theoretically sound. In that research, the student learning component should not be measured by standardized tests alone.

Belief Statements

Belief Statement #1

Effective program assessment includes evidence of teaching competence through performance assessment of teaching as well as through traditional quantitative forms of assessment.

Evidence of direct performance should consist of a combination of process assessments and product assessments situated in the real context of a teacher’s work (Valli & Rennert-Ariev, 2002). Process assessments include the use of videotape or observational analyses. Product assessments include teacher portfolios (Xu, 2004), artifacts of student learning (tests or assignments), and lesson plans (Valli & Rennert-Ariev, 2002). These assessments should measure a candidate’s knowledge of language, literature, and processes of composing (Milner & Milner, 2003) as well as evaluate their abilities to use best practices in English education pedagogy.

We believe that any system of English education program assessment should include evidence that the program provides experiences consistent with NCTE Guidelines and Standards. Further, program assessments should include evaluations of candidates’ knowledge, dispositions, and abilities to meet the needs of diverse students, to design and implement instruction, and to assess student learning.

We believe that English education programs should provide candidates with broad opportunities to interact with students of diverse class, gender, ethnic, economic, social, academic, and physical abilities. Evidence of such experience should include, but are not limited to, reflective journals, lesson plans, case studies, videotaping, observations, and other artifacts which would support candidates’ professional development.

Assessment of the candidate’s knowledge of and abilities to design and implement instruction should be performance based. Examples of methods of assessment for this competency include the following:

  1. The candidate’s ability to plan lessons which reflect the acceptance and understanding of diversity.
  2. The candidate’s ability to modify/adapt activities/assignments to meet the learning needs of students.
  3. The candidate’s ability to structure the learning environment to support students with different learning needs.
  4. The candidate’s ability to select and integrate appropriate instructional materials, technology, and activities in classroom instruction.

The goal of field placements should be to provide continuity between the curricula of English education programs and the practical work environment candidates will inhabit as practitioners.

Belief Statement #2

English education program assessment should focus on what candidates know and can do. We caution against the singular use of student learning data in assessment at this stage of professional preparation.

Historically, English education program assessment has focused on what candidates know and can do. In what Cochran-Smith (2001) terms the first stage of assessment of teacher education program effectiveness, lasting from approximately the mid-1950’s to the mid-1980’s, English teacher educators examined whether or not their delivery of pedagogical skills and techniques to candidates was in fact producing modifications in observed classroom behavior. If so, then programs were considered effective in their goal of producing high quality teachers. More recently, however, English teacher educators have focused their attention on the quality of learning actually experienced by candidates as they move through English education programs and the relationship between this learning and what we know from school-based research about how students learn. Both qualitative and quantitative measures have examined candidates’ understandings of content, students, pedagogy, schools, communities, and self change. Further, assessments include measures to judge the extent to which candidates are attuned to the needs and practices of schools and students as a result of a rich variety of social conditions, discourses, and practices. Self-reflexive examinations of English teacher education candidates’ learning processes have often accompanied these descriptions and analyses, producing greater insight into the means by which English teacher educators support candidates as they navigate the space between English education programs and schools, classrooms, and students.

In the last five years, calls have emanated from outside of the English education profession for more attention to the impact that teacher education programs make on the learning of K-12 students. While we embrace the notion that English education programs are designed to—and in fact do—produce positive impacts on student learning in secondary classrooms, we are cautious about the usefulness and integrity of assessing these impacts via the collection and analyses of student learning data. At this early stage of career development, candidates are not legally responsible for their classrooms and students. While positive impacts on student learning are expected, mentor teachers remain responsible for all teaching and learning, and typically these teachers exert a significant influence upon the teaching of candidates. Given these constraints, the primary goal of assessing candidates’ abilities should be as readers of classroom environments and enactors of research-based teaching practices. In addition, any collection and analyses of student learning data during preservice teaching would be deeply flawed methodologically, as the impacts of English education programs are by definition indirect and second-hand (and realistically would erode time and attention from actual teaching). We, therefore, recommend that NCTE develop and support systems of program assessment that focus on what candidates know and do during preservice teaching, leaving the incorporation of student learning data to later career stages.

Belief Statement #3

In order to begin a process of assessing and redefining English education, CEE should collect baseline data about English education programs and program assessments already in place around the country.

At this point, we have no national portrait of how English education programs are configured. For example, we do not know their number, size, admission procedures, relationships with English departments, or relationships with other subject-specific teacher preparation programs. While Smagorinsky and Whiting (1995) attempted to characterize English methods courses, little current empirical research exists about English education programs with respect to their institutionally-based curricula and field-based experiences, accreditation standings, and strengths and challenges.

Darling-Hammond, Holtzman, Gatlin, and Heilig’s (2005) study of teacher impact on student achievement in one large school system included an examination of the effects of certification/licensure status. However, there is little, if any, research about the subject-specific content and pedagogical preparation candidates receive in the plethora of alternative certification/licensure programs that operate in various contexts across the country. Though we understand that many individual programs are engaged in short and longer-term transitions, CEE should attempt to construct a broad and accurate representation of what the field looks like at the present time. We cannot make credible recommendations for change, we cannot build robust and useful program assessments, and we cannot answer our critics unless we know who we are and, on a consistent basis, what we are already doing.

Therefore, we propose that CEE sponsor a year-long, nation-wide study of programs that prepare teachers of English. Working with information already gathered by NCTE, with data sources available through NCATE and AACTE, and most importantly, with NCTE’s state affiliates, the study would collect basic information at the state level about the number of English teacher education programs, their relative sizes, admission requirements, curricula, accreditation standings, and the methods they use to assess candidates and their own programs. These state-level data would be aggregated at the national level and would then inform research initiatives and policy discussions for both CEE and for NCTE.

Believe Statement #4

In order to develop useful and credible candidate assessments in English education, CEE needs to know what successful candidate assessments are already in place around the country.

We recommend that, as part of the nation-wide study, CEE establish a process to collect samples of successful candidate assessments used by English education programs in both institutional and alternative settings. Such a collection of successful candidate assessment efforts would allow English educators to share their collective wisdom and to work more collaboratively toward establishing robust and nationally recognized candidate assessment systems that can inform both individual English education programs and the profession at large.

Belief Statement #5

NCTE should broker arrangements with colleges, schools, and departments of education to gather cross-institutional studies of the features of English education programs.

We see the responsibilities of the NCTE Executive Committee in concert with the NCTE research community as three fold: (1) establish a research agenda, (2) communicate the research agenda to interested scholars, and (3) seek to match researchers with appropriate funding sources.

Program assessment serves two essential purposes. First, comprehensive program assessment enables English education faculty to use multiple data sources as evidence in making decisions about their curricula, programs, and processes. Evidence arising from program assessment should detail the progress and development of individual candidates during the program and support faculty decisions to make program adjustments. Aggregated profiles of candidate performance at the end of the program should provide a basis for the faculty to make judgments on the effectiveness of the program in relation to goals and priorities. Data from program assessment thus should provide a foundation for the faculty both to verify that the program is accomplishing its goals, to initiate strategic revisions in the program, and to monitor the relative effectiveness of those changes across time. Program assessment evidence also should serve to anchor the faculty’s systematic inquiry into the effectiveness of different program experiences and features.

Second, comprehensive program assessment enables English education faculty to communicate their goals and achievements to a rich array of external audiences. English education faculty should use evidence from program assessments to support candidate recruitment initiatives and enhance the standing and stature of the program within the institution. They also should use such evidence to meet accreditation standards and to support communications with the public at large. Finally, when evidence from program assessment is shared with other professionals through scholarship or through collaborative arrangements in the professional organization, the evidence contributes to a deeper understanding of curricula and processes in English education programs and supports the profession’s ability to meet broader goals.

Belief Statement #6

NCTE and ETS should engage cooperatively in the revision of Praxis II content and pedagogy examinations to better reflect NCTE Guidelines and Standards.

Among the Framing Statements on Assessment (Statements) from NCTE’s Assessment and Testing Study Group (2004) were guiding principles for action. One of those principles focused on NCTE’s role in helping teachers cope with the reality of standardized testing while critiquing current testing mandates and other forms of assessment and proposing alternatives to the current reality. Also included in the Statements was a call for NCTE to continue its efforts to influence assessment practices. Consistent with these principles for action, we believe that CEE and NCTE should work collaboratively with the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to improve Praxis II to reflect more accurately NCTE’s Guidelines for the Preparation of Teachers of English Language Arts and Standards for English Teacher Preparation Programs. In their current forms, Praxis II content and pedagogy examinations do not reflect the Guidelines and Standards, and we believe serious attention must be given to revising these high stakes assessments. This work should build on earlier NCTE efforts to advise ETS on issues of alignment among standards, curriculum, teaching, and assessment.

Research shows that teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge are crucial determinants of student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 2003). If Praxis II is to be used as one assessment of teachers’ content and pedagogical knowledge, then professional organizations such as NCTE must be involved in the routine revision of these examinations because knowledge is not static (Cochran-Smith, 2001). Only through stakeholders’ continuous critique and revision will Praxis II remain current and be one valid and reliable method for assessing candidates’ knowledge, dispositions, and abilities. Finally, we further believe that NCTE should urge ETS to develop more usable systems for reporting candidate and institution data.


Cochran-Smith, M. (2001). Constructing outcomes in teacher education: Policy, practice and pitfalls. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 9(11). [Online]. Retrieved May 18, 2005 from the World Wide Web: [1]

Darling-Hammond, L., Holtzman, D. Gatlin, S. & Heilig, J. (2005). Does teacher preparation matter? Evidence about teacher certification, Teach for America, and teacher effectiveness. CA: Stanford University.

Darling-Hammond, L. & Sykes, G. (2003). Wanted: A national teacher supply policy for education: The right way to meet the “Highly Qualified Teacher” challenge. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11(33). [Online]. Retrieved May 18, 2005 from the World Wide Web: [2]

Milner, J. & Milner, L. (2003). Bridging English (3rd Ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

NCTE. (2004). Framing statements on assessment. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

NCTE. (1996). Guidelines for the preparation of teachers of English language arts Urbana, IL: NCTE.

NCTE. (2003). Standards for English teacher preparation programs. Urbana. IL: NCTE.

Smagorinsky, P. & Whiting, M. (1995). How English teachers get taught: Methods of teaching the methods class. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Valli, L. & Rennert-Ariev, P. (2002). New standards and assessments: Curriculum transformation in teacher education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 34, 201-235.

Xu, Y. (Summer, 2004). Teacher portfolio: An effective way to assess teacher performance and enhance learning. Childhood Education, 80(4), 198-201.

This document was created in part as a result of the 2005 Conference on English Education Leadership and Policy Summit, Suzanne Miller, CEE Chair, and Dana L. Fox, CEE Leadership and Policy Summit Chair.

Participants and authors in the “Program Assessment in English Education” thematic strand group of the CEE Summit included:

If you wish to send a response to this CEE belief statement, please email [3]and specify which statement you are commenting on in the Subject of your email.

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.