The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0884 Friday, 16 April 2004
From: John V. Knapp <
Date: Thursday, 15 Apr 2004 15:52:45 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: FYI: NAEP Assessments
Hi folks --
See below: Although most Shakespearean scholars, both Americans and
those who are from other countries, are not terribly concerned with the
way American high school literature classes are taught and their
students evaluated, we American scholars and teachers should be. Within
one to four short years, those HS students will (or will not) become
English majors in the universities where we teach. I have myself
discussed at length the failures (and some successes) of the Modern
Language Association (MLA) in persuading its members to look more
carefully at what goes on in public school literature classes (cf.
*Style* 34.4 [Winter 2000]: 635-669), but since approximately 2000, the
MLA appears to have abandoned its brief flirtation with the issues of
secondary English teaching. I hope I am wrong but I have seen no
further evidence of any MLA interest since the millennial year;
fortunately, the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics (ALSC) HAS
at least noticed the problem (recently), but these are issues that
should involve all of us. I have been told that those in secondary
teaching in the UK have also seen a diminution of expectations when
teaching literature classes but I can only speak here for schools in the
See below for a policy change that will impact US universities in just a
few years: the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress)
proposals for curricula to be evaluated by the "national report card" of
secondary education. Just for starters, while I am pleased that the
committee has added the genre of poetry to its assessment plans, I see
no evidence of drama as a separate genre in these proposals, much less
explicit attention to Shakespeare generally.
If interested, you still have a few days to react to these proposals,
and if you have any interest at all in what will happen to the "farm
teams" of American university literature departments, it would be
helpful for you to check out the URL and respond to these proposals.
Sandra Stotsky has mentioned some of her concerns (below) and they are
worth your time and attention.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 12:19:03 -0400
From: ALSC <
Subject: NAEP Assessments
Dear ALSC members,
Two former presidents of our organization, Roger Shattuck and John
Hollander, have brought to my attention a pending recommendation on the
part of a committee of the National Assessment of Educational Progress
that may adversely affect the curricular readings taught by American
secondary school teachers of English. I'm consequently forwarding to
you a letter from Sandra Stotsky, currently a member of the NEAP
committee, who expresses her concerns with the current public comment
draft document. The final document will be vitally important insofar as
the No Child Left Behind Act requires the use of NAEP assessments as
part of the establishment of a "national yardstick" of educational
evaluation. I urge all of our members to take the time to read Sandra
Stotsky's message. I also encourage everyone to read the NAEP draft
document on the publicly available URL and to offer comments upon the
current draft on the electronic form at the same URL. Please note that
the deadline for all public comments in April 19.
With best wishes,
Michael Valdez Moses
President, Association of Literary Scholars and Critics
Dear ALSC member:
Your comments are needed on a draft of a document that will influence
high school English teachers. I am on a NAEP (National Assessment of
Educational Progress) committee revising the reading framework for
future reading assessments. One clear achievement by several of us is
getting poetry assessed on future NAEP tests. It has been excluded so
far (even in grade 12).
Below is the URL for the public comment draft of the revised
specifications to be used to generate questions and reading passages for
future NAEP assessments at grades 4, 8, and 12 in English/reading:
These assessments are more important today than they have been in the
past because the No Child Left Behind Act requires use of NAEP
assessments as the national yardstick for evaluating the results of
widely differing state assessments in English/reading (and other subjects).
The deadline for public comment to the National Assessment Governing
Board (NAGB) is April 19. The form is also on this URL and is very easy
to use. It might take you 10 minutes in all to look over relevant parts
of the draft and make comments, if you want to.
Please look at:
(1) the elaborated definition of reading in the first chapter,
(2) Exhibit 1, which indicates at each of the three assessed grade levels
the percentage of literary vs. informational passages to be assessed,
(3) Exhibits 3 and 4, which list the genres from which passages will be
(4) Exhibit 8, which indicates "cognitive targets" for literary and
The final approved version will be a public document that, regardless of
disclaimers, will send a message to high school English teachers about
what kinds and what balance of reading materials they should teach, and,
to some extent, how.
There are two main items to read critically, from my perspective.
First, the muddled definition of reading; "to understand a text", the
first bullet, has been defined in an extremely basic way in order to
allow a constructivist approach, implied by the definition of the middle
bullet ("to develop and interpret meaning"), to dominate all acts of
reading beyond the decoding stage(informational as well as literary).
On the other hand, the definition doesn't differentiate literary from
non-literary reading so that literary reading may be seen as mainly
informational or analytic (not aesthetic). Precise wording to revise
the definition would help.
Second, the percentages of literary vs. informational passages in grade
12 will suggest that English teachers in high school should be spending
less time on literature than on informational reading. I think the
percentages in grade 8 and 12 should be reversed.
Feel free to e-mail me at
if you wish more information.
ALSC / Association of Literary Scholars and Critics
650 Beacon Street, Suite 510
Boston, Massachusetts 02215
Phone: 617-358-1990 / Fax: 617-358-1995
/ Internet: www.bu.edu/literary
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