Policy in action: the influence of mandated early reading assessment on teachers' thinking and practice
This study investigates the impact of a Washington State assessment policy on classroom teachers. In 1997 Washington State mandated an individually administered low-stakes second-grade reading test. The purpose of the assessment policy was to help schools direct resources to struggling students and to educate teachers about dimensions of the reading process. Building on research in policy and assessment which suggests that the implementation of state policy is influenced by district, school and individual factors, this qualitative study examines the ways in which teachers interpreted and used the results of the assessment, as well as the ways in which districts and schools mediated the impact of the state policy for teachers.Data were collected using think-alouds, interviews and observations from two teachers and administrators in each of four schools in two districts. Analysis indicated that teachers learned from the assessment if it met an instructional need and was consistent with their theories of teaching reading. Teachers also learned from the test if they experienced dissonance between their expectations and actual student performance on the test. Teachers' beliefs and knowledge about literacy and assessment were reflected in the ways that they interpreted and modified the test. Their interpretations of the assessment were influenced by district accountability policies as well as school contexts. Many of the teachers in this study valued the assessment because it gave them authoritative evidence of the progress of their students, whether or not they were in a high-stakes district environment.The results of this study suggest that the Washington State second-grade reading assessment was successful in its goal of helping struggling readers obtain the assistance that they needed, while also providing useful information to teachers. Many factors contributed to the success of the policy including the fit between teachers' beliefs and the assessment, local accountability, supportive school contexts, and the nature of the assessment instruments themselves. This study suggests that it is possible to craft a state assessment policy that teachers can learn from and support.
- Education - Seattle