Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Negotiating Implementation of High-Stakes Performance Assessment Policies in Teacher Education: From Compliance to Inquiry

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Negotiating Implementation of High-Stakes Performance Assessment Policies in Teacher Education: From Compliance to Inquiry

Article excerpt

More than a decade of state-level legislation mandating curriculum, assessment, and accountability policies--including the No Child Left Behind requirements--have intensified pressures for change on all educators. In the context of teacher education, these policy changes have taken the form of initiatives aimed at defining professional standards for teacher competence, alignment of teacher education curricula with state P-12 curriculum standards, and increased accountability for program outcomes (Darling-Hammond, 2001; Wasley & McDiarmid, 2003). At the same time, changes in federal policy within the United States affecting teacher education have emerged amid a rhetoric of "crisis," "risk," and "failure," as Congress has enacted intensified reporting and accountability mandates aimed at increased control of teacher education policy and practice through the federal Higher Education Act (Title II) and No Child Left Behind (Bales, 2006). A major challenge for teacher educators is how to negotiate programmatic responses to new state and federal mandates in the context of this negative rhetorical climate, a chronic scarcity of fiscal resources, and the historic institutional protections and privileges of academic freedom in higher education. In this article, we describe the strategic response of one teacher education program (TEP) to the challenges of implementing a set of new high-stakes state teaching performance assessment (TPA) policies enacted as part of a comprehensive Learning to Teach system in the state of California. Our study is intended to contribute to what has been a relatively scant literature on policy implementation in teacher education and to illustrate one approach to engaging dilemmas that arise in the context of externally mandated change in higher education.

We know from policy studies in P-12 education that a variety of tensions and dilemmas often arise in implementing reform initiatives, particularly where policy makers have relied on mandates related to high-stakes testing as a means of holding programs accountable for educational outcomes (Finnegan & Gross, 2007; McNeil, 2000; Whitford & Jones, 2000). Almost two decades ago, Rowan (1990) conceptualized these kinds of tensions between control and commitment in school organizations, noting that policy conditions that intensify external control often undermine the motivation and commitment of teachers expected to participate in change activities. Reviewing the empirical literature on teachers' beliefs and perceptions about change, van den Berg (2002) noted that the meanings teachers construct around reform policy often affect their commitment to their work. The underlying dilemma here is that external policy mandates, particularly when accompanied by negative rhetoric, may undermine the very motivational qualities necessary to their successful implementation. It is useful to note that the motivational impacts of social contexts that are perceived to undermine personal and collective autonomy are not restricted to the arenas of policy implementation but are one of the most robustly documented phenomena in social psychology (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

A second, but related, tension involves the essentially local and contextualized dimensions of knowledge required to achieve effective policy implementation at the program level. A recurring theme in contemporary struggles around teacher education policy has to do with the ways in which policy makers may implicitly frame teaching as essentially technical work that can and should be effectively controlled by centralized agencies and authorities (Delandshere & Petrosky, 2004). This image of teachers and teacher educators as relatively passive "implementers" of curriculum and instructional policies created by others is at odds with much of what we have learned during the past three decades about the fundamental importance of locally and contextually negotiated dimensions of knowledge, work, and innovation (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Weatherly & Lipsky, 1977; Wenger, 1998). …

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