Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Target Practice: Reader Response Theory and Teachers' Interpretations of Students' SAT 10 Scores in Databased Professional Development

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Target Practice: Reader Response Theory and Teachers' Interpretations of Students' SAT 10 Scores in Databased Professional Development

Article excerpt

Over the past 30 years accountability in education has gained international currency, holding educators responsible for student achievement primarily as measured by regularly administered standardized tests (Riffert, 2005). In the United States, as a focus of emphasis of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; 2002) and the more recent program of school reform, Race to the Top (2009), standardized testing for accountability purposes exerts weighty influence in schooling contexts from school district central offices to the smaller settings of thousands of classrooms. Standardized test scores as "the coin of the realm in public education in the United States" (Haladyna, Nolen, & Haas, 1991, p. 2), bring widespread ramifications not only for schools but also for communities and businesses:

Student achievement scores are now the barometer of student, teacher, principal, school, and district effectiveness. Student performance on standardized tests also affects the community, business and industry, real estate values and the overall vitality of a state and community. (Shen & Cooley, 2008, p. 319)

The emphasis on test scores as indicators of student achievement, school effectiveness, and community prosperity brings with it increased efforts and urgencies to improve those scores, especially in schools that struggle to meet state-determined goals. Based on the assumption that student test data and accountability requirements bring about changes in teaching practice that lead to higher test scores and better student achievement, policy makers, lawmakers, and educators have directed attention to looking at how to use data (primarily test scores) more effectively to inform data-based teaching practice. More specifically, school administrators and teachers have been encouraged to use test score data to implement instructional practices based on what Ingram, Louis, and Schroeder (2004) identify as the "unexamined assumption that external data and accountability systems will lead to positive change in the daily interaction between teachers and students" (p. 1258), which results in higher test scores. Toward this end, districts and schools have instituted professional development programs in which teachers are asked to examine test score data and make decisions about students and about instruction.

But when measures of and decisions about progress in student learning, teacher quality, and school effectiveness rely primarily on improved test scores, it seems inevitable that attention will narrow to using test score data strategically and superficially to raise test scores rather than address more complex issues related to student learning, educational resources, and social inequities (Haladyna, 2006; Schildkamp & Kuiper, 2009). Such narrow interpretations of test score data lead to the appropriation of educational strategies and practices that have been called "educational triage" (Booher-Jennings, 2006; Gillborn & Youdell, 2000). In professional development, this can lead to a focus on teacher learning about and analyzing data that precludes other learning that might otherwise be appropriate. At the classroom level, this strategic use of test data in the name of data-based practice can constrain teaching and learning to a form of "target practice" that has troubling repercussions not only for students but also for teachers, as suggested in the study reported in this article. This project examined how teachers read and respond to their students' Stanford Achievement Test 10 (SAT 10) scores with the goal of investigating the assumption that data-based teaching practice is more "objective" and less susceptible to divergent teacher interpretation. The study used reader response theory to analyze teachers' responses to their students' SAT 10 test scores as interpretations of a text shaped through unexamined assumptions and political interests related to accountability, rather than strictly statistical "official" interpretations of "objective" data. …

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