Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Understanding Elementary Teachers' Different Responses to Reform: The Case of Implementation of an Assessment Reform in South Korea

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Understanding Elementary Teachers' Different Responses to Reform: The Case of Implementation of an Assessment Reform in South Korea

Article excerpt

Introduction

Policymakers have become very active in education. It is assumed that if policies compel local actors to put their reform ideas into practice, changes proposed on the policy documents will be manifested in changes in teachers' instructional practices and ultimately student performance will improve. However, results show that there is a chasm between policy makers' intentions and what actually happens in the classroom (Cuban, 2013).

Some researchers have raised questions about whether policies can really alter instructional practice itself. Cohen and Hill (2000) examined the relationship between instructional policy and practice and contended that in order for policies to affect practice, "successful instructional policies are themselves instructional in nature" (p.294). Their study showed that teachers' opportunities to learn about and from policies crucially influence the relationship between policy and practice. A number of other studies found similar results, showing that teachers mediate the relationship between policy and practice (Brian, Reid, & Boyes, 2006; Cohen & Hill, 2000; Joong, Xiong, Li, & Pan, 2009; Spillane & Jennings, 1997).

The question about whether policy can affect instructional practice itself is especially pertinent when the goal of reform policy is to change practice toward higher-order thinking and more demanding content in the classroom. Most contemporary educational reforms call for teaching and learning that promote deep understanding. These reforms have emphasized that it is less important for students to recall and memorize facts and information, and more important for them to create new knowledge by analyzing, evaluating, and integrating information. For example, the mathematics common core state standards require students to demonstrate a deeper conceptual understanding of math (Common Core Math Standards Initiative, n.d.) and the next generation science standards also require students to develop a deep understanding of a smaller number of core ideas, practices, and crosscutting concepts (National Research Council, 2012). Such reforms ask teachers to rethink their beliefs about teaching and learning and teach in ways in which they have never taught before. Thus, polices requiring these kinds of changes are difficult to implement.

Spillane and Zeuli (1999) investigated math teachers' practices in response to national and state reform proposals and found that teachers were responsive to the more superficial aspects of the reforms, but failed to implement the more fundamental aspects. In this study, even though teachers believed that they were implementing the new curriculum, in practice they had different understandings of the new policies and, so, different responses to them. Thus, the relation between policy and practice depends on the nature of the changes that reform policies propose.

This inquiry arises in South Korea because assessment reform in South Korea has asked teachers to adopt new approaches to teaching and to design assessments that meet these new educational goals. Reform efforts to foster students' deep understanding require new kinds of assessments that support this vision of teaching and learning because assessment is an integral part of instruction. Previous studies show that assessment drives instruction and defines what content of the curriculum should be emphasized (Suurtamm & Koch, 2014). In particular, in countries like South Korea, where people are very interested in achievement and outcomes, what and how to assess strongly influence the success of educational reforms. If assessments are not properly aligned with the curriculum and practice in the classroom, it is impossible for educational reforms to succeed.

The need for alternative assessments has inspired South Korean policy as well. Even though the national curriculum emphasizes teaching and assessing higher-order thinking, teachers' instruction and assessments focus on lower-level cognitive demands (e. …

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