Large Secondary Schools Respond to State Policy
Ratigan, Jody A.
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It is the purpose of this study to understand what happened in the implementation of Iowa’s 1998 education accountability law and to provide information to policymakers on how to improve their policy-making. This was one of seven FINE-supported studies to carry out this purpose. The problem of this study was to describe and analyze the implementation procedures used by three large high schools in enacting the state accountability for student achievement policy and to provide recommendations from implementers for improved policy design. Qualitative methodology is utilized based on the assumptions of naturalistic inquiry. Thirty semi-structured interviews were conducted at the sites. The interviews were taped and transcribed. The data was coded and themes were developed using the process of constant comparison. Building improvement plans, annual progress reports, and school/district publications were collected and reviewed. As a member check, schools were provided site reports. The cross-site summary and discussion accounted for the patterns and themes from within and across the site reports. Implementers perceived the intent of the law was to improve student achievement, appease the federal government, and be held accountable to the taxpayers. Though leaders in these schools had addressed student achievement years before the law, the curriculum directors became key figures in complying with the newly mandated reform, citing both strengths and weaknesses in what they had to do. From the implementer view, the law narrowed curriculum to what got tested and placed more emphasis on aligning classroom instruction, professional development, and data collection analysis. Lack of time, insufficient buy-in, forced assessments, and workload were cited as barriers to those who know the system, provide funding if they want deep reform, and champion policy flexibility for districts at different stages of reform.
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