Secondary Departments and Site Leadership Under Serial Reforms: "Evidence-Based Decision Making"
This dissertation responds to the growing emphasis on evidence-based instruction and instructional decision-making by examining teachers' perspective on evidence in high school departments. There is a reasonably large body of work on high schools, including a number of studies that discuss the role of the subject department, and a smaller body of work specifically on academic departments. Yet few studies focus on how secondary subject matter departments process and use student assessment data or mediate assessment-related educational policy. This study employs a case study of two subject area departments, English and Social Sciences that have been involved in various reforms over 20 years in one high school. Through multiple interviews, informal conversations, and observations of teachers' work in departments and teams, the study focuses on how the departments in the present reform period use student evidence to inform practice.
Findings indicate that the ability to respond effectively to current assessment expectations depended on the departments' specific reform history, commitment, and capacity. The English Department had a more extensive history of student assessment focused on writing, and was more prone to resist a focus on external standardized measures. Both departments were more inclined to attend to assessments if they were more closely tied to their own curriculum or had consequences for students (such as the high school exit exam). They were more skeptical about the utility of evidence resulting from other external assessments. Pressures around external assessment had little impact on teachers' work in departments or in the classroom, but did erode the time and resources needed to continue with internally relevant assessments.
Site leadership over 20 years varied in its reported effect on department perspectives and practices, but did reflect a growing presence of district pressures. The district's pressures in turn placed new demands on site leaders in their work with subject departments. The study has far-reaching implications for the training of teachers, department heads, and administrators.