Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Test duress: A case study of a high school with a progressive mission and its response to high-stakes graduation tests
by Foote, Martha, Ph.D., University of Rochester, 2009, 222; 3357081
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation the author asks: if schools with a progressive mission provide a viable alternative to traditional schooling (Semel, 1999; Sizer, 1996), then how do these types of high schools respond when faced with state-mandated high-stakes graduation exams—a pervasive and growing phenomenon—that require the learning of specific content? To address this problem, the author examined how a small, urban public high school with a progressive mission responded to its state's policy of high-stakes graduation exams during the first two years of test implementation, why the school responded as it did, and the meaning the school imparted to the graduation tests. The author found that the school responded with both active resistance and compliance, employing four main tactics and several devices to garner a reprieve. Four main reasons for this resistance emerged: a clearly-defined alternative mission and approach, a commitment to the school by an experienced faculty, teacher commitment to the students, and the principal's leadership. The reason for the school's compliance with the mandates also stems from the teachers' commitment to the students.

The case study is theoretically informed by Foucault's theories (1977/1995, 1978/1990, 1980) on discipline and power and conceptualizes the accountability system of high-stakes testing as a disciplinary system (Aper, 2002; Vinson & Ross, 2001). The data corpus consists of field notes, interviews and documents previously collected by the author over two years when working on the Spencer-funded project Change Over Time? (Hargreaves & Goodson, 2003). The analysis is guided both by a priori codes derived from Gore's (1998) work on Foucauldian techniques of power as well as emergent codes for the purpose of developing grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) about the response of schools with a progressive mission to high-stakes testing. The study is intended to extend the research on high-stakes testing as it increases understandings of its consequences on schools. A clearer understanding of these consequences will address assumptions proponents have made about the use of high-stakes testing and further the debate on whether standards-based accountability is improving our nation's schools.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Larson, Joanne
School: University of Rochester
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational tests & measurements, Secondary education
Keywords: Alternative high school, Foucault, Michel, Graduation tests, High school, High-stakes testing, New York, Progressive education, Test duress
Publication Number: 3357081
ISBN: 978-1-109-13897-9
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