Literacy teaching practices and school reform : an ethnographic study of teachers' relationship with reform
MetadataShow full item record
This ethnographic study examines the relationship between teachers’ literacy teaching practices and the pressures created from large-scale reform and high-stakes testing. The participants were staff members at one elementary school that primarily serves Latino students, with a history of low-test scores. Primarily drawing on field notes of classroom observations and meetings as well as interview transcripts, this study demonstrates how testing infiltrated literacy teaching at the school and classroom level. Organizational decisions were made to support test preparation in 3rd-5th grades, but resulted in uneven support for teachers and students in the form of monetary resources and how support staff were used. In terms of bilingual education, informed decisions determined students’ language of instruction and testing, but otherwise received little attention. At the classroom level, test preparation infused daily literacy instruction despite a general consensus among teachers that teaching to the test was against their own beliefs. The subsequent literacy teaching practices resulted in narrow definitions of literacy reduced to disconnected skills in isolation without clear connections to meaningful uses of literacy. The ways in which test preparation affected the classroom life could be seen in the ways teachers organized their class schedules to accommodate test preparation, the specific strategies test-taking strategies they taught, and the use of assessments to track student progress and make instructional decisions. While teaching to the test presented challenges for their beliefs, a minority of teachers found ways to make their practices as theoretically defensible as possible while still supporting students with test preparation, such as through the use of high quality children’s literature. Some teachers also participated in conferences and organizations outside of the school as a way of extending their teaching and the curriculum. The findings from this study expand on what we know about teachers’ response to reform and testing because of their ability to respond with agency in a context that otherwise positions them as less-than-professionals. These teachers offer a heartening example of what we really need—proactive decision makers in the classroom who can navigate the demands of working in a high-stakes testing culture while still promoting quality literacy instruction.