The effects of high-stakes testing on central office organizational culture: changes in one school district

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Champion, Bret Alan, 1969-

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The purpose of this study was to determine what impact high-stakes testing had on one school district's central office organizational culture, and how changes affected district-wide practices, central office administrators and campus principals. Three research questions guided the study: 1) What changes in the central office organizational culture occurred due to the increased implementation of and pressure from high-stakes testing? 2) How have the changes in the central office culture affected district administrators and campus leaders? 3) How have changes in central office organizational culture affected district-wide practices? This study utilized a qualitative methodology and a case study approach, focusing on one Texas school district. Three types of data collection methods were used: focus groups, interviews, and document review. The data were coded and analyzed using the constant comparison method in order for themes and propositions to surface. This resulted in a rich description of the case and provided answers to the three research questions. The findings of the study revealed that high-stakes testing has affected the central office organizational culture, as well as campus and district administrators, in four distinct ways: It has instilled fear of failure and fear of losing one's job; it has invoked frustration, both because of the narrow focus of the test and the demands of outside stakeholders; it has inhibited freedom, particularly in goal-setting; and it has improved focus by ensuring the use of research-based teaching practices and detailed student achievement data analysis. These changes have led to six alterations in district-wide practices: more precise student data analysis, reactive and targeted intervention for particular grade levels and students, increased discussion about testing throughout the district, improved curriculum alignment in classrooms, research-based professional development, and district support staff members becoming aware of testing demands. The findings contribute to literature in the field by investigating the connection between two areas of research, high-stakes testing and school district central office organizational culture. The study generated information to assist practitioners as they work to maintain or improve school district organizational culture while implementing high-stakes testing or other high-impact, mandated changes.