"Equal access to mandated testing": policies, disciplinary discourse, and practices of performance in the lives of English language learner youth

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Black, William Robert

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This dissertation portrays how multiple educational assessment and language policies are constructed at various institutional levels and subsequently intersect in the lived experiences of English Language Learner youth at an elementary school in Texas. The study presents analysis of discourse and practices that formed around four case study students at Márquez Elementary. These students were subject to Texas Accountability System evaluation practices such as the preparation for and administration of the Spanish or English Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). In this study I demonstrate how students live certain policies through mediating school cultures, organizational structures, and discourses. Enjoining critical policy analysis perspectives with ethnographic and critical discourse analysis methods, Bilingual Education and accountability policies that are conceptualized, developed, and implemented at broad state and institutional levels are examined in light of how they are appropriated and mediated in the cultural practices of a particular elementary school. The study engages historical perspectives on bilingual education and educational accountability policy streams, as well as contemporary debates over the equity effects of these policies. Inquiry frames and methods for collecting data and linking policy reforms to local experiences are introduced. I then present analysis of school based research and state level policy analysis before discussing the implications of the policy contradictions and tensions that I encountered. These included the creation and sustenance of state, district, and school-based performance cultures, and the growing ambivalence toward bilingual education policy and practice in those cultures. This is reflected in the discursive turn to “equal access to mandated testing”, and a shift in practice towards English-first early-transition models for English Language Learner youth.