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What school boards understand about testing: A multiple case study

Marta Jo Coleman, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand what Public school board members understand about testing. The ten billions of dollars appropriated by the federal government to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and Goals 2000 for improving public schooling (Smith & O'Day, 1990) has led to a more elaborate and quantifiable accounting from local school districts concerning the improvement of student achievement (Jennings, 1998). Policymakers have recognized that a ready source of quantifiable accounting for student achievement seems to rest in test scores (Linn, 1986; McDonnell, 1994, 1997). The problem prompting this research study is that policymakers, i.e., school boards, are making decisions about testing in education that have varied consequences, and it is not known what school boards know and understand about testing. The setting for this study was framed around rural public school districts in a western state. Three rural public school boards in a western state were purposely selected for this study. Data collection occurred primarily from January through April of 2000. Data collection strategies included survey results, documents and artifacts from each school district concerning assessment policies, and a series of interviews (both focus group and individual) during the three-month data collection period. The researcher's field notes, research journal and research log were also analyzed. A naturalistic qualitative research methodology was used to discover the understandings of school board members regarding testing. Data were analyzed using a themes and pattern analysis. Themes emerged in the inquiry: (a) a need to understand test terminology, (b) perceived political motivation of state officials, (c) first (and last) term as school board member, (d) role: to hire and fire the superintendent, (e) reliance on educational expertise of superintendent, (f) perceived meaning of test scores, (g) visibility in the community, (h) lens into the classroom: kids, (i) compassion and support for educators, and (j) using test scores to grade schools: unfair. The findings of this study illuminated unintended consequences of politicizing the state public school assessment program. The governor's plan to improve public schools in this state became law during this study, and the political fallout of that law, which tied new accreditation regulations to public schools, framed these school board members' perceptions of testing. Findings also indicate a respect for educators as experts in their profession, and a skepticism toward the motivation of the governor and other state officials in regard to using test results to assign letter grades to schools. Sanctions or remunerations from the State based on schoolwide test performance are perceived by these school boards as either punitive or confirmatory, with the tacit effect of inconspicuously pinching away more and more local control. These findings will be informative to policymakers, educators, and taxpayers. ^

Subject Area

Education, Tests and Measurements|Education, Administration

Recommended Citation

Coleman, Marta Jo, "What school boards understand about testing: A multiple case study" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9973589.