English, Department of


Date of this Version

April 2008


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Major: English. Under the Supervision of Professor Chris W. Gallagher.
Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2008. Copyright (c) 2008 Eric Turley.


Working at the intersection of composition, writing assessment, and school reform, this dissertation draws on an archival study of Progressive Era educational journals and a year-long qualitative study in a small urban district to examine the ways standardize writing tests are implemented as tools in public school reform. In the first half of the dissertation, I argue that administratively-minded Progressive Era school reformers, in a response to a “writing problem” framed around teacher inefficiency, designed tools for teachers to measure writing “objectively” in their classrooms; however, these tools were quickly used against teachers by administrators interested in efficiently managing schools based on the ideology of Frederick Taylor’s scientific management. In the qualitative study, I examine how Butler Public Schools (BPS) created a Writing Graduation Exam (WGE), as a response to a perceived threat of accountability from outside the district. In both historical and contemporary contexts, I demonstrate how the framing of the problem led to the implementation of standardized tools and school structures that work to manage teachers, students and writing. Juxtaposing the historical and contemporary sites, I trace how a piecemeal version of scientific management is embedded in large-scale writing assessment in order to yield efficient and accountable teachers, students, and writing in schools.

The second half of the dissertation exposes moments of fissure that exist within BPS’s system of accountability. Through the fissures, teacher’s subjugated knowledges (Foucault) surface and provide a critique of the intended and unintended consequences of the WGE. In chapter two, I explore counter-narratives of the “official story” to illuminate the intended and unintended consequences of BPS’s school reform; chapter three examines disruptions in a scoring session over concerns of test validity; and chapter four exposes how teachers negotiate their judgment between disparate theories of writing. I contend that excavating teachers’ subjugated knowledges serves as a potential space to reimagine current practices of school accountability and writing assessment.