23 SES 05 B, Policies and Practices of Evaluation of Quality in Education (Part 1)
Paper Session to be continued in 23 SES 06 B
The public dissemination of school quality data has been a focus of performance management policies implemented across the United States and Europe for over two decades (De Fraine, Van Damme, & Onghena, 2002; Hanushek & Raymond, 2004; McDermott, 2011). Today, all states in the U.S. must provide school performance data to members of the public, but the information available about school quality often remains narrowly focused on student standardized test scores. As a result, testing and accountability policies have been criticized for failing to address a full range of educational goals and for providing information that is not always useful to citizens (Mintrop & Sunderman, 2009; Rothstein & Jacobsen, 2006).
Indeed, public empowerment is an explicit goal of test score reporting policies. But to date, there is limited research examining where members of the public—European or American—get their information about school quality and the extent to which test score reports actually inform members of the public. In this paper, we present findings from four structured focus groups with residents in a small urban school district in the northeast United States that is working to develop a new, more comprehensive data reporting system. We address the following research questions:
- What goals do district residents have for their school system, and are these goals adequately captured by existing test score reports?
- What strengths and weaknesses do district residents perceive for their neighborhood schools, and what information do they use to formulate those judgments?
- What role do standardized test score data play in shaping perceptions of school quality? Does this role vary based on a person’s parent status or familiarity with the schools?
Our research draws on and adds to a growing body of work examining the use of public performance data in education decision-making and knowledge creation (Charbonneau & Van Ryzin, 2012; McDermott, 2011; Moynihan, 2008; Van Dooren, Bouckaert, & Halligan, 2010). Whereas previous research has focused primarily on the use of school quality data within schools (e.g. Booher-Jennings, 2005; Diamond & Cooper, 2007), the focus of our research is the value of school quality data for informing the broader public. After all, public education relies upon the political and financial support of the public, and thus the public’s perceptions are critical to ensuring a healthy school system.
Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, a broad federal mandate in the U.S., test score data have been regularly compiled and disseminated by state and local governments in the hope of lowering the information costs of parents and educational stakeholders, conveying school quality in a clear and simple way and empowering stakeholders to hold schools accountable (Gormley & Weimer, 1999; Hastings, Van Wheelden, & Weinstein, 2007; Moynihan, 2008; Schneider et al, 1998). However, there is evidence that test scores as an indicator of school quality are not always embraced by policy targets in the way that policymakers anticipated and in fact only have limited ability to rewrite existing perceptions of school quality (Harris & Larsen, 2015; Teske & Schneider, 2001; Betebenner et al, 2005; Jacob & Lefgren, 2007). Moreover, some researchers have argued that student test score reports are only loosely correlated with other outcomes—such as graduation rates or citizenship training—that residents care about and that incomplete school quality data may in fact undermine political support for school systems (Rumberger & Palardy 2005; Jacobsen, Saultz, & Snyder 2013).
Abbreviated References: Betebenner, D. W., Howe, K. R., & Foster, S. S. (2005). On school choice and test-based accountability. Educational Policy Analysis Archives. Booher-Jennings, J. (2005). Below the bubble: “Educational triage” and the Texas accountability system. American Educational Research Journal (AERJ). Charbonneau, E´ tienne, & Van Ryzin, G. (2012). Performance Measures and Parental Satisfaction with New York City Schools. American Review of Public Administration. De Fraine, B., Van Damme, J., & Onghena, P. (2002). Accountability of schools and teachers. European Educational Research Journal (EERJ). Diamond, J. B., & Cooper, K. (2007). The uses of testing data in urban elementary schools. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Gormley, William T., Jr., & Weimer, D. (1999). Organizational report cards. Harvard University Press. Hanushek, E., & Raymond, M. (2004). The effect of school accountability systems on the level and distribution of student achievement. Journal of the European Economic Association. Harris, D.N. & Larsen, M.F. (2015). What schools do families want (and why)? Policy Brief. Hastings, J. S., Van Weelden, R., & Weinstein, J. M. (2007). Preferences, information, and parental choice behavior. NBER Working Paper. Jacob, B. A., & Lefgren, L. (2007). What Do Parents Value in Education? The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Jacobsen, R., Saultz, A., & Snyder, J.W. (2013). When accountability strategies collide. Educational Policy. Krueger, R.A., & Casey, M.A. (2015). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research (5th ed.). Sage Publications. McDermott, K. A. (2011). High-stakes reform: The politics of educational accountability. Georgetown University Press. Miles, M.B., & Huberman, A.M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Sage Publications. Mintrop, H., & Sunderman, G. L. (2009). Predictable failure of federal sanctions-driven accountability. Educational Researcher. Moynihan, Donald. 2008. The Dynamics of Performance Management: Constructing Information and Reform. Georgetown University Press. Rothstein, R., & Jacobsen, R. (2006). The goals of education. Phi delta kappan. Rumberger, R. W., & Palardy, G. J. (2005). Test Scores, Dropout Rates, and Transfer Rates as Alternative Indicators of High School Performance. AERJ. Schneider, M., Teske, P., Marshall, M., & Roch, C. (1998). Shopping for Schools. American Journal of Political Science. Selwyn, N. (2016). ‘There’s so much data’: Exploring the realities of data-based school governance. EERJ. Teske, P., & Schneider, M. (2001). What research can tell policymakers about school choice. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Van Dooren, W., Bouckaert, G., & Halligan, J. (2010). Performance Management in the Public Sector. Routledge.
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