11 SES 04, Educational Reforms and Leadership
In recent years, governing regimes in education that emphasize performance management and accountability have been introduced in several countries. Various types of assessment tools which produce ‘data’ on student performance provide a basis for generating information that are expected to be used for policy making and to motivate change in education. Data in itself is often considered to be efficient, standardized, uniform, and intuitive measures productive for usage in a range of processes for the development of education, teaching and learning (Porter, 1995, 2012). On the other hand, the very same attributes can lead to exaggerated expectations of what can be achieved on the basis of data and simplification of complex education processes - consequently what can be described as the alluring attributes of data and data use might mask important aspects, knowledge and nuances in education important for productive developments (authors, 2017). Knowledge about the various ways in which data are used in education is crucial to evaluate possible developments in terms of governing education and improving educational practices (Coburn & Turner, 2011; Kelley & Downey, 2012; Little, 2012; Spillane, 2012; Jennings, 2012; Racherbäumer et al., 2013; Schildkamp et al., 2014). Furthermore, the fact that research on data use has predominantly been presented within an Anglo-American context and that the investigative modes within the field have been found to vary depending on geographic location and educational systems makes a call for studies on data use in European education contexts (authors, 2017).
The use of data for governance purposes represents new ways for national authorities to coordinate activities across administrative levels to improve educational quality (Altrichter & Merki, 2010). A central policy of action related to data use is to improve teaching and learning by placing the responsibility for educational change and improving student learning outcomes on the municipal level (Farrell & Coburn, 2017). However, in contrast to the abundance of studies on educational leadership, researchers have overlooked the importance of the municipal level in systemic education reforms (Rorrer et al., 2008, Avidov-Ungar & Reingold, 2016). Data use matters are often researched on the national policy level or at school level, while the issues experienced at mid authority level seldom are investigated. Thus, the aim of this study is to investigate how data are conceptualised and used at municipal level among administrators and in local policy with Norway as an example, and discuss what implications this might have for the local governing of schools. In particular the analysis emphasises how numbers and data from national tests and examinations are used at local authority level in policy documents and further how this is understood, experienced and interpreted by administrators.
The theoretical framework is inspired by concepts from scholarly debate about the alluring attributes of data being perceived as efficient, standardized, uniform and intuitive measures that are productive for the development of the educational system and teaching and learning (Porter, 2012), yet the very same attributes can lead to exaggerated expectations of what can be achieved based on data and data use. Such ideas about data imply a simplification of complex education processes, for example through the ’quick language’ of data and ethics of thin prescription (Porter 2012) as a shorthand means of communication in educational matters” (Lundahl & Waldow, 2009), where and in terms of knowledge, a simplification of the integration of knowledge sources that characterize professional decision making (authors, 2018, 2017). A central part of this perspective on “sociology of numbers” underscores the importance of understanding measuring as a productive rather than merely descriptive activity and further how this requires us to understand measurements as performatives and thus a practice of “world-making” (Gorur, 2014).
The data material used in this paper forms part of a larger, ongoing research project on the use of data in Norwegian municipalities and schools. The municipalities and schools involved were selected on the basis of their differences in terms of geographical location (rural, small urban and larger urban), size in terms of number of students and schools (small, medium and large) and type of quality assessment systems (under development, established but limited and highly sophisticated). The selection strategy can be characterized as purposeful, and to a certain extent as maximum variation, where the purpose is: "…documenting unique or diverse variations that have emerged in adapting to different conditions, and to identify important common patterns that cut across variations…" (Palinkas et al., 2015, p. 534). Thus, this study investigates local variation through the exemplary cases of three municipalities that are similar in terms of being subject to the same national regulations, such as national curriculum and guidelines, the national education act and supplementary regulations, but that also differ along several dimensions in terms of numbers of students and schools, geographic location, structure and organization, and results. The analysis draws on policy documents produced by the three municipal administrations and interview data from three interviews with three district administrators. The key district policy documents include municipal web pages, annual reports, action plans, annual budgets, strategic plans, and municipal plans and governing cycles. From an initial total corpus of about 600 pages of document material, about 300 pages proved to be relevant for in-depth analysis. The municipal annual reports have been the main sources of the material presented. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. A semi-structured interview guide thematically organized around questions concerning administrators' professional backgrounds, what they consider their most important work and descriptions of characteristics of data use in the district administration as seen in relation to school development.
Preliminary findings indicate that there are various conceptualisations of data use at play, dependent of contextual factors and perceived purposes of data use among administrators and in local policy. The study also displays divergent understandings and tensions between administrators and local policy within and across municipalities in relation to perceived purposes of data, their value as a foundation for decision making and in terms of how data could be used to develop schools. The integration of a wide range of factors influencing how data use is enacted in district administration sheds light on the complexity of local policy and local governing concerning educational matters. This study reveals how administrators and local policy in districts with different quality assessment systems approach data and data use in education very differently, which again calls for greater consideration and awareness of the role of local systems
Altrichter, H. (2010). Handbuch neue steuerung im schulsystem (pp. 15-37). K. M. Merki (Ed.). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Coburn, C., & Turner, E.O. (2011). Research on data use: A framework and analysis. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Practice, 9(4), 173-206. Farrell, C. C., & Coburn, C. E. (2017). Absorptive capacity: A conceptual framework for understanding district central office learning. Journal of Educational Change, 18(2), 135-159. Gorur, R. (2014). Towards a sociology of measurement in education policy. European Educational Research Journal, 13(1), 58-72. Kelly, A., & Downey, C. (2012). Professional attitudes to the use of pupil performance data in English secondary schools, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 22(4), 415-37. Little, J. W. (2012). "Understanding Data Use Practices Among Teachers: The Contribution of Micro-Process Studies." American Journal of Education, 118(2), 143-166. Lundahl, C., & Waldow, F. (2009). Standardisation and 'quick languages': the shape‐shifting of standardised measurement of pupil achievement in Sweden and Germany. Comparative Education, 45(3), 365-385. Palinkas, L. A., Horwitz, S. M., Green, C. A., Wisdom, J. P., Duan, N., & Hoagwood, K. (2015). Purposeful sampling for qualitative data collection and analysis in mixed method implementation research. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 42(5), 533-544. Porter, T. (1995). Trusting in numbers. ThePursuit ofObjectivityinScienceand PublicLife. Princeton, NJ: PrincetonUniversityPress. Rorrer, A. K., Skrla, L., & Scheurich, J. J. (2008). Districts as institutional actors in educational reform. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(3), 307-357. Spillane, J. P. (2012). Data in practice: Conceptualizing the data-based decision-making phenomena. American Journal of Education, 118(2), 113-141.
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