Standardisation, Literacy and School Leadership: The Differential Effects of Policy

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 424
Oral Presentation
Phillip CORMACK , Education, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Barbara COMBER , Queensland University of Technology, Australia
One of the key goals of education policy reform in recent decades has been to improve literacy achievement and use standardised, high-stakes literacy assessments as a key lever. Despite the rhetoric of these reforms, however, there is little evidence that the achievement gap according to social class, is being addressed in any sustained ways. Furthermore, there is evidence of ‘collateral damage’ in terms of narrowing the curriculum and reducing teacher autonomy, especially in schools serving students who most struggle with achievement in standardised curricula.

Beyond these broad effects, little is known about how the discourse of standardisation plays out in different contexts—Which daily/nightly practices are constituted through the implementation of standards policies, with what effects? In this paper we explore this problem from the perspective of two school principals serving contrasting school communities.

This institutional ethnography shows that leaders working in different places—social, geographical, institutional—have different resources and discourses to draw on, and face different choices in their everyday work. The texts and practices of standardised assessment frame schools according to a constrained set of ideals which bracket out the important work that educators must do to address educational disadvantage.

We conclude that standardising policy practices may well be producing very different outcomes than they purport to address. Rather than producing an innovative educational market place, these policies are driving a context-less and narrow curriculum that further disadvantages those who most rely on schools for the development of social capital.