State-mandated accountability as a constraint on teaching and learning science



The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of state-mandated policy, emphasizing control through performance-based instruction and student test scores as the basis for determining school accreditation, on the teaching and learning of science. The intended consequence of instigating the rational theory of management by one state is to improve their current level of student literacy. However, some contend that the implementation of the policy has results that are not intended. The identification of the tension between the intended and unintended results of centralized policy making is the basis for examining a specific case in which the rational model is implemented. One hundred and sixty-five seventh-grade science students and four teachers are participants in the study. Qualitative analysis is the research methodology used as a means to provide detailed information about the contextual nature of the classroom processes. The intention is to identify and describe features of the behavior setting that influence the behavior of the teachers and their students. Three assertions generated during the field work were: Teachers redefine the goals of science instruction as the acquisition of facts and isolated skills, teachers alter their usual instructional behavior to implement uniform instructional procedures, and the teacher/student classroom interaction constrains students' opportunities to learn science. The implications of the study indicate that the state-mandated policy has results that are in opposition to the intended results. Instead of improving the practices of teachers, the implementation of the policy constrains and routinizes the teachers' behavior, causing them to violate their own standards of good teaching. They feel pressured to “get through” the materials so students will score well on tests. The classroom interaction is structured in such a way as to inhibit students from asking questions of their own. As a result, students' opportunity to express curiosity and inquiry—central processes in scientific thinking—are constrained. These unintended consequences of the implemented state policy, instead of improving science teaching and learning, continue to reduce science instruction to the literal comprehension of isolated facts and skills.