Coping with performance expectations: towards a deeper understanding of variation in school principals’ responses to accountability demands

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Abstract

In recent decades, performance-based accountability (PBA) has become an increasingly popular policy instrument to ensure educational actors are responsive to and assume responsibility for achieving centrally defined learning goals. Nonetheless, studies report mixed results with regard to the impact of PBA on schools’ internal affairs and instructional practices. With the aim of contributing to the understanding of the social mechanisms and processes that induce particular school responses, this paper reports on a study that examines how Norwegian principals perceive, interpret, and translate accountability demands. The analysis is guided by the policy enactment perspective and the sociological concept of
“reactivity”, and relies on 23 in-depth interviews with primary school principals in nine urban municipalities in Norway. The findings highlight three distinct response patterns in how principals perceive, interpret, and translate PBA demands: alignment, balancing multiple purposes, and symbolic responses. The study simultaneously shows how different manifestations of two social mechanisms form important explanatory factors to understand principals’ varying responses, while it is highlighted how the mechanisms are more likely to
operate under particular conditions, which relate both to principals’ trajectories and views on education, and to school-specific characteristics and the local accountability regime. The study contributes to the accountability literature by showing how, even in the relative absence of material consequences and low levels of marketization, standardized testing and PBA can drive behavioral change, by reframing norms of good educational practice and by affecting how educators make sense of core aspects of their work.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalEducational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 9 Nov 2020

Keywords

  • Performance-based accountability
  • Standardized testing
  • Policy enactment
  • Reactivity
  • School principals
  • Norway

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