Negotiating Implementation of High-Stakes Performance Assessment Policies in Teacher Education: From Compliance to Inquiry

Dec. 01, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education,61(5), p. 451–463. November/December 2010.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors describe the strategic response of one teacher education program (TEP) to the challenges of implementing a set of new high-stakes state teaching performance assessment (TPA) policies. These policies enacted as part of a comprehensive Learning to Teach system in the state of California.

The underlying dilemma here is that external policy mandates may undermine the very motivational qualities necessary to their successful implementation.
A second tension involves the essentially local and contextualized dimensions of knowledge required to achieve effective policy implementation at the program level.
A third set of tensions raised by many new policy initiatives reflects underlying conflicts in basic values and beliefs about the purposes of education (Goodlad, Soder, & Sirotnik, 1990).

Three general questions were used to orient data collection, analysis, and action planning.
First, the authors wanted to learn more about how their own faculty and staff interpreted the new policies and their relationship to our work.
Second, the authors wanted to understand the impacts of the new policies on the program and on their students.
Third, the authors wanted to develop a better understanding of their own processes of policy implementation, learning, and change.


A small network of partner schools and cooperating teachers participated as TEP members throughout all phases of the program.
The general educational philosophy of the program was oriented around progressive values related to inquiry, social justice, and learner-centered curriculum and instruction. In short, the program was a strong and coherent one that was well positioned to respond vigorously and proactively to new state policy.


35 full-time and part-time program faculty and staff participated in programwide data collection activities. In addition, 15 faculty and staff were invited to participate as key informants throughout the policy implementation process.


The authors have described a process through which one TEP responded to a set of new and demanding state policy mandates that were perceived by faculty and staff to intrude strongly on the integrity of local program values and practices.
In a strategic effort to negotiate the tension between these perceptions and the institutional necessity of implementing the new policies, the authors developed an approach to policy implementation aimed at shifting the discourse of implementation from a focus on compliance to a focus on inquiry. An important shift in the motivational dynamics of the implementation process took place as faculty engaged in systematic textual analysis of the new policies and collaborated to define a set of programmatic values they would work to preserve throughout the implementation process.

Furthermore, many faculty members perceived the California State policy changes aimed at TEPs as punitive, and carrying high stakes for faculty and for student teachers. In their view, the state was demanding a new form of accountability that largely ignored local program goals, required reallocation of substantial program resources, and intruded significantly on areas of programmatic practice that had heretofore been left to university and program discretion. The tension between the mandated nature of these policies and their impacts on faculty motivation for engagement with the change process was one of the most fundamental challenges the program faced.

In the present context, the authors saw that simply complying with the state mandates carried unacceptable consequences for faculty morale and program identity. Ignoring or refusing to implement the new policies, on the other hand, carried unacceptable consequences for program accreditation.

The authors learned a number of practical lessons during the course of the policy implementation process.
First, the authors believe it was important to approach the problem of engaging program faculty and staff in implementing the new state policies by making respect for their concerns about the policies a very visible part of the process.
Second, the authors came to see the way in which data were regularly collected, analyzed by the leadership team, and presented to program faculty and staff as an essential process through which important new meanings of the policies, and the program’s response to them, were negotiated collaboratively.
Finally, a practical aspect of the authors' had to do with learning to see and support opportunities for both individual and collective learning within multiple contexts in the program.

Goodlad, J., Soder, R., & Sirotnik, K. (1990). The moral dimensions of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Updated: Feb. 29, 2012