Academic learning standards as reform in an elementary school setting: One school's journey

James Robert Johnson, University of Pennsylvania


Historically, reforms and American schools have been closely intertwined. Currently, another reform, academic learning standards, is being implemented in most classrooms. Since the history surrounding school reform (Labaree 1999, Sarason 1990, Gibboney 1997, Fullan 1997) is not replete with success, it makes sense to question why yet another reform. Implementation becomes a key component of this study. Research portrays implementation as a process in which local actors redefine policy to fit local agendas (Spillane, 1998). Successful implementation requires mutual adaptation in which external policy is adapted to fit local conditions, and local conditions are adapted to fit policy (McLaughlin, 1990). Therefore, the implementation of academic learning standards may require close scrutiny if it is to succeed. The purpose of this study is to document, describe and analyze the journey of students, teachers and a principal in an elementary school in Southeastern Pennsylvania as academic learning standards are implemented as a reform effort. The following questions are addressed: As a reform, how are academic learning standards implemented at the local level and what does that mean to students, teachers and a principal? What kinds of structures are supported and created in this implementation process? The data sources for this study are artifacts, fieldnotes, walkthrough data, student and teacher interviews and a principal's journal. The data are analyzed with a specific focus on understanding the participants' lived experiences of the phenomenon (Marshall and Rossman, 1999). The results indicate that the implementation of academic learning standards is a very complex process. The implementation process produces a tension between the creation of a shared vision around standards and autonomous decisions in the classroom. A teacher's teaching and learning practices may or may not be impacted. Also, in this era of accountability, teachers and administrators are influenced to create and use normative structures that demonstrate student learning. The study reveals that rubrics, as a normative structure of standards, may increase students' capacity for controlling their learning and assessing their work. In addition, having access to ideas and knowledge about standards influences the flow of these ideas and knowledge within the school community. Finally, the study indicates that language is a key factor in a successful implementation process.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|School administration|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Johnson, James Robert, "Academic learning standards as reform in an elementary school setting: One school's journey" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3084869.