Desperate measures: The effects of standards and standardized testing on teaching and curriculum in two Philadelphia schools

Cristi Alberino, University of Pennsylvania


Given the attention that inner-city schools and the issue of standards and standardized testing are receiving today in the public and legislative arenas, it is imperative that we gain an in-depth understanding of how change is occurring. This qualitative research study describes the approaches of administrators and teachers in two inner-city, Philadelphia public schools for incorporating and interpreting standards, curricula, and assessments. This study explores the effects these multiple and conflicting documents have on teaching. Using ethnographic data collection methods, this research fills a gap in the empirical literature left by an absence of attention to failing, inner-city schools, and an omission of teachers' perspectives on the recent reforms. Successful educational reform provides educators with closely aligned documents, and the current lack of alignment between policies, standards, curricula, and assessments as a source of frustration for teachers is detailed in this study. Policy research acknowledges the importance of leadership to provide teachers with the guidance to navigate reforms and improve practice. This study found that when educators felt disenfranchised by top-down reforms, they found ways to empower themselves by ignoring or superficially incorporating mandates. This research illustrates how educators who felt empowered by their administration were able to adapt the reforms to fit their philosophy of education and their teaching styles. It also demonstrates how veteran teachers were more successful in working with and adapting documents than were less experienced teachers. This was, however, dependent upon individual teacher experience, comfort level with the existing and new curricula, creativity and access to resources. This research found that reforms were the least applicable in non-traditional settings, barring any chance that teachers could implement them as directed. The study concludes that in these two cases, the approach the administration chose to take in initiating change was as important as the changes themselves, and that external factors impeded educators' abilities to employ reform strategies. Future research should reconsider the punitive nature of high-stakes testing, and those reform programs which promote communication between teachers, policymakers and administrators. Finally, reforms that reach beyond the classroom to encourage community redevelopment are necessary.

Subject Area

Educational evaluation|Curricula|Teaching|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Alberino, Cristi, "Desperate measures: The effects of standards and standardized testing on teaching and curriculum in two Philadelphia schools" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3137974.