High-Stakes Accountability Systems: Creating Cultures of Fear
A phenomenological case study by Counsell (2007) explored and investigated the phenomenon of what happened as Florida’s A+ Plan intersected with the life histories of one beginning African American female third grade teacher and one veteran White female third grade teacher at demographically different school communities in one Florida school district. Habermas’ theory of communicative action served as an instructive framework used to examine and contemplate two key emerging trends based on lived experiences of the various social (communicative) actors. In addition to the beginning and veteran third grade teachers, other participating social actors included third graders, their parents, other third grade teachers and school principals at the beginning and veteran teachers’ schools as well as urban school teachers and personnel at urban schools in the same school district. Across the different social actors at each respective middle-income, low-income, and high-poverty school community, the emerging trends and patterns revealed: (a) a continuum of moral and ethical dilemmas specifically and (b) an overall continuum of fear in general. Social actors’ varied lived experiences with fear in relation to high-stakes testing illuminated the following: (a) a fear of speaking out; (b) a fear regarding children’s emotional welfare; (c) fear as it intersects with race; and (d) a fear of taking the test. From these testimonials, the continuum of fear toward the FCAT (according to third grade student reflections), proved to be the most serious (if not detrimental) consequence of Florida’s high-stakes accountability system. These insights can help guide and inform future accountability decisions under the new Every Student Succeeds Act.
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