Publications & Resources

What Happens When the Test Mandate Changes? Results of a Multiple Case Study

Jul 1994

Mary Lee Smith, Audrey J. Noble, Marilyn Cabay, Walt Heinecke, M. Susan Junker, and Yvonne Saffron

The Arizona Student Assessment Program (ASAP) was designed to solve what policy makers perceived to be the state’s most pressing educational problems: moving schools toward the state curriculum framework and making schools more accountable for student achievement. However, as findings from this multiple case study demonstrate, the actions of practitioners were far from uniform in response to this policy mandate. In this report, CRESST researcher Mary Lee Smith and colleagues outline the results to date of a three-year, qualitative study of school reactions to the ASAP mandate. One of a series of reports on a larger project, “What Happens When the Test Mandate Changes?”, the present study addresses the consequences of the change mandate in four Arizona elementary schools during the first year of implementation. Using a case study methodology, the researchers focused on the interplay of policy and practice by engaging directly in the local, school-site scene. This particular approach allowed them to gain access to participant meanings and to show how meanings-in-action evolved over time. Results from this study indicated that local school responses to the policy mandate varied substantially. The goal of transforming classroom instructional practices was achieved in only one school that had adopted such practices prior to the state mandate. “Local interpretations and organizational norms intervened to color, distort, delay, enhance, or thwart the intentions of the policy and the policy-shaping community,” concluded the authors. Expectations for school reform based on mandates must consider the vast disparities that exist between individual schools and teachers.

Smith, M. L., Noble, A. J., Cabay, M., Heinecke, W., Junker, M. S., & Saffron, Y. (1994). What happens when the test mandate changes? Results of a multiple case study (CSE Report 380). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).