Influences on teacher decision-making about writing instruction in a high-stakes writing assessment grade




Robertson, Marla King

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High-stakes testing is prevalent in American schools today and influences decisions made in those schools. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore influences on teacher decision-making about writing instruction in a high-stakes writing assessment grade using a complexity lens. The focus was on one teacher and the state, district, and school system where she worked, acknowledging that schools, teachers, and students are complex, adaptive, self-organizing systems (Davis & Sumara, 2006; Kuhn, 2008; Patterson, Holladay, & Eoyang, 2013). Data were collected through interviews with the district language arts coordinator, the principal, and the teacher along with classroom and grade level team meeting observations and artifacts.

Findings show that teaching is a complex adaptive nonlinear decision-making process. This analysis provided rich, detailed, finely grained descriptions of teacher decision-making as a complex adaptive process. Influences on teacher decision-making cannot be talked about as if they are in isolation as each influence is made up of a network of complex unequal influences. Teacher decision-making involves a complex negotiation of tensions brought about by these various influences. Decisions cannot be talked about as if they are made in isolation. Each decision is a part of a network of other decisions. High-stakes testing does influence teacher decision-making in this context along with many other interconnected influences. The educational system influences teachers, but the teacher also has the potential to influence the educational system. Teacher beliefs influence teacher decision-making, but teacher beliefs are not static. Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) (Eoyang & Holladay, 2013) offers descriptions and explanations of teacher decisions. HSD analyses make visible conditions that trigger decisions or generate decisions in the context of the decision-making process. These findings are a step toward understanding underlying conditions that explain decisions that teachers make. These findings also confirm that contextual factors are highly relevant in education systems.



Education, Complex adaptive self-organizing systems, Education policy, High-stakes testing, Human systems dynamics, Teacher decision-making, Writing instruction