Examining school leaders' narratives as a lens for understanding leadership identity and agency within a high -stakes testing culture of accountability
Jetter, Richard Edward
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The purpose of this narrative theory grounded research was to gather perception data from twenty-two public school leaders (who lead any combination of grades 3-8 students) regarding how they lead their schools within a culture of high-stakes testing and accountability demands. These twenty-two school leaders from New York State, consisting both of male and female professionals, were able to (1) Respond to other school leaders' narratives pertaining to the high-stakes testing culture and (2) Create their own stories about the high-stakes testing culture. Data was collected through targeted interviews lasting approximately 45 minutes in length. All participants were provided with the same three preselected standardized narratives which were testimonies from three other school leaders who were previously interviewed and who have illustrated their beliefs and attitudes about: (1) Their perceived presence as a school leader leading within a high-stakes testing culture. (2) Their perceived attitudes and beliefs about their intentions to be instructional leaders within a high-stakes testing culture. (3) Their actual actions for carrying out their leadership beliefs and roles as school leaders within a high-stakes testing culture. Data analysis traced emergent themes from all twenty-two participants within these three perceptual categories outlined above as emergent themes offered a glimpse into the conflicts between intended identities versus unintended identities of these 22 school leader participants. Grounded in theory and research involving the origins of testing, narrative theory, high-stakes testing, identity, and claims about school leadership and training, the findings of this study include themes and perceptions about (1) The narrative process that took place for each participant. (2) Test-prep and instructional leadership. (3) School leader roles and beliefs about school resources. (4) Students with disabilities. (5) Public high-stakes test reporting and (6) Pressures faced by school leaders. A comprehensive findings and discussion section citing the school leaders' perceptions based on the three previously written narratives and responses to various interview questions, along with the collections of "stories of their own" are included within this study. A discussion about school leaders' intended identities versus their unintended and undesired participation and performances in a high-stakes figured world, along with agency being somewhat "constrained" due to a high-stakes testing culture is also included in this study. Research in the area of understanding school leaders' narratives as a form of professional development, self-reflective thinking, and identity construction and confrontation has been overlooked when it comes to valuing school leaders' attitudes and beliefs about leading within a high-stakes testing culture of accountability. Furthermore, very little research examines the perceptions of school leaders who lead within a culture of high-stakes testing, especially in regard to identity formulation and agentive possibilities of school leaders who lead within a high-stakes testing culture.