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TEACHERS' BELIEFS AND INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES WITHIN SELECTED
HIGH PERFORMING AND LOW PERFORMING FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOLS
DAYLE SCOTT PEABODY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Dayle Scott Peabody
For their unconditional love and support, to Bonnie, Katy, Mom, Dad, Zary, Paco,
Zahyra, and Carlos.
I would like to thank my wife Bonnie and our daughter Kathryn for all the love,
support, patience and understanding they have given me as I have pursued this project. I
would not have been able to come this far without them. I would like to thank my
parents for always believing in me, and for having the confidence in me to let me grow at
my own pace. I must also thank Michael Thorne, Brad Burklew, Diane Archer-Banks,
Mary Louise Wells, Angelina Irizarry, Cristen Krugh, and Meg Deering for giving their
support, time, energy, and suggestions, all of which helped me in this endeavor.
I must also thank my committee Dr. James Doud, Dr. James Button, and Dr. Fran
Vandiver for providing me valuable guidance during this project. Each one of them was
a constant source of support and encouragement to me throughout this process. My
chair, Dr. Linda Behar-Horenstein, has been a wonderful advisor, mentor, listener, and
friend for me these past four years. Her dedication to her students is inspiring.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST O F TA B LE S ................. .............................................. ... ............ .. vii
A B S T R A C T .......................................... .................................................. v iii
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
T heoretical F ram ew ork ............................................. ........................................4
R research Q u estion s........... .............................................................. .. ...... ..... ..5
S ig n ifican ce ....................................................... 6
D definition of T erm s ................. ................................ ........ ........ .................
L im itatio n s ...................................... .................................. ................ 8
2 LITER A TU R E R EV IEW .............................................................. ...................... 9
FCA T as an A accountability M measure ........................................ ............................. 9
T teacher B eliefs and P practices ............................................................... ................ .. 15
Research-Based Literacy Teaching Methods in Secondary Schools..........................20
Teaching Literacy Skills to At-risk Students.......................................................25
C conclusion ............................................................... .... ..... ........ 30
3 M E T H O D S ........................................................................................................3 1
T h e S e ttin g ............................................................................................................ 3 1
P a rtic ip a n ts ........................................................................................................... 3 2
D ata C o lle ctio n ..................................................................................................... 3 4
D ata A nalysis................................................... 35
R research er B ias ................................................................37
V alidity an d R eliab ility ......................................................................................... 3 8
4 FINDINGS AND ANALYSIS ..................................................40
Research Question 1) To What Extent Are FCAT Scores based on Outside
Factors such as Race, SES and Size of the School? ............................................40
Research Question 2) What Are the Instructional Practices among Teachers of
Students in High Performing Schools and among Teachers of Students in Low
Performing Schools? ............. .... ...... ......... ...................................40
H igh-Perform ing Schools...................... ................................. ............... 41
Low -Perform ing Schools ...................... ....... ................................. 48
Research Question 3) What Are the Instructional Beliefs among Teachers at High
Performing and Low Performing Schools?............................................... 58
H igh Perform ing Schools ............................................................................. 58
Low Perform ing Schools............................................................................... 65
Common Themes at Low and High Performing Schools..................................71
Research Question 4) What Is the Correspondence among Teachers' Beliefs and
Instructional Practices at the High Performing and Low Performing Schools? ....75
H igh Perform ing Schools ............................................................................. 77
L ow P perform ing Schools............... ........................... .. .................... ... 77
Research Question #5) What Is the Correspondence Between Teacher Self-
Reported Beliefs, Interview Responses and Instructional Practices at the High
and Low Performing High Schools?............... ............................... 78
S u m m a ry ............. ......... ... .. .............. ...................................... 8 1
5 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ............................................. ............... 83
S u m m ary ...................... .. .............. .... ............................................ 8 3
Relationship between FCAT scores and outside factors ...................................83
Instructional Practices ..................... .......... ............... .... ........83
Instructional B beliefs ........ .... ....... .......... .. .......................... .. .. .............. 85
Congruence Between Teacher Practices and Teacher Beliefs ............................87
Im plication s ........................................................................... 88
Suggestions for Further Study ............................................................................. 91
Teaching Reading ........... ........... .. .. ...................... 91
Student-Directed Teaching and Learning..................... ..... ............... 92
Policy Decisions Aimed at Helping Low Performing Schools .........................92
Other factors impacting FCAT scores...........................................92
Summary and Conclusion......................................... 93
A TEACHER OBSERVATION INSTRUMENT...................................................94
B TEACHER INTERVIEW PROTOCOL................................ ....................... 97
C IRB APPROVAL AND CONSENT FORMS....................................... ...............99
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ......... .. ............... ........................................................... 102
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ............ ............. 109
LIST OF TABLES
3-1 Percentage of students who passed the 2003 Reading FCAT, percentage of
minority students, percentage of low-income students, and school grade at
participating schools.......... ..... ...................................................... .. .... .... ... .. 32
3-2 Number of respondents to the TBPS from each school .....................................37
4-1 Amount of time spent engaged in student-directed activities .............................48
4-2 Mean number of reprimands issued by teacher per period observed....................52
4-3 Emergent themes from analysis of observations and interviews ...........................76
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
TEACHERS' BELIEFS AND INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES WITHIN SELECTED
HIGH PERFORMING AND LOW PERFORMING FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOLS
Dayle Scott Peabody
Chair: Linda S. Behar-Horenstein
Major Department: Educational Leadership, Policy and Foundations
Student performance on standardized tests correlates with demographic factors
such as race and socio-economic status. On standardized tests, minority and low income
students often perform below average. Previous analysis of 10th grade Florida
Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) Reading scores demonstrated that students at
some schools with a majority at-risk population perform significantly below the state
average, whereas students at other, similar schools perform significantly above the state
average on this test. This study examined the differences between classroom factors,
such as teacher beliefs and instructional practice, that might help explain these
differences in performance among similar students on the 10th grade FCAT Reading test.
Teachers at four schools with a majority of at-risk students were observed, interviewed
and surveyed. This study found that teachers at high performing schools emphasized
learner-centered teaching in both belief and practice, de-emphasizing the FCAT and the
benchmarks tested. In contrast, teachers at low performing schools emphasized teacher-
centered behaviors, both in belief and practice, and focused specifically on the FCAT as
well as specific benchmarks tested.
For the past 25 years, studies of the SAT and Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) have
shown that there is a relationship between test scores and students who are poor or
minorities. Cunningham and Sanzo (2002), Howell and Peterson (2002), Kohn (2001),
and Port (1979) also found a correlation between race and/or socio-economic status
(SES) of students with their performance on state-administered standardized tests. In
these studies, performance on state-administered standardized tests has yielded the same
result; that students of minority backgrounds, as well as students from low SES
backgrounds, perform poorly on these tests, when compared to white, middle and upper
There are several reasons why poor and/or minority students perform poorly on
standardized tests; however, often, the underlying reason relates to literacy. Literacy,
according to Lewin (2003), is defined as being able to read and write functionally. The
relationship among literacy, poverty, and educational attainment has been well
documented by researchers (Denti & Guerin, 2004; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2003).
Some researchers have pointed to institutional or systemic differences between the poor
in America and others. Kozol (1991) provides a striking picture of the differences
between students enrolled in poor, inner city schools and those enrolled in wealthy,
suburban schools. Examining class differences illustrates that the poor face obstacles in
acquiring a public education that most public school students do not face, including high
unemployment, drugs, gangs, crime and exposure to acquired immunodeficiency
syndrome (AIDS). Bertrand (1995) argued that many students today are considered "at-
risk." Included among those students that he would classify as "at-risk" are individuals
who are of normal intelligence, who come from broken homes, and have witnessed or
suffered from parental loss of employment or have experienced undue burdens that are
typical for the American underclass.
Another causal factor as to why low SES/minority students perform poorly in
school generally is immigration. Bertrand (1995) observed that Hispanic/Latino
immigration has made that group the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. since the
1970's. This growth in Hispanic immigration, coupled with growth in Asian
immigration, has increased the need for multi-lingual education because typically these
students are not able to speak English fluently when they enter the American public
educational system (pp. 8-9). In California, this issue has been controversial between
proponents who advocate for providing for native language instruction in public schools,
and the "English First" proponents, who seek to limit non-English instruction in the
public schools (McQuillan, 1998). As a result, many school districts in states with large
numbers of immigrant populations find themselves unable, or unwilling, to provide the
resources necessary to provide instruction to immigrant students in their native
At the same time that the number of poor and/or minority students entering public
schools has grown (Ross, 2003), many U.S. states have increased their reliance on
standardized test scores. If there are not interventions to increase the achievement and
pass rates on standardized tests among poor and minority students, public education in
America is likely to become more class-based. Concurrently, there is a likelihood that
the number of low SES/minority dropouts will increase. Many of the students at risk will
face difficult economic decisions, some of which are likely to be shared with taxpayers.
While the problems of poor and minority Americans do not necessarily begin in school,
these issues do impact learning and standardized test performance.
In many communities across America, poor and/or minority students face barriers
to successful educational attainment from the circumstances of their lives outside of
school (Shulman, 2003). The government has tried to intervene in the learning process
for poor and/or minority students. For example, since the late 1980's and early 1990's,
when the National Governors Conference, and Presidents Bush and Clinton began
advocating for standards-based education, other states began to follow this lead. Florida
developed and implemented the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in the
mid-1990's. After Jeb Bush was elected Governor in 1998, the FCAT became part of the
Governor's "A +" plan for public education. Under this mandate, schools are assigned
grades based on the performance of students on the FCAT, making the FCAT a "high-
stakes" test. States throughout the nation are beginning to follow Florida's practice, and
use standardized test scores to determine funding decisions and students' graduation
rates. In 2003, for the first time, students in Florida were required to pass the 10th grade
Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in order to graduate.
The FCAT is composed of two criterion-based tests, a math test and a reading test,
and a norm-referenced test that is composed of reading and math questions. Statistical
analysis of the 2003 FCAT reading scores shows that a significant portion of variance in
10th grade FCAT scores was due to student's race and socio-economic status (SES),
confirming, at least in part, Popham's thesis. In a study of the relationship between low
SES/minority students and the FCAT using statistical data retrieved from Florida's
Department of Education website (www.fldoe.org/), the researcher found that 52% of the
variance in FCAT reading scores among 10th graders in 2003 was due to student race and
SES. Using the same statistical data, the researcher found that school size accounts for
less than 0.1% of the variance in FCAT scores.
Although race and SES are immutable factors, 48% of the variance in FCAT scores
remains unaccounted for in this particular data set. Thus, there appear to be other factors,
such as students' and educators' behaviors, that influence FCAT scores. Among Florida
high schools that have large numbers of poor and/or minority students, less than 40% of
students passed the 10th grade reading test. However, in some of these schools, at least
two-thirds of the students pass the FCAT. What makes these schools different from other
schools that have large numbers of poor/minority students? If variables such as race and
SES are held constant, other factors must account for this difference in performance. One
factor might be teaching practices; also, the amount of time teachers spend teaching to
the test might be critical (Shepard, 1989; Romberg, Zarinnia & Williams, 1989).
How teachers think about and practice teaching has a profound affect on learning
among students (Applebee et al., 2003; Fisher, 2001; Greenleaf et al., 2001). Many
researchers have noted that the practice of high-stakes testing affects teaching practices
(Benson, 2003; Popham, 2001; Stecher, 2002), causing some to "teach to the test." The
existence of the FCAT as a high-stakes test has affected the curriculum, but not
uniformly. The fact that students from schools with similar demographic backgrounds
perform so differently on the FCAT suggests that factors internal to the classroom and/or
school are affecting student performance on the 10th grade FCAT Reading test. Recent
research into the effects of teaching on learning, notably in the language arts, finds that
use of more student-centered or student empowered teaching models produces more
effective learning, and is more likely to contribute to higher test scores (Applebee et al.
2003; Cook-Sather, 2002; McCombs and Whisler, 1997; Northeast and Islands Regional
Educational Laboratory at Brown University, 2001).
Accordingly, three theories based on this research will be tested in this study:
1. The existence of the FCAT as a high-stakes test has affected teaching beliefs and
practices in 10th grade English classes,
2. Teachers in high performing schools are more likely to employ learner-centered
methods in curriculum design and implementation, than are teachers in low-
performing schools, and
3. Teachers in high performing schools are more likely to use the social and/or
personal family of teaching models (Joyce and Calhoun, 1996), and are less
inclined to "teach to the test," in comparison with teachers at low performing
The purpose of this study is to examine how teacher beliefs and instructional
practice might influence FCAT scores. Classrooms in high performing schools and in
low performing schools will be examined in this study to test these theories. This study
seeks to understand and interpret how classroom practices affect the performance of
students on standardized tests. Contextualization, interpretation and understanding are
the domain of the constructivist/interpretivist paradigms of research (Glesne, 1999).
Using an interpretivist framework will allow for developing a better understanding of the
complexities of classroom practices among teachers that may have an impact on the
performance of their students on the FCAT.
The following questions are investigated in this study:
1. To what extent are FCAT scores based on outside factors such as race, SES and
size of the school?
2. What are the instructional practices among teachers of students in high performing
and low performing schools?
3. What are the instructional beliefs among teachers at high performing and low
4. What is the correspondence among teachers' beliefs and instructional practices at
the high performing and low performing schools?
5. What is the correspondence between teacher self-reported instructional beliefs,
interview responses and instructional practices at the high performing and low
performing high schools?
Investigating these questions will require use of quantitative research methods for
question number 1, both quantitative and qualitative methods for question number 5, and
qualitative research methods for the remaining questions. Utilization of quantitative
methods provides evidence of a relationship between demographic factors and FCAT
scores. However, in order to develop a further understanding of the factors that influence
student performance on the FCAT beyond demographic factors (that are easily tabulated),
qualitative methods provide a possible explanation that would otherwise be inaccessible
through the use of a strictly empirical study, by providing a rich data set that allows for
comparison between high performing and low performing schools.
The findings from this study will provide educators with information about ways
"at-risk" students can succeed on standardized tests such as the FCAT. Educators and
educational policy makers are likely to have a better understanding of the kind of
instructional practices which distinguish a successful classroom environment that
prepares low SES/minority students from less successful classroom environments.
Educational researchers will be able to identify those factors beyond race and SES that
impact performance on standardized tests. This study focused on what factors within the
control or influence of educators help poor/minority students succeed on the FCAT. This
study will illuminate what educators at schools with large numbers of poor/minority
students can do to diminish disadvantages that such students face. Additionally, other
studies in the field have looked at the impact of teaching styles on student performance in
literacy and reading (Antinarella & Salbu, 2003; Bertrand & Stice, 2003; Lewin, 2003;
and Olson, 2003). This study will help to determine what educators can do to enhance
achievement outcomes for poor and/or minority students by illustrating how techniques
used to teach "at-risk" secondary students literacy skills can be applied to helping these
students prepare for high-stakes tests such as the FCAT. By looking beyond the
relationship between race and SES with standardized test scores, it is hoped that factors
unique to certain schools that have positively impacted standardized test scores for poor
and/or minority students can be revealed. The unit of analysis within this study will be
teachers' instructional practice.
Definition of Terms
At-risk schools refers to schools with either a majority of students who are of
minority descent, receive free/reduced lunch benefits, or both.
Criterion-referenced test refers to a test in which students are expected to
perform at a pre-established standard, achieve a passing grade, or demonstrate
FCAT Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. A standardized test developed
by the state of Florida and administered to students each year from grades 3-10. Students
who graduate with a standard diploma in the state of Florida must pass both sections of
the FCAT (reading and math) in order to graduate, regardless of other state/district
High-performing schools refers to schools in which at least two-thirds of
students tested passed the 10th grade FCAT reading test.
High-stakes test refers to tests such as the FCAT; in which outcomes guide
funding decisions for schools.
Low-performing schools refers to schools in which no more than 40% of
students tested passed the 10th grade FCAT reading test.
Minority refers to individuals who are African-American, Hispanic/Latino,
Asian/Pacific Islander, or Native American.
Norm-referenced test refers to a test in which students' scores are compared
with each other and not against some fixed standard.
Poor/low SES refers to the percentage of students at each school who receive
free/reduced lunch benefits.
6. Only data within Florida at one point in time were examined; only the FCAT and
only Florida were examined herein.
7. Only scores on the 2003 10th grade reading FCAT test were examined.
8. The generalizability of this study will be restricted to the context where it was
9. Only a sample of the relevant schools was selected for study.
10. Only a small sample of teachers met the criteria for participation.
11. Students' perceptions of instruction were not collected and analyzed although it is
likely that they impacted the findings.l
The purpose of this study is to develop an understanding of what factors beyond
race and SES impact student achievement among "at-risk" students. The purpose of this
chapter is to review relevant research studies. An overview of the following topics will
be presented: 1) FCAT as an accountability measure, 2) teacher beliefs and practices, 3)
research-based practices for teaching literacy in secondary schools, and 4) teaching
literacy skills to "at-risk" students.
FCAT as an Accountability Measure
The use of standardized tests in K-12 education in the United States is long
standing. Since the 1970's, there has been a proliferation of standardized tests developed
by the states and others. Standardized tests are utilized for a variety of purposes in
schools today. Some tests, such as the now defunct Florida High School Competency
Test (HSCT), are used as minimal competency tests, to assess whether or not students are
learning certain basic skills. Others, such as the SAT, are used for college admission
How does the presence of high-stakes testing affect literacy development among
secondary students? Literacy, according to Lewin (2003), is composed of adequate
development of both reading and writing skills so that the learner can communicate
Accountability in K-12 education has become an emerging trend among policy
makers. Florida is among the leaders in this regard, states Greene (2001). Not only has
Florida created its own standardized test (the FCAT), but the results of this test are used
to determine a grade for each school. These grades, in turn, carry consequences for
funding public schools in the state. The funding aspect of Florida's A Plus accountability
plan gives it teeth, notes Greene. Whereas other states have developed their own
standardized tests and accountability measures, none include the financial incentives that
Florida law currently mandates. Greene describes similar accountability programs in
Texas and in North Carolina, in which high-stakes tests are used to determine both
student graduation and school-wide evaluation criteria by the state. However, neither of
these plans includes the financial incentives of Florida's A Plus plan. The state of Florida
gives money to schools based on the letter grade earned. The highest graded schools earn
more state money. Schools are financially rewarded if they achieve gains of at least one
letter grade. "F" schools are penalized financially, and they are not able to receive the
performance-based money. The state's monetary award is used at the discretion of each
school's staff. Prestige or embarrassment may be felt by a school's stakeholders
depending upon the grade a school receives. As schools are rewarded or penalized based
on students' test scores, the intensity of the debate has heightened. Thus, in this capacity
the FCAT is viewed as a "high stakes" test.
Greene contends that the FCAT, combined with the school grading formula in
Florida, has led to "catching up" by poor and minority students, noting that FCAT scores
among poor and minority students are improving from year to year at a faster rate than
they are among other groups of students. According to the state Department of
Education, the FCAT assesses high and low order thinking skills by posing challenging
questions that require students to think, not just memorize answers. Additionally, the
state argues that one benefit of the FCAT is that it indicates when a school needs more
resources and teacher training. Another benefit of the FCAT, according to the state, is
that it clearly outlines expectations for teaching and learning (Florida Department of
Education online, 2005).
Two significant changes were recently made to the FCAT. In 1999, a writing test
was added. Also, students' performance on the FCAT was used to determine a letter
grade for each school. Any school that receives an F grade during two consecutive years
is now managed by the state Department of Education. Students are given options about
which school they attend. They are free to take "vouchers" and seek enrollment in any
public or private school. The dollar amount of the voucher is equivalent to the state
contribution to the district for educating these students. By 2002, every public school
student in grades 3-10 was required to take the FCAT.
Two important steps took place in the development of the FCAT in 2003; all high
school seniors were required to pass the 10th grade FCAT in order to graduate, and all 3rd
graders were required to pass the 3rd grade reading FCAT in order to be promoted to 4th
grade. FCAT scores, then, have become the primary mechanism that is used to measure
success within Florida's schools.
Policymakers in Tallahassee and in Washington argue that the FCAT makes
educators focus on teaching the skills students need to succeed. Indeed, since 1999,
when school grading became a reality, many schools around the state managed to achieve
and maintain high (A-B) grades. Now that school grades are public knowledge, the
public can acquire a better picture of which schools are and are not meeting these
standards. In this way, it is believed that the FCAT has made schools more accountable
to the public.
However, there are serious problems in using the FCAT as an accountability tool.
FCAT scores correlate strongly with race and SES, which suggest that the instrument is
racially biased. Also, there is a high potential for using less effective teaching practices,
especially teaching to the test in schools that struggle to achieve satisfactory grades.
Basing FCAT scores on the Sunshine State Standards, a system of benchmarks devised
by the state has lead to the development of a top-down model of curriculum, in which the
state's needs take precedence over those of individual students. As Popham (2000)
pointed out, the FCAT is not a valid or reliable measure of student learning. For example,
the criteria used to determine a school's grade have been inconsistently applied since the
grading system began in 1999. Popham argued that it should not be the single factor that
determines a school's grade because it is not a fair representation of what students have
Accountability seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon. However, the debate
over the merits and pitfalls of standardized testing predates discussions of accountability.
Finn (2002) identified three kinds of accountability related to the school improvement:
1) trust the experts, 2) trust, but verify, and 3) market-based reforms. Florida's emerging
system seems to be a combination of "trust, but verify" and market-based reforms.
Grading the public schools is a top-down, government-based reform program, coupled
with penalizing poorly performing schools. Market-based competition is illustrated by
controlling the disbursement of state monies. Lam (2001) argued that many of the current
reform efforts are driven by competitiveness, and states that such reforms could have
consequences for racial, ethnic and socio-economic segregation.
Raywid (2001) cautions us to watch how we use the term "accountability." She
states that this term is often confused with the "standards based" movement. For
example, Florida uses the term "standards based" education. The Sunshine State
Standards provides goals and benchmarks, while the FCAT is the tool that assesses
students and schools. Yet, performance is not going to be accessible simply through a
single observation of a school. She advocates the use of formative evaluations. In her
view, paper and pencil tests are only capable of measuring selected school goals.
Ravitch (1984) asserted that standardized tests can be useful for educators,
students, and parents. In particular, they can serve as an early warning for subject areas
(such as reading comprehensions, or math skills) and provide evidence that some students
may need improvement before they progress too far in the K-12 system. Yet, Ravitch
argues that standardized testing, as used by policymakers, negatively impacts the
curriculum in schools.
Borman (1992) argues that the emphasis on standardized testing in public schools
negatively impacts teaching math and science skills, because low-level skills are
emphasized rather than high-level skills. Tallahassee policymakers assert that the FCAT
was designed to assess lower order and higher order skills. The notion that educators are
"teaching to the test" causes angst among educators and policy makers. Popham (2004)
distinguished between "item teaching" and "curriculum teaching" as alternative
definitions of teaching to the test. "Item teaching" refers to teaching specific items as a
way to prepare students for tests. Such teaching does not allow students to master the
curricular aims represented on the test. "Curriculum teaching" refers to a broader
conception of "teaching to the test" in which teaching does target the larger curricular
aims. Popham stated that curriculum teaching is desirable, while item teaching is not.
"Item teaching" to the test shortchanges students by not teaching them how to process,
analyze or synthesize information, and by promoting test taking skills and strategies over
content mastery (Haney, 2000; Klein et al., 2000). Students' critical thinking skills are
neglected. Posner (2004) warned that an obsession with testing simply promotes the
acquisition of trivial knowledge, rather than those skills that students need in order to
function in a global society. Using test data exclusively to assess student learning
provides an incomplete picture of what teachers teach and what students learn. Behar-
Horenstein and Seabert (2002) argued that quality instruction is a necessary factor in
quality learning. They noted that: "Unless quality instruction can be documented, goals
and mandates cannot be evaluated. Factors that are not and cannot be measured are the
nature of instruction. The validity of testing is grounded in a positivist paradigm, in
which reality is objective and measurable" (p.23). The quality of teaching and learning
becomes hard to gauge when the processes of teaching and learning involve the
construction of knowledge. This argument reinforces the need to employ qualitative
methods in studying classroom factors that impact student performance.
Another issue regarding standardized testing concerns comparing schools and test
data against each other. Black (1998) cautioned that comparing schools' performance on
standardized tests against each other can generate "unfair and misleading" comparisons.
This practice can be harmful, Black added, if policymakers do not factor in
considerations of a school's resources. In other words, test scores alone are not a
sufficient indicator of performance within a school; other, more context-specific factors
should be considered.
The FCAT has been criticized as a valid measure of what students learn (or should
learn) in school. Popham (2000) argued that the FCAT is biased in favor of white,
upper/middle class students. According to Popham, the FCAT is a measure of SES, not
achievement. He claimed that basing a school's grade largely on FCAT scores results in
rewarding or punishing schools based on the SES of their students. Behar-Horenstein
and Seabert (2002) added that accurate assessments of teaching and learning must focus
on factors inherent to the classroom. They argued, "Before educators can propose a plan
aimed at improving educational effectiveness, they must obtain an accurate picture of the
quality of classroom teaching that takes place across all classrooms within school sites"
Teacher Beliefs and Practices
If the quality of classroom teaching is a factor in educational effectiveness, then
research should focus on this factor as an influence in student performance. Behar-
Horenstein and Seabert (2002) noted that research on school improvement largely has
focused on school-level factors, with little emphasis on pedagogy. They argued that
examining instructional practices as a central element in teacher development would help
students achieve more and standards would rise (p.22). Teachers vary in their approach
to teaching, and these individual differences should not be discounted in analyzing
What teachers believe and the decisions they make in class are not necessarily
congruent (Raymond, 1997). In a year-long study of one math teacher, Raymond found
that the teacher's practices were more closely related to her beliefs about content, and
tied to her own experiences as a student, rather than to her beliefs about pedagogy.
Raymond also concluded that this teachers' pre-service program had a negligible effect
on her beliefs as a teacher. In another study of math teachers, Liljedahl (2005) concurred,
noting that teachers' beliefs about mathematics teaching and learning come from their
own experiences as a learner of mathematics. Liljedahl noted that if a math teacher
believes that learning mathematics is "all about learning algorithms," then that teacher is
likely to perceive that teaching math is "all about teaching algorithms." If a teacher
believes that "all problems have one solution," then this teacher is likely to approach
teaching math with the attitude that "all problems must have one solution." Liljedahl
concluded that pre-service teachers' beliefs about what mathematics is, and what it means
to teach and learn mathematics, varied depending on the environment within classrooms,
and the extent to which problem solving was important to that classroom environment in
the pre-service setting. Liljedahl reported that through their own experiences with
mathematics, pre-service math teachers came to believe, in the value of teaching
mathematics through "doing", and through "thinking," suggesting a hands-on approach to
teaching and learning.
Albion (1999) reported that teachers' self-efficacy beliefs are critical in
determining the extent to which teachers incorporate instructional technology into
decisions related to curriculum. Minchew (2004), in an in-depth study of two high school
science teachers, argued that how teachers view their own effectiveness as teachers, or
their self-efficacy, as a key variable in their effectiveness as teachers. Minchew argued
that pre-service and in-service teachers bring to the classroom experiences and beliefs
about their abilities to handle both their classroom environment as well as their career
responsibilities. What teachers believe about teaching generally, as well as their ability to
teach, affects approach different situations and issues that arise in the classroom, from
classroom management to curriculum-related issues, according to Minchew. A teacher's
beliefs are extremely important to that teacher's ability to effectively implement
classroom management. If teachers have a positive image of themselves as teachers, then
they will develop more effective classroom management skills, and are more likely to
create an enriched and active learning environment, Minchew added. She goes on to note
that many teachers feel overwhelmed by what teachers perceive to be extensive
responsibilities that are mandated by school boards and state governments. Minchew
argued that this increasing workload can affect the success and attrition rate of teachers.
She reported that participants in her study began their careers as teachers believing that
their goal as a teacher was to be an advocate for science. They became teachers so that
they could positively influence students. This belief and many of their other outlooks on
teaching have slightly changed during their teaching career, Minchew reported. After
several years in the profession, Minchew notes that they still believe in influencing
students and helping them take their science knowledge and use it outside of the
classroom, regardless of whether or not that influence is used strictly for scientific issues,
or to broader social and/or life issues. Minchew added that teachers perceive society's
image of teaching as quite different from the reality of teaching, especially related to
issues of student ownership in education. She noted that the participants in her study give
their students ownership in certain classroom responsibilities while keeping final
authority for themselves.
Other researchers found that teacher beliefs and how they construct their classroom
environments are interrelated and direct their pedagogical actions as teachers.
(Salamanca, 2005). While Minchew focused on teacher efficacy, Salamanca added that
teacher beliefs, principal beliefs, and teacher efficacy are factors in the nature of
classroom instruction provided by teachers. Salamanca argued that skilled teachers who
manipulate their classroom environments can affect the quality and variety of students
oral language use, engagement in literacy behaviors and story composition.
While teacher beliefs clearly are a factor affecting teacher attitude and
performance, it is one of three such critical factors, according to Taylor, Dirkx, and Pratt
(2001). These researchers noted that as teachers gain experience in the classroom, their
attitudes and beliefs change. Over time, they argued, teachers, develop a kind of personal
compass which helps them make decisions and reflect effective actions and practices, as
well as the reasons behind why a practice is effective or ineffective in the classroom.
Additionally, they noted that this compass is what distinguishes those who persist and
flourish as teachers from less successful teachers. Taylor, Dirkx and Pratt elaborated
that teachers who do not create a cohesive pedagogical system often are subject to the
whims and influences of others. When such 'compass-less' teachers are challenged by
students, colleagues, or administrators, these teachers experience difficulty explaining or
defending their approach to teaching.
Having a pedagogical system is an essential aspect in the development of effective
teaching, they concluded. Teacher beliefs are only one of three factors inherent in the
development of this teacher 'compass.' The other two factors are foundational
knowledge and informal theories of teaching. Together, these three factors helped
support these teachers in the pursuit of their work. Each of the three factors was
dependent upon the other two for its meaning and activation. When all three were in
agreement, the teacher had a coherent personal pedagogical system by which to conduct
and govern the work of teaching, concluded these researchers.
Moje (1996) argued that the relationship established between teachers and students
is a critical factor in getting secondary students to engage in literacy-based activities. She
concluded that teachers' beliefs about literacy, their content areas, their students, and the
contexts in which they teach all have an impact on how students learn reading and
writing. Errington (2004) argued that teachers' beliefs about teaching and learning are
key factors in what they manage to achieve as teachers. In other words, if teachers do not
believe that students can read, write or achieve, then, according to Errington, this belief,
whether expressed or not, is likely to impede student learning in the classroom. Dieker
and Little (2005) advocated a more interdisciplinary approach to teaching reading and
writing. They argued that in order to better prepare secondary students for the challenges
inherent in standardized testing, more cooperation between and among teachers is
necessary in developing curriculum, so that reading and writing are taught throughout the
day, not just in English class.
The National Council of Teachers of English, (NCTE) offered its perspective on
what teacher beliefs are necessary in order to effectively teach writing (NCTE, 2004).
Eleven core beliefs were offered. Those are:
1. Everyone has the capacity to write, writing can be taught, and teachers can help
students become better writers.
2. People learn to write by writing.
3. Writing is a process.
4. Writing is a tool for thinking.
5. Writing grows out of many different purposes.
6. Conventions of finished and edited texts are important to readers and therefore to
7. Writing and reading are related.
8. Writing has a complex relationship to talk.
9. Literate practices are embedded in complicated social relationships.
10. Composing occurs in different modalities and technologies.
11. Assessment of writing involves complex, informed, human judgment.
Together, these beliefs suggest that English teachers, at least in the area of teaching
writing, should provide a variety of opportunities for students to develop and sharpen
their writing skills, that they should realize the complex aspects of teaching writing, and
that they should realize that opportunities to teach writing skills are embedded in literacy
skills as a whole and should be included in efforts to teach reading as well.
Other researchers advocate that the substance of pre-service teacher training may
need to be evaluated to ensure that graduates can teach critical thinking skills. Behar-
Horenstein and Seabert (2002) found that more thoughtful curriculum planning may be
needed at the graduate level of education. They found an emphasis of teacher-directed
instruction was normative in a situation where students were preparing for a high-stakes
test. In a study of elementary teachers, Seabert et al. (2002) found that pre-service
instruction in health education teaching methods resulted in significant differences among
learner comprehension. In a study of bilingual teachers, Flores (2001) found that
participants held certain beliefs about how bilingual students learn, and that the teachers'
prior experiences affected their beliefs about learning. Flores argued for the need to
develop philosophically grounded pre-service teacher education programs in order to
produce effective teachers.
Research-Based Literacy Teaching Methods in Secondary Schools
Lewin (2003) observed that secondary teachers feel intense pressure to meet state
standards or benchmarks in curriculum, although many teachers know that a significant
number of their students have reading comprehension difficulties. Lewin stated that
reading and writing are the "twin pillars of literacy." Building them into the secondary
curriculum is vital.
Lewin (2003) outlined a four step plan that he suggested was essential to building
literacy skills among struggling secondary students. He suggested to prepare, first dare,
repair and share. Each step applies whether the teacher is teaching writing or reading
skills. Prepare means getting ready to read or write by making a conscious effort.
Suggested activities involve brainstorming or interviewing. First dare means to attempt
the task at hand. For writing, it means to write a first draft. Repair involves correcting
mistakes that occur during the first effort. Share involves higher order thinking skills and
application of one's work to some larger purpose.
To build literacy among secondary students, Lewin (2003) argues that teachers
need to work together among subject areas. To be truly successful, reading and writing
instruction must be interdisciplinary and cross-curricular. Developing the confidence of
struggling readers and writers is important, as well as building students' self-efficacy.
Lewin proposed the use of instructional strategies that are common in secondary
education, such as KWL (Know, Want to know, Learn), stop signs, sticky notes, and
To "repair," Lewin (2003) recommended that students critically reevaluate their
own work. Lewin also advocated using literary texts and activities such as Story Webs,
Open Mind, Character Analysis Sheets, Interpretive Cards and visualization activities to
develop literacy among struggling adolescents.
Finally, Lewin (2003) recommended an increased emphasis in teaching writing
skills across the curriculum. When students write about a topic within social studies,
science, math, language arts, or any other subject area, they process the relevant content
more deeply and apply that knowledge in ways beyond what is necessary. A concerted,
school-wide effort at developing writing skills among adolescents provides benefits to
students that extend well beyond their schooling.
Olson (2003), like Lewin, also stressed the need for secondary teachers to provide
scaffolding to students struggling. He described five components of effective
instructional scaffolding: ownership, appropriateness, structure, collaboration, and
internalization. Use of scaffolding in reading and writing provides students with a variety
of cognitive strategies that give them the freedom to approach texts in ways that make
sense to them. Creating a climate within the classroom that values students as individuals
is essential in building a sense of student ownership. Olson suggested "getting to know
you" activities to promote a feeling of belonging; setting the tone of learning, while
getting students to develop self-efficacy.
Olson (2003) suggested that secondary teachers use a multiple intelligence (MI)
approach to teaching and learning, in addition to traditional linguistic approaches. She
recommended a method whereby students write reactive first drafts to a text read in class.
Getting students to interpret texts required teachers to teach literature in such a way that
helps students see reading and writing as an aesthetic experience, not a chore. Olson
suggested exposing students to a wide variety of texts to help students develop their
thematizing skills. She recommended using multicultural perspectives to teach reading
and writing. As the percentage of students becomes less white, incorporating literature
from other cultural perspectives becomes imperative. The use of multicultural literature
promotes ownership among struggling minority students (Gay, 1994).
The efforts of educators notwithstanding, many of the problems at-risk students
face in school, and particularly in development of literacy-based skills, stem from a lack
of encouragement to read and write at home. Researchers (Mahler, 1968; Winnicott,
1988;) have shown that the developmental characteristics needed to produce literate
students begin at a very early age. Often, at-risk students come from backgrounds where
they are not given the support or encouragement needed, even before starting school, to
become effective readers and writers.
"Effective writing teachers apply what they know, make cognitive strategies
visible, and encourage students to practice different types of writing. They balance the
use of teacher-prompted and student-selected writing tasks, they foster internalization,
and finally, focus on process and products," argues Olson (2003) (pp. 225-226).
Effective writing teachers utilize small group assignments that give students opportunities
to collaborate. This type of teacher considers the audience, provides peer-generated
feedback, and helps students develop the commitment to refine their writing abilities.
Olson (2003) also recommended the use of rubrics that clearly outline what is
necessary to achieve success in reading and writing. These criteria become a teaching
tool because it helps students recognize what standards are used to assess their work.
Also, he recommended that teachers involve students in self-evaluation.
Antinarella and Salbu (2003) stressed the importance of creating an environment
conducive to learning, like identifying student and teacher roles and responsibilities.
They also advocated cooperative learning activities, and use of heterogeneous groupings.
Many of the activities suggested by Antinarella and Salbu are designed to give
students an opportunity to foster their own creative skills and develop a sense of
ownership in the process of acquiring the skills of literacy. They recommend using
autobiographical poems, writing memoirs, and first-person narratives to promote student
ownership for their own literacy skills. Antinarella and Salbu, as well as Olson (2003),
advised teachers to arrange lessons into "workshop" formats to encourage students to
write and read regularly on their own during class time.
Effectively teaching reading and writing involves personalizing learning, and
getting students actively involved (Antinarella & Salbu, 2003; Curtis & Longo, 1999,
D'Arcangelo, 2002; Lewin, 2003; Olson, 2003). Students must have a strategy to
approach reading and what they want to get out of it. To do that, teachers need to build
background knowledge and vocabulary among students, so that class texts are more
likely to have some connection or meaning to students.
Allington (2004) asserted that policymakers' actions make teachers' efforts to build
literacy skills more difficult. Rather than relying on scripted programs, he claimed that if
legislators are serious about building literacy skills, then they must provide more one-on-
one teaching in the schools. Elsewhere, Allington (2002) has argued that current policy
trends, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, favor a federalization of teaching and
curricular methodologies. The danger in such an approach is that Washington
policymakers neglect relying on a professional consensus in developing methodologies.
He cited the differences between the research-based Preventing Reading Difficulties in
Young Children Report (PRD) and the recommendations of the National Reading Panel
(NRP). Allington argued that the NRP's recommendations for reading instruction ignore
or contradict many of the research-based findings in the PRD.
Teaching Literacy Skills to At-risk Students
Cunningham and Sanzo (2002) argued that "education is more highly
prioritized...in high-income homes, and they... see school as the means by which
qualification, acquisition, and socialization are achieved... school is not an essential
vehicle for working class life" (p. 360). They asserted that testing adds pressure without
addressing educational inequities. As a result, the gap between what poor students and
non-poor students get out of schooling continues to compound.
Luker, Cobb and Luker (2001) observed many poor children are deprived of the
basic requirements for success in a competitive society, such as intellectual deprivation.
Intellectual deprivation, as these authors define it, is a result of:
"The absence of minimal verbal and quantitative educational resources,
commitments and stimulants such as books, periodicals, encyclopedia and computers. All
of these conditions affect the motivation, performance and success of poor children in
school...they often come to school with large academic deficits that place them far
behind their more privileged schoolmates" (p. 989).
This idea of intellectual deprivation has been addressed by others, and might help
explain why poor students do not perform as well in school generally, and on
standardized tests specifically. Bertrand (1995) noted that students from poor and/or
minority backgrounds are especially "at-risk" for many of the same reasons which Luker,
Cobb and Luker mention. Ayers (2000) concurred and argued that the standards
movement itself is fraudulent and renders the poor victims.
Ayers (2000) also argued that American schools are in a crisis that selectively
impacts the poor, inner city and minority students. These schools, he pointed out,
struggled to educate children who were at risk with fewer human and material resources
than other schools. Burns (1979) stated these same concerns over 20 years earlier.
Several researchers have raised questions about the physical, social and economic
differences between rich and poor schools in the United States, and about whether
standardized testing, accountability, and standards-based education exacerbates
differences between the poor and everyone else (Ayers, 2000; Burns, 1979; Kozol, 1991).
Allington (2002) argued that since the 1970's, federal mandates have placed a greater
impact of standardized testing on poor children, as a condition for their eligibility for
federal education dollars.
In Savage Inequalities, Kozol (1991) vividly described the physical differences
between affluent, suburban public schools and poor, inner-city schools, noting the
funding disparities. Nonetheless, the standards-based education movement, despite much
room for improvement, has received widespread approval from the public (Johnson &
Corley (2003) argued that race and poverty are linked. He also stated that African-
Americans and Hispanic/Latino Americans are much more likely to be classified as poor
than white Americans. She pointed out that the cycle of poverty is tied explicitly to
lower levels of literacy. Additionally, minority students coupled with majority teachers
results in cultural dissonance.
Perhaps the most significant factor in this discussion is that self-efficacy among the
poor and/or minority students is somewhat lower than it is for other students. Pajares
(2003) reported that studies of student efficacy and race produce mixed results, but that
there was ample evidence to suggest that Hispanic/Latino students had lower self-
efficacy about writing skills, a key element of literacy. This same skill was a key element
tested on the FCAT as well as other standardized tests (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2003).
In a review of empirically-based research, Linnenbrink and Pintrich argued that there was
an important link between students' self-efficacy and their motivation to learn in school.
Walker (2003) concurred. He pointed out that student self-efficacy promoted student'
desires to engage in literary activities, which translated into increased performance. If
students do not see themselves as worthy learners, then they will not actively pursue an
education. He concluded that the research on student motivation has provided evidence
that self-efficacy is the key to promoting students' engagement and learning in the
Some researchers have argued that students' attitude towards testing also is
important to consider. Stiggins (2002) asserted that policymakers do not realize that not
all students face the challenge of state assessment efforts with the same degree of
confidence. Thus, states risk damage to a significant percentage of their students.
Stiggins concluded that this may, in fact, cause students to learn less, not more.
Kordalewski (2000) found that poor, urban high school students were more likely
to resist state-mandated assessments than other students. Davis and Weber (1998)
reported that some students viewed some subject matter as irrelevant to their future career
needs. This can be especially true among lower SES students, whom, as Luker, Cobb
and Luker (2001) illustrate, often come to school less 'equipped' for the rigors of school,
standards, and testing, compared to other students. When students lack particular
experiences outside of school, they may be unable to see the relevance of what they are
learning. Teachers of low income students may have to do more to convince their
students that there is relevance to what they are learning in school.
The issues of poverty, student self-efficacy and lack of adequate materials each
influence how teachers teach and students learn. Once students have a stake in learning,
they are more apt to apply themselves to the fullest of their abilities. In looking at the
questions surrounding teaching "at risk" students, Stice (1995) advocated using a whole
language curriculum. Whole language instruction is not without its critics, either.
McQuillan (1998) suggested that whole language instruction has been identified as the
scapegoat for lower student test scores in California. Also, students in classrooms
utilizing whole language instruction did not perform differently from their peers on
standardized tests of reading in California.
Childress and Stice (1995) argued that literacy is the key to breaking the cycle of
poverty. They reported that a program which is learner-centered, literature-based and
integrated across the curriculum helps students move beyond the minimal levels that so
few "at-risk" students achieve. Others, such as DeStephan (1995), and Miller and Stice
(1995), claimed that at-risk students thrive in environments in which they are able to
develop a sense of community and ownership.
Corley (2003) stressed that teachers must teach critical literacy skills to their
students in order to break the cycle of poverty. He asserted that teachers must connect
learning to learners' lived experiences; give voice to learners and create forums in which
they can tell their stories, help learners view knowledge as something that they can
produce; and give learners the tools to critique frames of reference, ideas, and
information (p. 2).
In order to reach at-risk students, we first must embrace the growing diversity in
our schools, argued Gay (1994). Educators should ask themselves how they plan to
reconcile the growing cultural pluralism inherent in American schools. She advocated a
multicultural focus, a way of thinking and acting in the classroom that accepts cultural
differences among students and places value in these differences. Multicultural thinking
has a profound effect on the developing and implementing curricular objectives, and if
embraced by teachers, can lead to greater learning generally by at-risk students. Gay
pointed out that: 1) basic literacy skills should be learned within the context of cultural
diversity, 2) learning requires the application of critical thinking and problem solving to
ethnic and cultural diversity issues, 3) education content and processes should incorporate
culturally pluralistic contributions, 4) equity and excellence are impossible without
sensitivity to cultural diversity, 5) teaching styles should be accepting of different cultural
learning styles, 6) understanding cultural traits of students makes teaching more effective,
7) ethnic and cultural factors should be used in determining students' readiness for
learning, and 8) some motivation for learning is culture-specific.
While many of the same teaching techniques are successful in teaching literacy
skills to at-risk students, teachers must be able to recognize the special needs of at-risk
students. The typical "below basic level" reader in high school does his/her best to hide
from teachers, avoids eye contact, conveniently "forgets" classroom materials, and seeks
help from friends, not the teacher (Denti & Guerin, 2004). Often, teachers aggravate the
problems of at-risk learners by sitting them farther away and expecting less from them.
The needs of at-risk adolescent readers include physically well-organized classrooms,
firm schedules, clearly expected behaviors, required participation in class, risk-free
environments, respect for students, and problems addressed as they occur. Hasselbring
and Goin (2004) advocate using video and audio programs associated with the Peabody
Learning Laboratory at Vanderbilt University, a program which was used with much
success by the Orange County Public School system in Florida.
Standardized testing and accountability have become commonplace in American
public education. Most states utilize standardized test scores to determine student
progress in school. More states are following Florida's example. A significant body of
research cautions that a single measure, such as standardized test scores, cannot
adequately measure performance. The correlation between standardized test scores and
students' race and SES has been well documented.
Research demonstrates that students from low SES backgrounds face significant
challenges in their acquisition of an education in public schools that differ from other
peer groups. Many low SES students perceive themselves as less "worthy" learners, and
act accordingly in the classroom. As a result, literacy rates for poor and minority
students are often significantly below average for the population as a whole.
There are a variety of strategies that can be used to teach reading and writing in the
secondary classroom. All of them are designed to build a sense of community and
ownership among secondary students, and to develop students' desire to become better
readers, writers and learners.
An overview of the following topics will be presented in this chapter: 1) the setting,
2) participants, 3) data collection, 4) data analysis, 5) researcher bias, and 6) reliability
The population for this study is 148 high schools that administer the 10th grade
FCAT reading test for a majority of its students who are considered to be "at-risk." In
order to be classified as "at-risk," a simple majority of students at these schools must be
classified as of a minority background, from a low SES background, or both. Of the 148
"at risk" schools the mean percentage of students who passed this test was 49%.
However, within these 148 schools there are great disparities in performance. In 2003,
65% or more of their students passed the 10th grade Reading FCAT in 10% (N=15) of
these schools, compared to 25% (N=37) of the schools where 40% or fewer of the
students passed the same test.
The 148 at-risk high schools are scattered throughout the state, in urban and rural
areas from Miami to the Panhandle. A significant number of these schools are found in
south Florida; 45% (N=67) of these schools, are in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach
counties, the three largest metropolitan counties in Florida. The disparity between the 15
high-performing, at-risk schools and the 37 lowest performing, at-risk schools is of
interest. Four of these schools were selected and teachers were interviewed and observed
to gain a better understanding of how educators teach literacy skills and prepare students
for the FCAT. The passage rates of students on the 2003 FCAT Reading test for each of
the four participating schools, the percentages of students who receive free/reduced lunch
benefits, the percentage of students reported as minority and school grades assigned by
the state for 2003 are presented below in table 3.1:
Table 3-1. Percentage of students who passed the 2003 Reading FCAT, percentage of
minority students, percentage of low-income students, and school grade at
Athens HS Hamilton HS Jackson HS Pine Crest HS
Passing % 66 72 21 40
Minority % 51 71 99 81
Free Lunch % 19 46 50 37
School Grade B B F D
Due to logistical constraints only schools in the north or central part of Florida
were selected for study. Schools selected for this study met the following criteria: (a)
each is classified as a public high school, (b) student population is comprised by a
majority who are non-Caucasian, low SES, or both, and (c) the school is located in the
central part of Florida.
Two of the "high performing schools" and two of the "low performing schools"
were selected for this study. One English and/or language arts teacher at each of the
participating high schools was observed and interviewed. Additionally, all
English/Language Arts teachers at each of the four schools were asked to complete the
Teacher Behavior Preferences Survey (TBPS). This survey is a research-based
instrument that assesses teacher attitudes and efficacy. At each school, one 10th grade
English/language arts classroom was observed on five separate days for a minimum of 50
minutes per observation. Interviews of each teacher occurred after all five observations
had been completed.
Before contacting schools, the researcher contacted the district director of research
and evaluation to request permission to conduct this study in the district. Next, the
researcher contacted the principals of the selected high and low performing at-risk school
and asked for permission to observe 10th grade English/language arts classes. Once the
principal of each school gave permission to participate in this study, individual teachers
at each school were contacted and informed about the purpose of this study. After their
permission was obtained, interviews and observations were scheduled.
Only teachers who teach English or Language Arts classes to tenth graders were
observed and interviewed in this study. Efforts were exercised to select teachers for
observation who shared certain demographic characteristics, such as race and gender.
Each of the four participants in this study is a Caucasian female, whose ages ranged from
early 30's to early 60's. The participants' experience teaching ranged from four to 35
years. One of the four participants is in her first year of teaching in Florida; each of the
others had at least four years experience teaching at their respective schools. Two of the
four were teaching tenth grade English/Language Arts for the first time this year, whereas
each of the other two had four years experience teaching tenth grade English/Language
Interview questions focused on curriculum planning, design, development and
implementation decisions made by each teacher, and the influence of the FCAT in these
decisions. Teachers' instructional practices were observed to better understand if there
were differences in the nature of teaching at the high and low performing schools.
Participant teachers were interviewed, observed and surveyed. Data from
observations was gathered through extensive field notes taken using a teacher observation
protocol developed by Anusavice (1999) and modified for this study. Field notes were
typed and submitted to each participant for review. Portions of a teacher interview
protocol relevant to curriculum design, development and implementation questions used
by Gonzales (2002) guided interviews. Interviews were tape recorded and transcribed.
Running notes were documented while teachers provided instruction in reading and
A semi-structural observation protocol based on Joyce and Weil's (1996)
instructional models framework and used by Anusavice (1999) guided observations.
Notes that describe what the teacher said or did across the following dimensions were
recorded: 1) The sequential tasks students are asked to do (syntax), 2) Student/teacher
roles and their respective involvement in the lesson (social systems), 3) Teacher
responses to students' answers and questions (principles of reaction), 4) Methods for
using instructional supports (support system), 5) Social interaction among students as
well as between students and the teacher (social interaction). A total of 20 observation
sessions, five at each school, were conducted. Four interviews were conducted, one with
each participant. Field notes were recorded to document interactions in each observation
among students as well as between students and teachers.
Participating teachers were observed in February 2005, before the FCAT Reading
Test was administered, and interviewed after the FCAT in March 2005. Each interview
was conducted on March 15, 2005 at the participant's school. These interviews lasted
from 30 to 50 minutes in length. To provide member checks, interviews and running
notes were transcribed and sent to the teacher. Participating teachers were asked to read
the transcript to ensure its accuracy and to mark any necessary changes. Two of the four
participants returned observation notes with few, if any, comments. None of the four
participants returned interview transcripts to the researcher with any comments, or
provided the researcher with any other feedback subsequent to the interviews.
Additionally, the Teacher Behavior Preference Survey (TBPS), developed by
Behar-Horenstein, was given to English/Language Arts teachers (including the four
participants named above) at each of the four schools. Each participant volunteered to
coordinate administration of the TBPS to their fellow teachers. Teachers from all four
schools responded to the survey. Using a five point scale, the TBPS measures the range
of teacher preferences on 60 items. These items are arranged in 30 pairs; where one item
assesses agreement from a student-centered perspective and the other assesses agreement
from a teacher-centered perspective. The items comprise four subscales including:
methods of instruction, classroom milieu, assessment techniques, and use of questions.
Transcribed interviews and observations were analyzed inductively, guided by
Spradley's (1980) domain analysis method, and Attride-Stirling's (2001) thematic
networks method. After all observations had been completed, the field notes were typed
and coded using an open coding system based on methods of participant observation
described by Spradley. Emergent themes were coded along the margins of each set of
typed field notes. Afterwards, these codes were listed in a separate document
chronologically. Next, codes were tabulated for frequency of appearance and listed
accordingly for each set of observational notes. Finally, themes among the codes were
identified based on the categories of codes listed, as well as the frequency of each code in
Emergent themes were identified from each set of teacher observations and then
compared with themes and trends observed across the four teachers. In order to assess
the differences in instructional beliefs among the four participants in this study,
interviews of each were conducted and tape recorded. The interviews were transcribed
by the researcher, who then sent copies of each transcript to each participant for review.
The transcripts were each coded and analyzed using the same methods regarding analysis
of field notes taken from the twenty observations conducted. Using these methods of
analysis, several themes emerged from each interview. Differences in attitudes and
beliefs between the participants from high performing schools and low performing
schools were recorded.
In order to analyze the results of the TBPS, mean scores for each item were
calculated. In order to assess reliability, alpha coefficients were calculated for the
teacher-centered questions as well as the student-centered questions. Additionally, alpha
coefficients were calculated for each of the four subscales: methods of instruction,
classroom milieu, assessment techniques and use of questions. An item analysis of
results from the TBPS was conducted in order to determine statistically significant
differences among items while controlling for school site. Forty-four percent (N=31) of
teachers responded to this survey, from a population of approximately 70 teachers. The
number of respondents representing each school is shown here in Table 3.2.
Table 3-2. Number of respondents to the TBPS from each school
Athens HS Hamilton HS Jackson HS Pine Crest HS
N 10 5 12 4
Each of the 60 items measured by the TBPS was sorted by school in order to
determine the extent to which answers varied by school, as well as between high
performing and low performing schools. For each variable, a Pearson's R correlation
coefficient was calculated.
The researcher is in his ninth year of teaching secondary social studies to public
school students in Alachua County, Florida. Each school year he has taught large
numbers of students who are at-risk. He has participated in a variety of school and
district level initiatives that have been aimed at improving high school FCAT reading
scores. Based on his experiences as a teacher, this researcher is acquainted with the
struggles and efforts among at-risk students to achieve literacy skills, and their efforts
(and feelings) regarding the FCAT.
Monitoring researcher subjectivity is a constant process, and one that must be
pursued consciously by qualitative researchers in order to present more valid findings
(Glesne, 1999). To monitor subjectivity properly requires that researchers "see what you
are not seeing" and "be aware of instances in which a researcher might make less of
something than could be made" (p. 109). Since the researcher is a high school teacher
who has had substantial experience working with students who are at-risk in reading and
writing, his experience is likely to impact his interpretation of the data. Thus, several
steps were taken to ensure that the interpretation of data was not a reflection of the
researcher as instrument. Use of the selected protocols helped minimize researcher bias,
as did field testing use of the protocols. Awareness of his role as a participant-observer
helped minimize the impact of researcher bias in this study. In his graduate coursework,
the researcher has learned and practiced many of the relevant skills needed to conduct
qualitative research, including: observation, domain analysis, designing and conducting
interviews, and transcription of interview data. Additionally, applying the research
protocols, and lessons learned from their usage prior to commencing this study, helped
the researcher use the protocols systematically during the observations and interviews.
Finally, a dependability audit was conducted by another graduate student in order to
further minimize researcher bias. This student viewed one of the four interview
transcripts, and 4 of 20 sets of observation notes. Considerable agreement existed
between the researcher and the graduate student regarding analysis of this data.
Validity and Reliability
Several steps were undertaken to help establish validity in this study. First, the
selection of participants was stratified to minimize the potential effect of confounding
variables such as race and SES. To the extent possible, teacher participants were selected
and matched across several variables including race, experience level, gender and age.
Second, by including two schools each that were "high performing" and "low
performing," different sources of data were used, and different groups (high and low
performing) were sampled, each with more than one source of data. Third, because this
study was designed to gather data through a series of observations, multiple observations
establishes triangulation by giving the researcher enough data to observe similarities and
differences in observations over time (Patton, 2002). Fourth, conducting interviews and
observations, as well as collecting survey data from other teachers at the same schools,
provided multiple sources of data. Fifth, before selecting schools to study, each of the
four schools selected met a pre-established criterion level of "high performing" or "low
performing" characteristics (with respect to percentage of 10th grade students passing the
reading FCAT) for more than one year. The criteria selected for "high performing" was
that at least 65% of students had to have passed the 10th grade FCAT reading test. The
criteria selected for "low performing" was that no more than 40% of students could have
passed this same test. Sixth, the TBPS, a research-based study, was administered to each
of the four participants as well as to other language arts teachers at each of the four
schools. This provided an additional data set corresponding to each school, yet beyond
just the experiences of one teacher in each school. Alpha coefficients of reliability were
calculated and reported among the different subsets of questions on the TBPS; each of the
alpha scores showed moderate to strong reliability. Use of the TBPS further establishes
triangulation, as data was gathered through observation, interview and by survey.
To further insure reliability, the researcher used observation, interview, and survey
protocols that are research-based, and that have been used (teacher observations and
interviews) on multiple occasions. The researcher pilot tested use of the protocols by
observing a teacher who is not a part of this study. A transcription of the observation
session was provided to this teacher. Feedback was solicited from the teacher in order to
ensure that the researcher has generated an accurate portrait of this classroom session.
FINDINGS AND ANALYSIS
The purpose of this chapter is to present the findings related to each research
Research Question 1) To What Extent Are FCAT Scores based on Outside Factors
such as Race, SES and Size of the School?
Analysis of 2003 10th grade FCAT Reading (Peabody, 2004, unpublished) showed
that race and SES of students accounted for 52% of the variance in the scores, and an
insignificant relationship between size of the school and FCAT scores. Subsequently,
that data was used to identify high performing and low performing schools on the FCAT,
for the purposes of conducting this study. Students' performance on the 2004 FCAT
Reading test at each of the four participating schools is consistent with the level of
performance measured and utilized with the 2003 FCAT data. Fewer than 40% of
students at Jackson HS and at Pine Crest HS, low performing schools, passed the 2004
FCAT Reading test, while over 65% of students at Athens HS and at Hamilton HS, high
performing schools, passed this same test. Analysis of 2004 10th grade FCAT Reading
scores confirmed the relationship between race, SES and FCAT Reading scores.
Research Question 2) What Are the Instructional Practices among Teachers of
Students in High Performing Schools and among Teachers of Students in Low
Data gathered from each of the four selected schools illustrate characteristic
instructional strategies that were observed at the low performing and high performing
schools. (Italicized material contained in this text is taken directly from field notes or
At both of the classrooms in high performing schools, the researcher observed
several instances of student-led activities, the provision of student choice in the
curriculum, and an emphasis on reading-related activities and assignments, both in and
out of the classroom. In both settings, higher order thinking skills were emphasized.
Talking specifically about the FCAT was rare among the teacher or the students.
Student-directed learning was part of the normal daily routine in these classrooms.
For example, notes from an observation in Ms. Kelly's class at Athens High School
illustrate this point: The class begins n i/lt student presentations using PowerPoint and a
projector. Two to three students are working together on their presentation. One student
from the first group conducts the PowerPoint presentation. She is talking about phrases.
The teacher is sitting at a student desk, listening to the presentation. The rest of the class
is listening to the presentation silently. Their attention seems to be focused on the dry
erase board in the front of the room, where the projector is projecting the slide show.
The presentation lasts about five minutes.
Book talk activities were common in Ms. Kelly's class at Athens HS, as well as
Ms. Davis' class at Hamilton HS. During Ms. Kelly's 10th grade Honors English class:
The teacher announces that it is time to resume "Book Talks." After she goes to her desk
at the back of the room and sits down, one student walks to the front of the room, stands
next to the overhead. First, he briefly summarizes the book "Hitchhiker 's Guide to the
Galaxy. He discussed the setting of the book, alohg n i/t literary concepts such
allusions and foreshadowing. Other students remain quiet during the student's
presentation, and they ask him questions about the book. Several students are observed
writing down information about the book in their notebooks.
Both teachers provided rubrics, as a means to assess students' work and provided
them with a framework for conducting student-led activities within class. Ms. Davis'
rubric for the "Book Talk" assignment was straightforward: One student walks up to the
front of the room to present his "Book talk" on "Secrets of the .\/hlb/i'. He stands next
to the overhead talking about the book. Meanwhile, the teacher is seated at her desk in
the back of the room. She is sorting materials, as well as asking the presenter questions
about his book. The rest of the class listens quietly to the presentation, some of them are
writing. The teacher asks the student presenter information about the author. Next, the
teacher instructs him to pick a passage and read it to the class. He opens the book and
reads aloud for about two or three minutes. The class listens. When he concludes, they
applaud. Several students in the class, ahlo n i th the teacher, talk about where this book
is in relation to a series of books. The student presenter sits down. The teacher calls on
several students and asks them specific questions about the bookjust presented, such as
the title, the setting, and literary terms discussed by the presenter. The teacher's use of
questioning during and after this presentation demonstrated what information she
expected students to convey through these presentations.
Scaffolding and providing opportunities for students to engage in active learning
were present in work assigned in Ms. Davis' class: The teacher, standing by the
overhead at the front of the room, tells students to get out their Caesar folders and six
sheets of blank paper, as she turns off the overhead quiz. The teacher explains that the
six pieces ofpaper will be used asfoldables. She tells the students that they will be
responsiblefor 30 vocabulary terms from Julius Caesar by the end of the unit. Next, she
turns the overhead back on, and on a blank transparency, begins writing words from the
play down in groups offive. She writes down six groups, for a total of 30 words. She
tells students to draw four lines on their six pieces ofpaper, creating five columns on
each piece. Students begin doing so amidst chatter.
The teacher announces to the class that she will determine when the class is done
ii ith this by looking at who can be done first. The class works faster at finishing.
Students write the terms down in lthir notebooks. As both teacher and students write, the
teacher asks the class to state the meanings of these words, and/or gives them clues as to
the definitions of these terms. She tells students that each student will be responsible for
presenting a word to the class from the list. Several hands go up at once, as students
volunteer to choose words they would like to present. The teacher tells them to pick
words they do not already know well. The teacher writes down in her folder which
student is presenting each word.
After each student has been assigned one word, the teacher tells the class that the
remaining words will be extra credit, but that she won't give any extra credit to students
that don't need it. There is substantial chatter in the room during this activity, most of it
revolving around who will choose what terms. All of the students are writing, some of the
students are teasing each other or joking about the vocabulary terms, using them out of
context or in funny sounding ways. The teacher calls on several students by name, and
tells them that they are going to be responsible for presenting their words on Thursday to
the class. She gently teases them, ,,vi ng. "We're counting on you. This activity lasts
about 25 minutes.
Students in both settings appeared knowledgeable regarding their student-led
activities. They often went beyond the boundaries of an assignment in the preparation of
student-directed activities, as evidenced in Ms. Kelly's class: The next group begins
setting up. The chatter resumes as they set up their presentation. Two students conduct
this presentation; they are wearing matching red shirts. One shirt says "Upper case S, "
the other, "lower case s. They point this out to the class, when they announce that dlwir
presentation is about capitalization. The teacher is sitting at the same student desk as
before, listening to the presentation. The class audience is attentive and listening to this
PowerPoint presentation. One student asks a question about capitalization, which the
The presenters explain that their game will involve correcting capitalization errors
in a PowerPoint presentation, using one of two "magic wands" they created. The
function of one wand is to fix errors that need capital letters, while the other wand willfix
errors in words that are capitalized when they should not be. Volunteers come up two at
a time toplay the game. Players point i//h their wand at the error on the board Once
they have spotted all the errors, one of the presenters changes the slide to reveal the
corrected (and highlighted) errors. Each of the slides they use contains a quote from,
and a scene from a movie.
Making learning fun was emphasized in both settings. A representative example
from Ms. Kelly's class follows:
A second student from the group sets up a game for the class to play. Using
masking tape, he taped foldedpieces ofpaper across an open doorway in the back of the
room. The teacher helps the student presenters explain the concept of "extended
p/hl, Ie, "as the rest of the class listens, and the second student set up for the game. While
he was setting up for the game, there was a lot of chatter in the room. Once the taping
was finished, he explained that students were to use a plastic toy dart gun to shoot darts
at the hangingpapers. Students volunteered to play. As students were called on by the
student running the game, they came, one at a time, to the middle of the room a few feet
away from the targets in the back of the room. Students were attentive and seemed to
enjoy playing the game or watching others play. The entire class seemed to be engaged in
the activity. A total offour students played as they grabbed the gun and shot the targets.
When one was hit, the student running the game would grab the paper that was hit by the
player, read aloud a phrase and asked the class to identify the type ofphrase read.
Students would raise thwir hand to give the answer. One student played a noisemaker
when other students answered questions correctly. The student running the game called
on other students to answer these questions. The teacher was sitting on a counter on the
side of the room during this game while the students took turns playing the game. The
class laughed when each student aimed at the targets. The teacher was heard telling one
student, jokingly, "Don't go to the police academy." After 20 minutes, the teacher
instructed the class, "Give these two applause."
Students in Ms. Davis' class seemed to have fun as well, while engaged in
literature-based activities: After assigning students to read Acts 3-5 ofJulius Caesar,
Ms. Davis told her students that the class would divide parts of the play by group and
that they will be responsible for putting scenes from the play in students' own language.
"Turn to page 776," the teacher says. She conducted a "walk through" of selected scenes
from the play. After getting a student to volunteer to be Julius Caesar, she handed him a
laminated piece of notebook size paper that says "Caesar." She walked across the room
to a storage area, pulled out a purple sheet, and handed it to Caesar for his toga. The
student puts the "toga" on as the class laughs. Next, she handed him a purple bike
helmet, and explained that Caesar should also have a purple crown. Next, the teacher
asked students to volunteer for the roles of Calpurnia and the ,,,ith,\i) ei. She gave
Calpurnia a purple sheet and bike helmet. She handed the \,,rir1\her an orange sheet.
She explains that the v,,rith1\oer should be somewhat "creepy." The student acted the
part. The class laughed. She assigned the role ofBrutus to another student and handed
him a blue sheet. She assigned the role ofMarc Antony to another student and gave him
a cap to wear. She assigned other students to serve as some of the other conspirators
against Caesar. They received sheets or towels which the students served as togas.
Students laughed at each other as the actors tried on their costumes. One student actor
said "Ay Carramba!" when he looked at his costume. Each of the actors has a script
card in hand, similar to the one that was given to "Caesar."
Both teachers consistently displayed a high level of rapport with their students.
Technological innovations, such as PowerPoint presentations, or other, more traditional
props, were utilized by both teachers to foster learning and interest in language arts.
Both classrooms were positive learning environments. Students were generally
attentive to, and participated in, the lesson or activity, regardless of whether such
activities were student-led or teacher-led, as evidenced by the above excerpts. Both
teachers planned creative and entertaining lessons for their students on a regular basis,
activities that gave students ample opportunities to develop their reading and writing
skills, such as "Music Journals:" At the beginning of class, Ms. Kelly instructed students
to get their journals out. The teacher and one student joke about how the teacher almost
tripped and fell. Next, the teacher walked over to the stereo andput in a CD,
"Loveshack" by the B-52 's. As the students listen to the song they remain silent. A few
students are writing. The teacher remained at the front of the room during this time. She
took roll silently, and then got a small book off of her desk. The entire songplayed. At
the end of the song, the teacher told the students to start writing. She played the song a
second time, yet she turned the volume down slightly. Students began writing in their
The teacher walked over to a student desk, sat down, and began writing in her
book. The class remained quiet. Most of the students continued to write in their journal
while the song isplayedfor the second time. Towards the end of this activity, afew
students begin quietly mouthing the words of the song. As the secondplaying of the song
ends, two students raise their hands. The teacher calls on one of them. The student reads
aloud what she wrote in her journal as the music played. The class listens quietly. The
teacher gets up, goes over to the stereo and takes the CD out. She hands it to another
student seated at her desk. The student called upon by the teacher talks about going to a
"Mega Comn" convention. The teacher calls on the second student volunteer. This
student talks about the beat of the song and quotes lines from it. Several hands go up.
The teacher calls on three more students. The first student jokes about how another
student has a girlfriend. The class laughs. The next student tells the class that she
remembers "Loveshack" as the first song she ever danced to.
The teacher tells the student who brought in the CD that this song was a good
choice for their Music Journal activity on that day. The class applauds. The next student
talks about whales and how he remembered another story. The class laughs. More
students volunteer to speak. The teacher calls on afew more. One student talks about
the song how he free associated thoughts and ideas during the song. Another student
talks about how the song seems to always be played at weddings. The class is attentive;
occasionally there are comments on what students said in relation to their music
journals. The topic of school dances comes up, and the teacher jokes in ith the class about
how students act at school dances. While standing at the front of the classroom, the
teacher reads from her music journal. Meanwhile, the class listens quietly. This activity
lasted about twenty five minutes.
Classroom management or discipline-related issues were rare in both classes, and
never consisted of more than a few minutes of chatter. In both classes, students were
easily redirected towards the class activity by the teacher.
In the low performing schools, there was a high level of teacher-directed activity.
Students were given no opportunity to lead the class or to conduct any significant,
curriculum-related activities in class. Table 4.1 shows the difference between high and
low performing schools with respect to the amount of time spent in teacher-directed vs.
Table 4-1. Amount of time spent engaged in student-directed activities
High Performing Schools Low Performing Schools
Athens HS Hamilton HS Jackson HS Pine Crest HS
Minutes in student-directed 150 80 0 0
Percentage of class time in 60% 32% 0% 0%
At the low performing schools, none of the instructional time was student-directed.
About 60% and 32% of the instructional time at the high performing schools consisted of
student-directed activities. Ms. Wallace announces to her students that the benchmark
for this week is inferencing. She asks the students to explain how the plot of a story is
like a roller coaster. She draws a bell curve on the board at the front of the room as she
explains. She writes the different parts of a plot in corresponding places along the curve,
and then she returns to the middle of the room. She explains the different elements of a
plot, and compares it to a Lifetime movie. Next, she asks students what it is called when
they learn about characters and the setting. One student replies, "exposition." Next, she
talks about conflict and climax. She hands out a worksheet to the students, and tells them
to draw a graphic organizer before reading. Students listen, give out answers, and write
graphic organizers during this time.
Next, the teacher reads the story "Bedtime Story" aloud (on the worksheets she just
handed out to the class). She reads the story aloud while the students listen and read
along silently. The teacher asks the students about the story. She asks them, "Where do
you picture the story?" A discussion of the story begins, led by the teacher. Students
continue to listen, and answer questions. The teacher is breaking down the elements of a
story generally and this story specifically. She asks them when the climax of this story
occurs. When no one provides a correct answer the teacher talks about the movie
Halloween as an example of another horror story. One half of the class remains attentive
while they try to figure out the elements of this story. One student is wearing headphones
and a hood on. Another has his head down on the desk while the teacher is talking. The
teacher tells students to answer questions about the story (characters, setting, the
problem and the resolution) in their journals. She directs them to get out their Holt
Readers when they have finished writing. The teacher circulates around the room and
collects worksheets from students. One at a time, students finish writing, close their
journals, and then get out a textbook.
Reading activities unrelated to the FCAT were not stressed in either setting, the
FCAT itself was mentioned frequently by both teachers as well as the students.
As Ms. Wallace walked around the room, at one point she asked students, "How
long until the FCA T? In response, several students began talking about the FCA T
During this discussion, the teacher explained what a norm-referenced test is, and
described the relationship between testing and the No Child Left Behind Act. She told
her students when the FCAT was going to be administered. She also told her students
that their last benchmark activity will be on Friday. Students begin getting their journals
and start writing. One student hands out snacks to a couple other students. One student
asks the teacher what to do if he has lost his journal. One student who is listening to
headphones does not appear to be working. Next, she hands out to students copies of an
article (ii ith questions) titled "When Teachers are Cheaters. The article is about
teachers helping students cheat on standardized tests. She divides the class into groups
of three or four students and assigns each group part of the reading and related
questions. The teacher tells them she will read the first paragraph aloud to get them
started and begins reading.
Although most of the students in Ms. Fernandez' class have already left, the
remaining students begin to lk n ith one another. One student says that she hates
school. Others say that they hate preparingfor the FCAT. The teacher returns to the
front of the room after hanging up the phone. Students begin talking to her in a mix of
Spanish and English. One student talks about the stress of getting ready for the FCAT in
Many of the classroom learning activities stressed lower order thinking and
learning skills. In both settings, there was a low level of interest or participation in the
learning process by students.
Ms. Wallace reviews the T chart created last week as well as the story and the
questions that were placed in the margin. She asks students to discuss the significance of
the story's elements. The students are quiet and some remain attentive. However, two
students are looking at CD's. Another student (different than above) has his head down.
Another student is looking at a magazine. The teacher begins by reading questions out of
the Holt textbook and tries to get students to talk about or relate to iiheme, in the story.
She uses the example of laughing at a funeral. One student describes similar examples of
having laughed at church.
Low student interest in learning was apparent. Ms. Fernandez re-reads the passage
to the class about stew. She asks the students if they know what stew is. Students laugh
as the teacher is talking; much of the laughter does not seem to involve the lesson. Two
or three students are pounding on their desks, simulating a drum beat. Several students
are p lying ni ith their locks. The teacher continues to stand at the overhead in the front
of the room. She tells the class that the setting of the story is a kitchen. Next, she asks
the students to determine what season the story was set in. The teacher asks the class to
identify words in the passage that point out the story is set in the winter. Chatter and the
beating on desks continue throughout this discussion.
The teacher reads the questions on the overhead regarding the setting of the story.
Next, she puts a second transparency on, and tells the class how to determine the
characters in a story. Chatter continues. Some students begin yawning loudly. The
teacher asks the class generally what characters are in a story. One student answers that
characters are people. Another says they could be animals. The teacher says that
characters could be animals, people, monsters, etc. The teacher states that all characters
have feelings. At this point, five students have their heads down. Chatter continues. The
teacher goes to the five students n i/h their heads down one at a time, taps them on their
shoulders, and says, "guys." Two of them pick up their heads. The teacher reads a
secondpassage. There is a lot of chatter in the room as the teacher reads. This passage
is about moving and the feelings it generates. The teacher circulates, talks to individual
students, and reads questions regarding the passage. The teacher gets some of the
students to describe the characters' emotions based on the reading.
The teacher reads and re-reads questions on the overhead transparency about the
story. Laughter among students continues. The teacher stops talking and looks at one of
the students that have been laughing intermittently throughout this portion of the class.
She does not say anything to him. "Sorry, Miss" he says, as the laughter continues.
Seven students have their heads down. One student raises his hand and talks about
mixed feelings he has had about moving. The teacher talks about inferring information
from a passage. She turns the lights on and hands out a worksheet. Chatter, yawning
and the beating on desks continue.
Table 4-2. Mean number of reprimands issued by teacher per period observed
Athens HS Hamilton HS Jackson HS Pine Crest HS
N 0.8 1.8 2.6 2.0
Table 4.2 above shows that in low performing schools teachers were more likely to
reprimand their students than were teachers in high performing schools. Students in high
performing settings seemed to be more engaged than the students observed in low
performing school settings. Classroom management issues impeded instruction
frequently during Ms. Fernandez' Pine Crest High School classes: Throughout this
discussion, several students listened silently, while others talked among 1theinel\ 'e
About four students had their heads down early in this activity while later there were as
many as six heads down. Another student yawned. Other students displayed off-task and
inattentive behavior while the teacher reads from the book. When one of the three
students volunteering answers said, "It's on page 193. Another student, who had not
been paying attention up to that point, said loudly, "Who said that? Many students
appear to tune out the discussion of the reading. One or two were seen listening to
portable CD players while another was looking through his CD's. One checks her hair
in a small mirror. Another student plays i/ ith a hair brush. Another one quietly
rearranges books on a shelf next to his seat. Two or three students wrote andpassed
notes back and forth. Another student looked at some of the cash in his hands. On at
least six occasions during this activity, the teacher announced that there was too much
noise in the room. Ms. Fernandez stopped and talked i iith one student at length about
his inattentive behavior.
As demonstrated by the vignettes above, students frequently were off-task. Acts of
defiance towards the teacher were commonplace. For example, Ms. Fernandez asks
students general questions about setting in stories. One student began talking about the
teacher and she stated that the teacher "is getting on my case." The teacher looks at her,
but did not say anything. A minute later, the same student again stated that the teacher
was getting on her case. The teacher calls this student outside. "Bye guys; I'll see you
later, the student stated as she was leaving the room.
In another instance, students banded together in an act of group defiance, fostered
by a sense of confusion on campus that morning: The teacher then reads the directions
contained in the overhead aloud. She asks students what words will identify the setting of
a story. Students chatted and some began hissing. Two students shout out for passes,
one of them for the fourth time. The teacher re-states that students are to be called to
their lockers. Students argued i i/h the teacher and stated that they need to go to their
lockers. Next, an announcement came on again, telling teachers that they could send as
many as five or six students at a time to their lockers, if they have lockers in building 100.
Before the announcement was finished, about 20 students stood up and left the room
1 ithlnut a word from the teacher.
Student outbursts, usually unrelated to the lesson, were frequent in number, as
reflected by the number of teacher reprimands listed in Table 4.2. Several students came
to class late on each of the five days when observation occurred. Participation in these
lessons frequently consisted of students randomly shouting out answers to questions
posed by the teacher. After reading a sentence, Ms. Fernandez asks the class what the
sentence means. Then she begins to read again. After reading a passage for
approximately three or four minutes, she reads a question in the booklet based on that
reading and the multiple choice answers. Several students offer answers A, B, C, andD
aloud. The teacher asks, "How many agree on A? A few hands go up. "Is that what it
says? asks the teacher, "B? Next, she calls on a particular student for the second
question. She re-reads the question. Students (including the one called upon) give two
different answers. "Let's look back at the l itil,'. the teacher says. The teacher re-
reads that portion of the text. The passage is about the gi ,n th ofphotocopying and the
environmental hazards associated i ith photocopying.
In both settings students acted as passive recipients of knowledge. Student interest
in learning, and in the classroom activities, was observed to be very low. Students often
were inattentive. The teacher frequently had to redirect students' off-task behavior. In
Ms. Wallace's class at Jackson High School chatter continued over the teacher's verbal
directions. The teacher called one off-task student by name and said "Alright. She
pointed to another student and motioned for her to sit down. She told another student to
"concentrate and turn around." The teacher distributed a packet and a separate
worksheet to each of the students. One student asks the meaning of the bell work quote.
The teacher read and explained it. The chatter continues among several students. The
teacher said, "One, two, three, four, five, six people talking. Stop." On another
occasion, she spoke to a student who had not begun working several times. Students
were instructed to read the packet and answer the questions based on the reading.
In classrooms, at least one student, and often more than one, was observed with
his/her head down for substantial amounts of time during instruction. This activity was
often overlooked by both teachers. Students in both classrooms frequently were seen
playing with cell phones, CD players, and other gadgets, rather than completing assigned
work. Student chatter, unrelated to the content or lesson, was commonplace in both
settings. Ms. Wallace redirected off-task behavior more frequently than Ms. Fernandez.
In Ms. Fernandez' ESOL class, students often appeared frustrated with the learning
process: Ms. Fernandez asks students what the conflict in the story is. Students guess.
Next, she asks them when the turning point occurs in the story, and what is the resolution.
Students pass notes during this discussion. One student replies that, "... the bears were
smoking weed." Students laugh. Other students yawn loudly. One states, "This is
boring." One of the students asks loudly, "What's the whole point of this?" At this point,
the teacher has already told the students to listen twice. She tells another student, "You
can't continue talking." He replies, "whatever."
The teacher removes the first overhead and replaces it n ith another that showed a
graphic outline of the elements of a plot. Next, she leads a discussion about a poem that
appears on the secondpage of the packet. She asks the class what a eulogy is. Several
students guess at once, out loud. None of them are correct. The chatter continues. "Let
her teach! one student says. One student tells another, "Stop talking, idiot! "
The teacher tells the class to read the poem silently to themselves, and underline
any words in the poem that they do not recognize. Some of the students read the poem
while others do not. The chatter continues. The teacher asks the class to tell her what
words they underlined. One student says "shrunken." Another student says, "You don't
know what shrunken means?!?" The teacher tells them it's based on the word "shrink."
Several students identify "sphinx" as an unfamiliar word. The teacher asks the class if
they know what it means. Several students guess a variety of answers and blurt them out
loud. The teacher tells them to visualize witilh'ilig
The teacher asks the class what the poem means. One student raises his hand, asks
what sphinx means. The teacher says again, just visualize v,,iiie/ing She asks the class
what the poem is about. Chatter and laughter among the students continues. Among the
chatter, one student asks another who the main character is in the poem. Students guess
out loud about the meaning of the poem. The teacher reads the poem out loud. Some
students do not read aloug n ith her. One student says, "I still don't know what sphinx
means." Two students in the back of the classroom begin to playfully slap one another.
The other student tells the first one to leave her alone. Students tell each other to "shut
up" several times during this activity.
Teaching and learning activities in the low performing school classrooms were
mostly teacher-directed. However, the teachers tried to engage their students in the
lesson or activity by posing questions that were designed to encourage their participation.
Ms. Wallace frequently connected elements of the curriculum to things the students could
Ms. Wallace tells students that they will read an article from their text and answer
questions based on it just like they will do on the FCAT. She tells them to turn to page
nine of their workbooks, rip out the page, and then get their textbooks from the shelf She
tells them to turn to page 105 in their texts. As students complete these tasks, she asks
them if any of them have lived in New York. She asks them if any of them know what PS
stands for in New York. With afew hints from the teacher, students eventually figure out
that it stands for "public school."
The teacher rings the bell on her desk a total of three times during this activity
when students provide correct answers. The teacher is setting the context for the story
the class is about to read. She explains what PS and IS mean. She tells students about
the New York middle school that is the subject of the story they are about to read. She
discusses the concept of a "melting pot" and its significance in American culture. She
contrasts the meltingpot idea i i/th the idea that America is a "salad. Students listen to
the teacher and guess answers to questions she asks them.
The teacher asks them if they know anyone whose parents or grandparents came
here from another country, and how the parents or grandparents speak their ancestral
language, while their kids speak English. A few students nodded in agreement. She
explained how the middle school they will read about might be considered a "melting
pot. She talked about how students moving to Florida from the Midwest might find a
friend in thewi new school and how they might get that friend to show them what kinds of
clothing styles to wear. At one point during this discussion, the teacher said, "I know,
I'm old and slow." A student responded, "No, you're not. "
Frequently students in the low performing classroom settings did not actively, or
appropriately, participate in the lesson. Assignments in both classrooms consisted often
of seatwork that explicitly related to the Sunshine State Standards benchmarks and the
Research Question 3) What Are the Instructional Beliefs among Teachers at High
Performing and Low Performing Schools?
High Performing Schools
The interviews revealed that Ms. Kelly, at Athens High School, and Ms. Davis, at
Hamilton High School, each hold an open and dynamic view of the curriculum and
believe that curriculum is a reciprocal rather than a linear process. Both teachers stressed
their belief that the curriculum should be tailored to the students' needs. They also
mentioned that the curriculum decisions they make do not consider the FCAT
specifically. They also asserted that they do not "teach to the test." Ms. Davis states, "I
want them to have attached language, againfor themselves, have those basic skills, so
they can attack any piece of literature, (whatever) anybody decides all of a sudden is the
tenth grade book. I think right now, a lot of teachers are getting bogged down thinking
that language arts is all about FCAT, and it's not, that'sjust a basic myth. Um, my
biggest compliment, now I've heard a second student tell another teacher, that I don't
teach FCAT, I teach. And, they've really enjoyed that this year, because they're not
Ms. Kelly stated that, "Teachers sometimes lose sight of the fact that it's skills
we're IteA hi lug. it's not necessarily teaching to a test. I think this is a misconception.
We're teaching them the skills they should be able to do in any situation, if it's the SAT or
the FCAT orjust a test in their class, or some type of assessment in chorus, there are
certain skills that they need to be successful."
Both teachers emphasized that teaching and learning in the language arts classroom
should be student-centered. According to Ms. Kelly, "Students... are my biggest
influence. What are they interested in? What do they watch? What do they listen to?
What do they read? They are my number one influence because I can take what they
need to know, and apply it to what they want to know, and therefore they're going to
remember it a lot better. "
The teachers reported that their learning did not remain static over time and that
they made adjustments as needed on an annual, monthly, or even daily basis. Ms. Kelly
states that, "Here's this lump of clay that Florida gave me, and I'm going to mold it into
\i, ethlling that's going to work for the kids I have this year. Every year, you get a
different set of kids, I don't know that I've ever, even the years that I taught ninth grade
English four years in a row, I never taught it the same way twice. You don't know what
you're going to get, and so I think, in terms of influencing curriculum, I think it's the
teacher's individual willingness to be an active part of creating that curriculum, molding
it to fit their needs."
These teachers reported that they were proponents of giving students real choices,
decision-making power, and ownership over aspects of curriculum planning. Ms. Kelly
had a "Novel of the Month" assignment for her students. She explained that: "I have
them read a novel of the month outside of class, to foster independent ending. [and]
hopefully a love of li ig. I give them a genre, but I let them pick [the actual title] in
that genre. Usually, like right now they're doing poetry, so they have to read ten poems
by the same poet, or ten poets about the same subject, or theme. I've had [topics such
as]published from 2000 or newer, science fiction fantasy month, children's books, I
actually have them read a number of children's books and talk about the lessons you can
learn. Projects range from making a movie poster about your book, to actual analysis of
literary elements: character, plot, conflict, setting, and those types of things.
The projects that I got for the last one, they had to read a self-help book, or a
cookbook, or a how-to book, or ii,,mthinig like that, so I got lots offood items that I think
that, for the self-help books, they connected iith whatever it was they were assigned to
get help on, ii shelter it was ADD, um, Linda, the noisemaker (laughs), she read a book
about, almost a Seven Habits kind of book, but a little bit different, she created two photo
essays of this is when you 're doing all the positive things that it tells you to do, and she
used it as a model, and when you turned the poster over, her sister did all of the opposite
thing% ... her being able to put that much creativity and thought into it, she really liked
being able to express herself that way, so I may try that next year, also letting them have
a month, 'OK, you pick the topic, whatever. In retrospect, I want some type ofproposal,
in i ilig. from them, because it's almost a little scary, to not know what I was going to
get from someone, but I want to say, 90 percent of them were appropriate."
Ms. Davis requires students to read outside of class every week. The benefits of
this assignment are many. She explained that: "Every child is required to read 50 pages
a week for regular, 75pages a week for honors, a book of their choice, and every Friday
in my classroom, they write me about it and I bring in literary terms... they might write a
paragraph about whatever they read that week. And then, I bring in some fun things like,
illustrate a book cover, or add a symbol to the cover, um, I'll ask about the author. I try
to give them a couple of questions they can choose between that are open-ended, and I'll
have a pretty good idea, by the time they 've finished answering it, ii heiher or not they're
really reading. [After] they finish the three pages of iI i ting. which is expository ii, ng.
they do a summary of what they read that week. And, they get pretty excited about it, so
that they go from thinking that they can't write three pages to thinking that they can't
read 50, to coming in andfinding out that they sometimes have read a couple of novels
during the week. They 've found one author that they really love, it spreads like wildfire
through the classroom that 'this guy is really cool, read him. So, they get very excited
about it, and it's all based on their choice, because I don't read fantasy anymore, but
there's a whole group that's into fantasy, a whole group that's into action, a whole group
that's into realistic, whole groups that are into what they call pimp books, which are a
little bit on the racy side, but as long as their parents approve, they go for it. So, they 're
reading what are really 350 to 400 page adult novels, happen to have maybe a bit of a
teenage, maybe college flair to them. Lots of sex, lots of relationships, but it's a
beginning. Because you can lead them from that very easily to Grisham and on to
i in,,etilng else that has maybe a little less sex (laughs), and they have to use their
imagination a little bit more. So, they take all these skills and that's where I basically see
most of my gi fil th/. That's what I attribute to most of the gi fll I/i in heir t li///.
because they've been duped into eit li//. and then moving into a higher level i ith the
writing, so the literature that we do in class is where I teach the strategies." During their
interviews Ms. Davis and Ms. Kelly reported that an emphasis on teaching and learning
literacy skills weighed heavily in their curriculum planning.
These teachers made statements that suggested they had a high level of efficacy.
Ms. Kelly stated that: "I believe that I can teach any subject that needed to be taught.
Because really, I teach life skills. I use English as my vehicle to help them think. I
create, no I foster, thinking. And, being lifelong learners, and always going back out
there and retraining yourself and I always tell them that even at my age, I'm still
learning new things, and you know, I could teach math and still have the same
philosophy about wanting them to be lifelong learners and I can tell them they're going
to use any class that they take in life, they think that they 're not. When am I ever going to
use this, but, they do, they just, it's not a literal translation of the Odyssey into my
regular job at Burger King."
Ms. Davis had a practical perspective on teaching and learning in her class. She
stated that she wanted students to be able to use and develop literacy skills that would
serve them in the marketplace. "I think I'm a very practical teacher, I'm finding that out
more as I l, lk i/ ith other teachers who are really into teaching literature. Having been in
the business world, I know that no one will ever ask you to write a Haiku, so all those
lessons were lost. I could have given them a great Haiku, but no, they never asked me for
it, nor wanted to pay me for it. So my stress is always on can you effectively
communicate. So, every lesson is geared towards that. If I can'tjustify the lesson in
terms of if he's going to end up being a mechanic, why they need it, then I usually don't
teach it, so I won't teach in the abstract. I teach pretty concrete, how to write, how to
communicate, how to make sure you're reading at a level that will be appropriate. "
Neither teacher plans their curriculum around texts, although both utilize texts to
suit their needs. Ms. Davis suggested that: "The whole guidance here is away from
textbooks, away from 'everybody in ninth grade has to read ninth, everybody in tenth
grade has to read,' I don't even know what you have to read in tenth grade. I guess you
have to read Julius Caesar. That's as close as my 'have to. So, I'm allowed to bring in
a lot ofpractices I've seen work in other places. I'm able to incorporate a lot. "
Ms. Kelly communicated genuine affection for her students, and stated that she
loves teenagers. Both teachers mentioned the importance of getting to know their
students, and doing so as early as possible. Ms. Kelly stated that: "I've spent a lot of time
getting to know my students and really it ties back to what... motivates my curriculum
planning, the students do. Whatever they are interested in; I know what I have to cover.
I'm point blank honest in lh them, 'We have to do this. I know that there are thing% you
want to do, and I'll try to make them mesh together as well as I can, Being able to have
a certain level of sarcasm and fun ii ith them goes so far. They sometimes say, 'Iwish all
my teachers were like you. And then I remind them that if all their teachers were like
me, then I would 't be so special. And I think that I've spent a lot of time, since I started
Ate' hing,,. becoming that person that I'm always available to them, they can email me,
because that's where my teachers were for me. I had great teachers like that, and so I
just think I try to emulate them a lot. And they 're fun. I love teenagers. I really do. All
the potential is right there. Some of them haven't been trained in how to use it, so
sometimes you have to manipulate that a little bit, but I really I think they're great kids."
She stressed that she remained available to students outside of class time to help
them with research projects and homework.
Both teachers reported that their school-based administrators are supportive of their
efforts, but they added that administrators still keep a close eye on teachers because of the
importance that FCAT scores hold. Ms. Davis and Ms. Kelly reported that inherently
tenth grade language arts teachers feel pressure from this high stakes test. Despite the
success her school has had with students passing the FCAT, Ms. Davis shared that there
was a new emphasis this year on teaching to the test and utilizing district-generated
assessments. Ms. Davis asserted that these assessments are more of a hindrance than a
help and pointed out that they do not necessarily correspond to the FCAT or the
benchmarks assessed on the FCAT. "Because of the failing schools, it's supposed to be a
requirement that as ofAugust, but then it got blown out of the water. We were supposed
to do monthly assessments, and then teachers complained because, they were like, OK,
monthly assessments, how do you know they 're the same as that assessment and they
wanted us to be breaking it down by, so it looked very much FCA Tish, so we could say
words and phrases go here, comparison and contrast go there, reference and research go
there, and we could analyze every student by their four categories. So most teachers
freaked out, the county decided that they would provide the test, don't worry, but then we
had more to worry about, because as I mentioned, they (the district) never could do it.
They never did it. "
Low Performing Schools
The FCAT itself received much more consideration from Ms. Fernandez at Pine
Crest High School and Ms. Wallace at Jackson High School, the two participants from
low performing schools. Both of these teachers discussed the pressure they felt from the
FCAT, coupled with the historically low scores associated with their students. In 2004,
both schools received F grades from the state. As a result, the state and district had
gotten involved in curriculum decisions made for language arts classes at their schools.
Ms. Fernandez reported that: "They (the district) have to analyze the data, the data that
we have from all the testing, analyzing the data, you can use that data to develop
activities, and it's a lot, it's so much for us, at least I, maybe because I'm new here, but I
heard other teachers say, 'Wow, this is too much.' I don't know if it's the same in other
schools, I guess it's not that, I guess it's the pressure of the test, because we have the F
grade. I think it has a lot to do i//h it. "
Ms. Wallace characterized the extent to which the FCAT, and the state, are
involved in the language arts curriculum at Jackson High School as: "working at Jackson,
the FCAT has had a direct influence on what we are asked/required to do in a language
arts class. It was, 'you will do this small focus thing to work specifically on FCAT
because that is how, you the school, will be judged. You will do it this way. And it was
put very nicely, but these messages, you will do it this way. In that case, FCA T has had a
direct effect on what we do here and how we teach." Perhaps as a result of this outside
involvement, both of the low performing school teachers viewed curriculum as being
more linear, or top-down, than did Ms. Kelly or Ms. Davis.
Both Ms. Wallace and Ms. Fernandez stressed the importance of teaching the
benchmarks. For Ms. Fernandez, the benchmarks were the key factor in lesson planning,
"The benchmarks that we have to teach to, we have to teach that in order to, it follows
that. Anything else, you're wasting you 're time, because they're going to be tested on
that. You know, the FCAT, it puts a lot ofpressure. Bilingual standards, state standards.
Well, it (the benchmarks) keeps you on track. It influences you, and you have to keep
track of what you 've done, and what needs to be done still, and where you are. (You)
cover them in the lessons you teach the students. No matter what you 're teA tl hing,. that
has to be covered. It keeps you on track, as what needs to be done."
Ms. Wallace reported that other teachers, professional development workshops,
and the students are the biggest influences on her regarding curriculum. "Well I like to
steal from other people, who are doing thing\ that I ihinlk i /Atk ith students that help
them, things that are really solid lessons, different teachers that teach different courses
than mine, and some of that is student knowledge, ifI were, the coursework that I've
taken is so far in the past, that I think I have, all the coursework is your foundational
stuff that you have to grow beyond that or, you're not going to be at the student's level,
so I do belong to the NCTE. Ms. Wallace stated that she believed it was important to
account for individual differences among students when planning curriculum. Her
teaching philosophy incorporated personality theory. She stated that she gave students a
personality inventory and considered student personalities when designing lessons.
Ms. Wallace and Ms. Fernandez both discussed the importance of the Assistance
Plus Plan, and/or the mini-lessons associated with this state-based plan for failing
schools. Ms. Wallace lamented about the amount of instructional time lost to Assistance
Plus, noting that teachers must incorporate it into their curriculum somehow, "Jackson in
particular, because of the multiple F grades, is basically under mandate from the state to
perform under the Assistance Plus program. And so, because we are a school that has
adopted Assistance Plus, school wide, there are curricular mini-lessons that go i/th the
benchmarks that we have to do everyday. So there's a mini lesson at the beginning of
each period, so that's \,inehiiig you have to incorporate into whatever you're doing.
And so, you also have to be cognizant of that, and you don't want it to be a ten minute
vacuum at the beginning of class, you have to be able to connect it ii ith other thing\ that
you've planned, so that they can see how it all works together. So, specifically, at
Jackson, at this time and place, that's \,inwethiig that we're having to work consciously
at, integrating that... in order to teach the mini lesson, it's supposed to be ten minutes at
the beginning of class, so what that leaves me is ten minutes, 180 days, OK, that's 1800
minutes of instruction are specifically on the benchmark lessons, and that is time I do not
have to do other stuff Now, I'm not saying it's not valuable time, but it does impact how
you have to arrange the rest ofwhat you plan. So, you may have to cut out a short story,
or sometimes the benchmark assessment will bring up questions the students don't
understand and you have to go beyond your ten minutes, especially ifyou're trying to
integrate those mini lessons, trying to make them meaningful iith what you're doing
everyday, so there's going to be a lot of cross talk between here's what we do the first ten
minutes, and then here's what we're doing now, as opposed to just slicing off ten minutes
at the beginning of class, and saying that'sfor this program, and the rest of it is for what
we do, I don't think that's very smart teaching"
Because of the state's and district's emphasis on the Assistance Plus program, Ms.
Wallace uses assessment data to motivate her students, "With the mini lessons, the
benchmarks, we, in fact, I was showing them before they took the (FCAT), 'Look here are
the results from the benchmark test you took the beginning of the year, here are the
benchmarks, the first marking period, here they are at the second marking period, and
here you are now. Look how high some of these have gotten, 'and so sending them off
feeling at least that they, you know, asking them after the test, how did you feel about it,
and a lot of them, a couple of kids said, 'Well I probably didn 'tpass, but I think I did
much better than I did last year.' So, they weren't coming in all gloom and doom
thinking that they were going to die, I won't graduate high school, and some just felt
really confident. "
One recurrent theme in Ms. Fernandez' interview was the pressure and frustration
experienced by both students and teachers. Some of the frustration related to the
language barrier many of Ms. Fernandez' students faced: "And the problem was, that we
didn't get enough time for us to master the skills, and they were tested on it. So, they
were tested before they were ready, and as a result, they aren't gettingpassing scores,
because they didn't have enough time to really get it, and that touches a little bit, that
ESOL teachers are not satisfied, because you have to cover thing\ so rapidly, it was like,
boom! In a week, sometimes, and to test ESOL students on that after a semester, no way.
And we 're supposed to do those mini lessons to go parallel iith the FCA T, but it's so
hard, but now, after the FCAT, we're not just doing mini lessons, we're going to
incorporate everything in the I e i ing. going to do the literature readings, and in the
tenth grade it's easier to do that than in the ninth grade, because there's a lot of
Both teachers stressed the challenging nature of their school environments. They
focused on the need to understand and accommodate students of different cultural
backgrounds. Both schools have experienced a growth in recent years in the number of
students from a Haitian Creole background, while Pine Crest also has a large Hispanic
student population. Ms. Wallace argues that prejudice at Jackson High School is not
based on race, but on ethnicity, "This is a school that has a very large Haitian Creole
population, where we went from one ESOL teacher to two who teach all day long, and
both of them have to be Creole speakers. We do not have a large ESOL group that
speaks Spanish; they all speak Creole, which is different. That has brought some
interesting kind of dynamics to the kids here... So when you see prejudice at Jackson, it's
native versus islander prejudice, more than it is any racial, black/white or Hispanic.
That has changed the way that you approach certain things\ because you've got kids
coming from different countries, their context is completely different than what these kids
are from. Jackson High School has a long and proud tradition in its community,
however, as it has been a fixture in the city for over 80 years. Race itself was an
important topic for Ms. Wallace, as a Caucasian teacher in a largely African American
Ms. Fernandez, a 35 year teaching veteran in her first year teaching at Pine Ridge,
emphasized the need to focus on how to work with low level learners. Ms. Wallace also
discussed strategies for working with low level learners. Ms. Wallace, a 17 year teaching
veteran at Jackson discussed her role in what she termed the 'mama factor' at length.
"Well, many of our [students] are below grade level. So, several things. One is
personality. Sometimes kids below grade level have self-confidence issues. They've been
plowed over by their classmates. Some of it is the Mama factor. We have access in this
county to all kinds of testing information, so test score information is \ineihilig I try to
look at before I start a class. What does this class of students look like ? There are
distinct personalities in classes. That particular tenth grade class is very low. Most of
them are level one, a lot of kids came in as very low level ones. Many of them came in
way below grade level. It takes more, if you have to, ifyou're building context, you may
have to go three or steps further than a class that has more high level, two level students.
You have to build more contexts for them. You have to break down more stufffor them.
They will say, you need to break it down for us... So, in classes that are low level, I've
developed that habit over having years of low level performers, and so I try to break stuff
down, not to, 'Here's all the information you need,' but asking a lot of open, leading
questions that will get, if one of them will come through the door, because a lot of the
time, they 're very reticent to talk. Low level learners don't talk a lot in class, especially
in this class, because then you're stupid, so they've learned to shut up and be quiet. They
just don't talk, so you have to break it down and give them an opening, and once you get
one of them through the opening, then more of them are likely to jump in and say, OK
that's not a scary place, I can do that."
Getting to know her students is important to Ms. Wallace. She explained that: "A
lot of it is bedrock stuff that I always try to do i/th classes. Get to know them as
individuals, let them see me as an individual, who wants to help them, and someone that
is trying to grow them, and basically to feeding them, and kicking them out of the nest.
When they do this, it's not my job tofly them. You've got tofly on your own. I'll show
you what you need to do to help develop your wings, but those are your wings. I'm not, I
can't be ni iih you. Your parents can't be i iih you. You have to do some things on your
own." Additionally, her teaching philosophy emphasizes visual learning, consistent with
the preferred learning styles of her students.
Ms. Fernandez stated that she could only do fun and interesting, student-centered
activities after the FCAT was done: "I would say it's [planning] different. We're going
to do more (laughs). You want to do all these literature related activities, we want to be
able to have the students participate more, more hands-on activities, they can present a
play, or write \,viehi,,,iig. that you have not had the chance to do so, because you were
getting them ready for the FCAT. There is a lot of stress there."
According to Ms. Fernandez, the FCAT drives the curriculum; "I would say it [the
FCAT] has the most influence. There 's a lot ofpressure on tenth grade teachers, you
need to be prepared for that test, you want to make sure, they know that this is going to
be on the test, but yeah, I think it has a big influence. I think it's the most important one
when you're developing curriculum."
Common Themes at Low and High Performing Schools
While there are many significant differences in teaching beliefs and perspectives
among these two groups of teachers, there were notable similarities between Ms.
Wallace, Ms. Kelly and Ms. Davis. For example, Ms. Wallace, like Ms. Kelly and Ms.
Davis, views the textbook as just one tool available to teachers. "And, I use a lot of
hiung\ from Sports Illustrated, from newspapers, so they can see thing\ in their
environment, so it's nice to have a textbook as a resource, it'sjust one tool, and so
looking for other thing\ that will help make thing\ fresh. I also like to use... the Alpha
Smart keyboard, which they have responded to beautifully, and in fact, watching them
I I, Ik i ilth them, since I've kind of leaned on them hard, knowing that they had FCAT
writing coming up, and I saw how positively they responded to it... And so, I found that
letting go of the death grip of the textbook is helpful, letting go, the kind of at least for
English teachers, 'Thou shall start at the front of the chronology of whatever literature
you're doing andproceed towards the end, 'you know, getting rid of that and \, /ing.
screw that, let's look at it thematically, so thematic stuff is just very helpful. So again,
there are changes in practice and changes in philosophy. Like Ms. Kelly, she
incorporated technology into the classroom. She expressed a strong confidence, or
efficacy, in her abilities as a teacher, whereas Ms. Fernandez expressed very moderate
confidence in her abilities as a teacher, "You can always help [students learn]. How
much you help, it's hard to tell. There are a lot of students [who] are passive, but they
are gaining a lot of knowledge, they just don feell comfortable in ,par -tiLilpting. so it's
hard for you to tell how much you have influence, but you do, I think you get through to a
certain level. "
Ms. Wallace stressed the need for teachers to make the curriculum relevant to
students' needs. In order to do this, she ties every lesson or activity she can into some
context that her students can relate to. "There are some thing\ that they [students] don't
have. In many cases, they don't have a context for what we're discussing, especially
when we get into literature, and sometimes as they come in from other places, and so, if
there's dead air there, I can't make the assumption that whatever I present to them is
\,iieth'ling they can immediately connect to. So, I'm often having to do a lot of analogies,
I teach a great deal by analogy, trying to relate what we're / iit li/,,. what we're
discussing, /i ith thing that will be familiar to them in their regular, everyday context."
Each of the four participants referred to the pressure placed on teachers and
students because of the FCAT. Each of the participants described the extent of school
administrators' involvement with curriculum, annual evaluations, and the FCAT. Ms.
Wallace, at Jackson, characterized her administration and others at the school as very
involved in curriculum decisions, "As principal, (he) is one of the first principals I've
worked i iith who is very clear about instruction being job one, and having that be the
focus of what we talk about at faculty meetings, which is a different flavor in a principal,
because I know a lot ofprincipals, you go to a faculty meeting, and it's all about
discipline, stuffyou got to do, he, he's in a difficult position because of the multiple F
grades, and so, unfortunately, he has to do, he gets called off campus a lot, which is one
of the great ironies of being an F school, is that it's vital to have a strong instructional
leader, but they spend most of the time taking your instructional leader off campus to go
to meetings, so OK, this makes sense in what universe, please? So, um, as far as
curriculum goes, he sets the overall tone and expectations. The API (Assistant Principal
for Instruction) is the person who puts a lot of that stuff to work in how the classes are
scheduled, which teachers are assigned which groups based on assessment of \n 'gth\,
etc, as far as what goes on in the actual classroom, there's discussions all up and down,
11 ith that group, u i th input from people, like the learning resource specialist, and we also
have a reading coach, a math coach, and so the reading specialists are there to put out
information about reading... Expectations are set out from the principal and that's
verbal. You 'll see a lot coming from Betty, the API, about we're going to do this, she and
I have conversations, I go in there as department chair asking questions, how do you
want to look at how we do X Y, and Z, in terms of a group of students or a particular
course? Sometimes, teachers have discussed who is the strongest to help develop this
particular kind of thiig in ith the students. So, a lot of conversations, but some of it is
informal, some of it is actual planning. "
Ms. Fernandez referred to pressure coming from the school's administration, "It's
the school, the administration. Because they have responsibilities to do that, and they
pass it to us, and we are the ones who have to carry it out i/ ith the students, and then the
pressure is, OK, what if they don't do well, they can blame me (laughs). You know, you
feel kind of trapped, but we do the best we can."
Ms. Davis, at a high performing school, echoed these sentiments, adding the threat
of job loss for another teacher at her school, "We try at our school, each department is
responsible for one benchmark area that would tie nicely into what they teach, so that
social studies is responsible for the kids in reference and research, science is responsible
for reasoning and the main idea, so we have more of that push here, and again, I'm not
sure if it will be evaluated, but um, a very stern look came across the principal a couple
weeks ago i/ ith an English teacher, explaining to this person that if they didn't show
improvement in FCAT, no matter how much they disagree i/ ith the test, no matter how
much they thought standardized tests are baloney, no matter how much they were
irritated by the fact that they have to have students [who] cannot read, um, when
springtime comes, they will not find ajob anywhere in the county. So, that was kind of an
Ms. Kelly characterizes administrative involvement in the curriculum at her school
as based on: "a lot of teamwork, and a lot of trust to make sure that, I think that's how it
all trickles down. The department head will translate it down to us, but they rely a lot on
him to have the same expectations for curriculum that they have as well. It works for
us. At the same time, administrative expectations at Athens High School are not
completely devoid of FCAT influence, "Do I think that it's (teacher evaluations) solely
based on FCATscores? No, but I think n hai t they're looking at is the teacher 's
performance throughout that entire year, and then here's where 1teir FCA T scores are,
and then maybe they need to change ,oimhing up for next year. In that respect, I know
that we have a teacher here whose students performed well on the FCAT, and so they
wanted him to teach all tenth grade regular this year because he would do the same thing
i ilth them. And you wouldn't be making me feel great, by asking me to teach five classes
a day of tenth grade regular students who are unmotivated. It's scary... I think ifyou ask
administration, they would tell you, not very much. I think from my own personal,
wanting to have done well, and feeling as though I reached them in a way that I need to
reach them, I think it does (make) a big deal. "
Research Question 4) What Is the Correspondence among Teachers' Beliefs and
Instructional Practices at the High Performing and Low Performing Schools?
Emergent codes generated from analysis of observations corresponded with the
attitudes, beliefs and perspectives that emerged during interviews with the teachers at the
high performing schools, as reflected in transcripts of these interviews. Among these
four participants, teacher beliefs and instructional practices generally corresponded
(Table 4.3). However, there were differences between the emergent themes among high
and low performing school teachers. Both high performing school teachers believed in,
and modeled student-centered teaching and learning than teacher centered approaches.
Both low performing school teachers believed in, and modeled more teacher-centered
teaching and learning styles more often than student-centered practices.
Additionally, the emphasis on the FCAT evident, both in belief and practice,
among both participants from low performing schools, stands in contrast to the lack of
emphasis on the FCAT, again both in belief and practice, among both participants from
high performing schools.
Table 4-3. Emergent themes from analysis of observations and interviews
Athens HS *Student-directed activities *Open view of curriculum
*Positive environment Student-centered teaching
*Student choice and learning
*Emphasis on reading *Little focus on FCAT
*High teacher efficacy
*Use of technology
*Rapport with students
Hamilton HS *Student-directed activities *Practical teaching
*Positive environment *Literacy and language
*Student choices skills emphasized
*Emphasis on reading *Student influence on
*Teacher provides guidance, curriculum
scaffolding *Move away from texts
*Rapport *County assessments seen
*Little discussion of FCAT as a hindrance
Jackson HS *Teacher-directed activities *Mama factor
*Emphasis on FCAT *Nature of, and changes to,
*High efficacy the school environment
*Low level of student participation *FCAT
*Assistance Plus Program
Pine Crest HS *Teacher-directed activities *Emphasis on low level
*Emphasis on FCAT learners
*Low level learning activities *Cultural differences
*Negative classroom environment *Top-down curriculum
*F grade for the school
High Performing Schools
Both Ms. Davis at Hamilton HS and Ms. Kelly at Athens HS frequently included
students into the curriculum design and implementation process, as noted in the number
of minutes engaged in student-directed activities in Table 4.1 earlier. During their
interviews, these teachers described why it was important to incorporate students'
interests and needs in the curriculum decisions they make. Another theme that emerged
during observations and their interviews was a practice and a belief that reading skills
should be emphasized during classroom instruction but that the FCAT should be de-
Low Performing Schools
There was a correspondence among low performing school teachers'. Both of the
teachers reported and practiced teacher-centered teaching and learning. As indicated in
Table 4.1, there was no time spent in student-directed activities. Teaching and learning
were exclusively teacher-directed. This practice was reflected in their beliefs, as Ms.
Wallace referred often in her interview to what she termed the "Mama factor," the need
to guide and direct teaching and learning based on what she perceived to be her students'
needs. During the interview, Ms. Fernandez reported that she believed in using a top-
down curriculum. Her belief was consistent with her lesson planning activities.
Additionally, the FCAT, as well as the school grading formula, were significant
influences on both beliefs and practices among both teachers at low performing schools.
Both mentioned the FCAT, the Assistance Plus Program, and/or its mini lessons,
frequently during interviews. Much of their classroom activities centered on planning for
the FCAT, focusing on the benchmarks, and discussing the FCAT itself with students
Research Question #5) What Is the Correspondence Between Teacher Self-Reported
Beliefs, Interview Responses and Instructional Practices at the High and Low
Performing High Schools?
By incorporating the TBPS in this study, the attitudes and beliefs of other teachers
at each school, apart from the four participants, were measured. Survey findings from the
TBPS helped establish the extent to which certain attitudes and beliefs regarding teaching
and learning are present within schools.
Reliability measures for each of the four subsets of questions on the TBPS yielded
moderately strong alpha scores, ranging from .50 to .75. The reliability coefficient for
the 30 teacher-centered items yielded alpha = .83; for the 30 student-centered items, the
alpha score was .80. The range of mean scores reported for the teacher centered items
was 3.28; with a minimum of 1.22 and a maximum score of 4.5. For the student-centered
items, the mean score was 1.71. The minimum score was 3.08 and the maximum score
The item analysis revealed four questions which yielded statistically significant
differences in scores, when controlling for school. For each of these measures, a
Pearson's R correlation coefficient was calculated. These correlation coefficients ranged
from 0.36 to 0.54. Those four questions are: 17) "I assess student learning because
teaching and assessing are intertwined." 25) "I believe that my expectations for learner
outcomes are implicit." 35) "When I ask learners questions, their responses typically
require a short, factual answer." and 42) "My teaching is guided by instructional
strategies that emphasize what learners should know." The R scores for each of these
questions are shown here in Table 4.4:
Table 4-4. Pearson's R correlation coefficient scores for statistically significant items
between respondents from different schools on the TBPS
Pearson's R Significance
Item 17 0.434 0.05
Item 25 0.408 0.05
Item 35 0.406 0.05
Item 42 0.542 0.05
Examination of respondents scores to each of these five questions broken, sorted by
school illustrates the nature of differences. Item 17, "I assess student learning because
teaching and assessing are intertwined" reveals teacher attitudes towards the relationship
between teaching and assessment. On the TBPS, this was one of the student-centered
questions. All of the respondents from Hamilton HS, a high performing school, and Pine
Crest HS, a low performing school, answered this item "highly agree." The respondents
from Jackson HS and Athens HS were less cohesive in their answers, all of them ranging
from "neutral" to "highly agree." This suggests that the relationship between teaching
and assessing is more strongly perceived among language arts teachers at Hamilton HS
and Pine Crest HS than it is perceived among language arts teachers who teach at Jackson
HS and Athens HS.
Item 25, "I believe that my expectations for learner outcomes are implicit," was
indicative of significant differences between respondents from high and low performing
schools. This teacher-centered item was rated by 79% of the respondents from the high
performing schools as somewhere between "highly disagree" and "neutral." Whereas,
80% of respondents from low performing schools rated this item either "agree" or
"highly agree." This suggests that language arts teachers at high performing schools do
not believe in making learning expectations implicit, but rather that they believe in
explicitly stating their expectations for student learning.
For item 35, "When I ask learners questions, their responses typically require a
short, factual answer," there was a slight difference between high performing and low
performing schools. This teacher-centered question was rated as "highly disagree" by
71% of respondents from high performing schools, whereas only 25% of respondents
from low performing schools rated it the same. A majority of respondents from low
performing schools, however, did rate this item "disagree." Given the low number of
responses to this survey, especially from Athens HS and Pine Crest HS, this anomaly
may not be meaningful, although it is statistically significant. Yet, it does suggest that
language arts teachers at high performing schools place greater emphasis on generating
higher order thinking skills among their students.
Item 42, "My teaching is guided by instructional strategies that emphasize what
learners should know," showed significant differences in responses among teachers from
high and low performing schools. For this teacher-centered question, 71% of respondents
at high performing schools rated this item either "disagree" or "neutral." In contrast,
93% of respondents from low performing schools rated this item either "agree" or
"highly agree." Given differences based on observation and interview data, this type of
disagreement between teachers at high and low performing schools is consistent, in that
teachers at low performing schools were more heavily influenced by outside factors
(notably, the State) with respect to curriculum and instructional decisions.
For the vast majority of TBPS items, there were not statistically significant
differences between teachers at high and low performing schools, suggesting that teacher
attitudes and beliefs were not significantly different. With few exceptions, the teachers'
ratings of TBPS items did not seem to be indicative of the differences observed in
instructional practices or expressed during the interviews among teachers in high
performing and low performing schools.
Classroom observations, teacher interviews, and selected results of the TBPS
showed that the practices and beliefs of teachers at high performing schools differ from
the practices and beliefs of teachers at low performing schools. Classroom observations
showed that participants at high performing schools utilized more student-centered
instructional practices and learning methods, and emphasized outside reading among
their students. Teacher interviews showed that these practices were reflected in teacher
beliefs among high performing schools. Analysis of emergent themes from both
observations and interviews showed that teacher beliefs and practices among participants
from both high performing and low performing schools held somewhat consistent,
although there were significant differences between these two groups of teachers, both in
teacher beliefs and teacher practices. Additionally, teacher interviews showed that
teachers at low performing schools consider the FCAT much more heavily in curriculum-
related issues than their counterparts at high performing schools.
Results of the TBPS were less conclusive, in that teachers from all four schools
responded similarly across most items on this questionnaire. However, two items on this
survey did generate statistically significant differences in responses that fell along the
lines of high and low performing school. These two items were, "I believe that my
expectations for learner outcomes are explicit" and "My teaching is guided by
instructional strategies that emphasize what learners should know." These differences
indicate that teachers at high performing schools are more explicit in stating their
learning expectations for their students, and that teachers at high performing schools
might be less driven by outside influences regarding curriculum in their classrooms. This
last finding is consistent with data gathered from both observations and interviews, in that
teachers at high performing schools emphasized practical teaching and learning, and de-
emphasized testing, the FCAT, the Sunshine State Standards, and other assessments..
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The purpose of this study was to understand how teachers' instructional beliefs and
practices differed among at-risk students in high and low performing schools. The
purpose of this chapter is to provide a summary of the findings, to describe the
implications of this study, and to provide suggestions for further study.
Relationship between FCAT scores and outside factors
An analysis of data from the 2003 tenth grade FCAT Reading scores shows that
student race and SES account for 52% of the variance in these scores statewide (Peabody,
2004, unpublished). This analysis also revealed that there were wide variances in FCAT
performance among schools with large numbers of low income and/or minority students.
In 2004 this performance gap between low performing schools and high performing
schools was similar among the four schools that participated in this study.
Student-led activities were common during the observations in classrooms at high
performing schools. Overall, student-led activities were observed on average 46% of the
time in the high performing schools. In contrast, observations of learning activities in
low performing school classrooms revealed that instruction was exclusively teacher-led.
In the student-directed activities at the high-performing schools outside reading
assignments were emphasized. At the low performing schools there was a heavy
emphasis on FCAT-related learning activities. At high performing schools the FCAT was
rarely mentioned by teachers or by students. Learning activities stressed teaching and
learning higher order thinking skills. Also, students frequently appeared to be having fun
while learning in high performing schools. Students in low performing schools appeared
to be passive recipients of knowledge. Most of the assigned work that was observed in
low performing schools consisted of seat work that was explicitly tied to the FCAT and
its benchmarks. Teachers in low performing schools attempted to engage their students
in the lessons and activities by asking thought-provoking questions or by trying to relate
the lesson materials to some context of interest to students. Their efforts were met with
mixed success, because several students were tuned out and/or did not participate in the
In high performing schools, students remained attentive. As show in Table 4.2 on
page 52, the average number of teacher reprimands was 1.3 per observed period, across
the two high performing schools. Off-task behavior was more pervasive in low
performing schools; the average number of teacher reprimands was 2.3 per observed
period. Teachers in high performing schools demonstrated more rapport with their
students when compared to teachers in low performing schools. Students in high
performing schools were demonstrably more involved in the day to day operations of the
class. Many of them had opportunities to speak before the class or lead the class in some
other meaningful way. Similar opportunities did not occur in low performing classrooms.
Student behavior in low performing schools alternated between quiet and passive
and loud and disruptive. Inattentive or other off-task behavior, such as putting one's head
down occurred with greater frequency among students in low performing schools than
among students in high performing schools. Cell phones, CD players, and other
electronic devices were utilized with greater frequency for non-instructional purposes
among students in the low performing schools. However, these devices were not used
among students in high performing school classrooms.
Teaching beyond the textbook was a normative practice in high performing
schools. The teachers utilized resources, such as computer technology, and/or outside
props, to relate the content in ways that catered to students' interests and/or made
learning more fun and interesting.
The TBPS was given to all English/Language Arts or ESOL teachers at each of the
four participating schools. Almost half (n=31) of the eligible respondents completed the
survey. Across many of the TBPS items there were no statistically significant differences
between high performing and low performing school teachers. However, a majority of
teachers in high performing schools held some significantly different attitudes in
comparison with teachers at low performing schools. These findings showed that
teachers at high performing schools are (a) more likely to eschew abstract and/or outside
forces when making curriculum decisions for their students and instead focus on practical
teaching and learning, and (b) more likely to make their expectations for student learning
explicit, rather than implicit.
The interview data revealed that teachers in high performing schools viewed their
role as more inclusive than preparing students for the FCAT. These teachers and their
students rarely mentioned the FCAT in class. During their interviews the teachers
reported that the FCAT was not a focal point of their curriculum. In contrast, the FCAT
was a common topic during classroom instruction and in interviews among the teacher
participants at low performing schools. These teachers talked about how they used the
state-developed Assistance Plus Plan and the mini-lessons. These participants
emphasized the importance of standardized testing, Assistance Plus assessments and
related topics. Additionally, teachers reported a high level of frustration in dealing with
these extra mandates. Low performing school teacher participants also discussed the
concerns they held about their schools having received an F grade in 2004.
Teachers at the high performing schools emphasized the importance of providing
students with choices in the teaching and learning process and giving students
opportunities to lead classroom learning activities. These teachers saw the curriculum as
a flexible, reciprocal entity. They made changes when students' learning needs required
accommodations. Consistent with the state oversight in the low performing school
curriculum, both teachers in this study viewed the curriculum as more top-down.
Teachers at high performing schools asserted that students were the biggest
influence in their curriculum planning. In contrast, students' needs were not mentioned
as an important factor in curriculum planning by low performing school teachers. One of
the low performing school teachers mentioned the FCAT benchmarks were a driving
force in the curriculum.
Teachers at high performing schools had a high degree of efficacy. They believed
that they were effective teachers and capable of teaching whatever skills are needed. One
of the teachers at low performing schools expressed similar sentiments; however the
other teacher suggested that her effectiveness was limited.
Teachers at the high performing schools held a practical view of teaching and
learning. They hoped to make the curriculum student-friendly, as well useful to students'
present and future needs. Three of the four participants emphasized getting to know their
students as quickly as possible, including both teachers at high performing schools. In
contrast, both low performing school teachers described the cultural differences among
their student body and how cultural diversity made it difficult to overcome having
received a failing grade. Additionally, teachers at the low performing schools talked
about the specialized instruction needed to reach low level learners.
Two themes were shared by all four teachers in their interviews. All of the
participants mentioned the pressure that the tenth grade FCAT placed on students and
teachers. Additionally, they discussed the nature of administrative involvement in
classroom curriculum, although each teacher characterized the extent and nature of this
Congruence Between Teacher Practices and Teacher Beliefs
Emergent themes from both the interviews and the observations showed a
consistency between teachers' belief and practices among each of the participants.
However, teachers at high performing and low performing schools demonstrated
particularistic differences in their beliefs and practices. Teachers at high performing
schools stated they placed importance on student-centered instruction and learning. Their
actions in the classroom reflect these beliefs. In contrast, teachers at low performing
schools indicated more of a preference for teacher-centered teaching and learning. Their
classroom instructional actions were consistent with these beliefs.
Participant teachers at high performing schools also emphasized the need to teach
reading and writing skills for their intrinsic value. Their classroom instructional practices
were consistent with these beliefs. Low performing school teachers described the
importance of teaching to ensure improved FCAT outcomes. Their classroom
instructional practices reflected this emphasis.
In the current environment of high-stakes testing in Florida, teaching tenth grade
English in a public high school in Florida is rife with pressure and opportunity for teacher
and student alike. Using the information obtained through interviews, observations, and
surveys there were clear differences in instructional practices between teachers in the
high performing schools and the low performing schools. The wide range of instructional
practice may shed light on why there were widely different levels of performance on the
same test, by students from similar racial and socio-economic backgrounds, in the same
In the high performing schools, teachers emphasized the use of outside reading
activities in the curriculum. Teachers in these settings reported little direct, outside
influence into their classroom curricular decisions. These teachers found ways to involve
students in curriculum design and implementation, arguably making reading more
enjoyable and fun for students, without losing sight on developing their literacy skills.
These activities were not developed with the FCAT in mind, nonetheless students
achieved the benchmarks set by the state and measured on the FCAT. Students are held
accountable for completing these reading assignments. The findings suggest that in both
high performing school classrooms that the outside reading assignments and other
projects related to language arts are significant factors in determining student grades.
The findings in this study confirm the theory that the presence of the FCAT has
affected the curriculum. Low performing school teachers demonstrated the impact of the
FCAT and its benchmarks in their daily teaching in the interviews and classroom
observations. Some influence was probably due to outside pressure placed on these
schools to increase performance. Additionally, both the state and the school district had
taken some control of the curriculum away from classroom teachers and mandated them
to focus on assessments and mini-lessons. This practice might have been counter-
productive because of limited teacher freedom to engender student interest. In essence,
as state-imposed mandates increased, students at low performing schools were less likely
to develop literacy skills based upon their intrinsic value. External mandates do not help
students internalize the motivation to learn to read and write or develop literacy skills as
fully or successfully as students who can enjoy reading and writing for its own intrinsic
value (Davis & Weber, 1998).
The observations confirmed the second and third theories presented in Chapter 1.
First, teachers in high performing schools are more likely to utilize learner-centered
teaching models. In both of the high performing schools, the teachers gave students
opportunities to plan and carry out lesson plans related to the curriculum. These
assignments fostered higher order thinking skills among students because they were
required to analyze, interpret and synthesize information on their own before presenting it
to the class. Second, the methods of teaching utilized by high performing school teachers
corresponded with the social and personal models of teaching described by Joyce and
Calhoun (1996), unlike the behavioral methods of teaching utilized by low performing
school teachers. The curriculum in the high performing schools was co-constructed with
the students. In the low performing schools, the curriculum was teacher-directed and
explicitly tied to the benchmarks measured by the FCAT.
The findings suggest that the state and school district would be better served if they
focused their efforts on developing the literacy skills of low performing school students.
This is not to say that teachers and students in low performing schools should not be held
accountable for their test scores. The implication is that the state's decision making
authority, with regards to classroom lesson planning, is more likely to produce the
improvements in literacy among low performing schools if the schools themselves had
greater freedom to plan and develop curriculum, as exists in the high performing schools.
This suggestion is consistent with Ross' (2003) finding that an emphasis on testing
results actually lowers student academic performance and increases dropout rates.
Teachers at low performing schools should emphasize outside reading activities to
develop student literacy. Teachers in such settings should strive to get students more
involved in lesson planning and curriculum activities. Generating interest in reading and
writing on their own, without emphasizing the FCAT would engender student-centered
instruction and learning in low performing schools. This practice would likely lead to
more developed literacy skills and improved standardized test scores (Davis and Weber,
1998; Gay, 1994; Kordalewski, 2000; Luker, Cobb and Luker, 2001; Stiggins, 2002).
Teachers at low performing schools should be given access to, and training in
instructional strategies that focus on ways to get students motivated and excited about
reading and writing. Perhaps it is ironic that the classes which have the history of better
performance on the FCAT are those classes in which instruction is less focused on the
benchmarks or the test itself. The pressure of the FCAT, a recurring theme of this study,
might be alleviated in the low performing schools if all stakeholders in low performing
schools, including students, teachers, administrators, and policymakers, placed less
emphasis on the test and more emphasis on teaching and learning literacy skills
(Allington, 2004; Lewin, 2003).
Suggestions for Further Study
The results of this study suggest that in part, student performance on the FCAT
Reading test can be explained partially by the amount and nature of reading assignments
given to students, the amount of attention students and teachers spend directly focused on
the FCAT, and student input on teaching and learning decisions made in their classrooms.
Recommendations for further study include:
1. Examining the amount and nature of reading assignments given to tenth graders by
their teachers in a variety of classroom settings in Florida,
2. Examining the relationship between student-directed teaching and learning and
3. Examining the efficacy of policy decisions made by states with low performing
schools, with an eye towards increasing the success rates at "turning those schools
4. Examining what factors, apart from outside factors such as race and SES, and
classroom teaching and learning, impact FCAT scores.
The results of this study suggest that the methods teachers use to teach reading and
writing have a great impact on students' FCAT scores. Further investigation of the
teaching practices specifically related to teaching literacy skills is recommended. This
study focused exclusively on tenth grade classrooms because of the weight of the tenth
grade FCAT. Further studies in Florida could examine teaching methods of teachers
from grades 3 through 10, and correlate these methods with the performance of students
on the FCAT. Further studies should include a correlation of these teaching methods
with performance on other standardized measures such as the SAT.