closely to the state policy and reported that it affected their teaching. But when he looked inside their classrooms, only 4 had fundamentally changed the kinds of tasks students were expected to perform and the discourse in their classroom (the study examined mathematics teaching and learning). In 11 classrooms, there was no indication that the tasks and discourse had changed at all (Spillane, 1997).

In large part, Spillane found, the discrepancy reflected the variation in teachers' understanding about the tests' instructional goals. For example, teachers saw that the test put a premium on problem solving, but for some, that meant adding a word problem at the end of each lesson. This variation in understanding was true among principals and district office staff as well.

A separate study of 22 classrooms in 6 states found a similar pattern (David, 1997). In examining teachers' responses to new assessments, David distinguishes between “imitation” and “improvement.” Most teachers imitated the form of the new assessment, she found, often by adding open-ended questions to their classroom assessments or assigning more writing. But these responses produced limited results. By contrast, she noted, some teachers went beyond imitation and changed their practice fundamentally.

Districts' capacity to monitor the conditions of instruction in schools is limited, and there are few examples of districts that have been shown to be effective in analyzing such conditions and using the data to improve instruction. The research base on such efforts is slim, in large part because there are so few examples to study.

The examples begin to suggest, however, that examining instructional practices, along with data on performance, and using that information to develop a professional development strategy, can help teachers improve their instruction and help improve student performance.

  • In Brazosport, Texas, the district established instructional specialists and facilitators, who observed teachers in classrooms, then worked with them to help analyze data on student performance and model lessons and instructional strategies. The facilitators often helped teachers learn new techniques by teaching lessons themselves and showing the teachers that their students were capable of learning more than they had thought they could (Ragland et al., 1999).
  • Community District 2 in New York City has created a Supervisory Goals and Objectives process that focuses principals' and district administrators' attention on instruction and ways to improve it. The principals develop annual plans for instructional improvement, which form the basis for performance reviews by administrators. The administrators—including the superintendent and deputy superintendent—visit schools frequently, observing classrooms and meeting with the principal to discuss improvement strategies. The district has


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