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Data-based school improvement: The role of principals and school supervisory authorities within the context of low-stakes mandatory proficiency testing in four German states

Carolin Ramsteck (Institute for Education, Department of School Research, University of Education, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany)
Barbara Muslic (Department of Educational Science and Psychology, Division of Further Education and Educational Management, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany)
Tanja Graf (Department of Educational Science and Psychology, Division of Further Education and Educational Management, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany)
Uwe Maier (Institute for Education, Department of School Research, University of Education, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany)
Harm Kuper (Department of Educational Science and Psychology, Division of Further Education and Educational Management, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany)

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Article publication date: 10 August 2015

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to investigate how principals and school supervisory authorities understand and use feedback from mandatory proficiency tests (VERA) in the low-stakes context of Germany. For the analysis, the authors refer to a theoretical model of schools that differentiates between Autonomous and Managed Professional Organisations (Thiel, 2008a).

Design/methodology/approach

The empirical basis of the qualitative research are contrastive case studies which are focusing on individual schools and on school supervisory authorities. The selection of cases was oriented on Theoretical Sampling according to Glaser and Strauss (2005). For the analysis, the authors used a sample of upper track secondary schools (Gymnasien), four from Berlin and five each from Thuringia, Brandenburg and Baden-Wuerttemberg. In total, the authors conducted 229 structured interviews over two periods in 19 schools with different protagonists on all levels of the educational system (principals, heads of subject departments, teachers and school supervisory officials). The interview data were descriptively analysed according to procedures of qualitative content analyses (Mayring, 2010).

Findings

The analyses show a clear tendency in the direction of the Autonomous Professional Organisation within the context of VERA. However, some principals reported activities according to a Managed Professional Organisation. The traditional decoupling remains and the supervisory authorities retain their picture of the individual school as an Autonomous Professional Organisation. Both levels have a major deficit in a competent use of VERA and lack profound experience with accountability and evaluation processes.

Research limitations/implications

The sampling has certain restraints: schools of a particular type, few schools within one state, four of 16 states.

Originality/value

Even though German test-based school reforms have been in progress for one decade, systematic analyses of the reform’s relevance for leadership and for school supervisory authorities’ actions in a low-stakes context have not been conducted yet. The analysis meets this lack of research with an explorative reconstruction of principal leadership within the context of test-based school reform as well as the corresponding school supervisory officials.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The research project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and was associated to the overarching research programme SteBis (Evidence-Based Governance in the German Educational System). The duration of the funding lasted from May 2010 till June 2013.

Citation

Ramsteck, C., Muslic, B., Graf, T., Maier, U. and Kuper, H. (2015), "Data-based school improvement: The role of principals and school supervisory authorities within the context of low-stakes mandatory proficiency testing in four German states ", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 29 No. 6, pp. 766-789. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEM-08-2014-0109

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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