Perspectives of kindergarten and first-grade teachers on mandated literacy reform

Mary J. Drucker, Syracuse University

Abstract

In recent decades, the performance gap in literacy achievement between white middle-class students and the students of color and low-income students who typically attend urban schools has become more apparent. The question of how best to address this inequity has led to a focus on how best to reform the public school system, and relatedly, how to teach early literacy skills effectively to struggling readers.

Many researchers agree that the teacher is the primary agent of change in the classroom and have suggested that understanding the teacher perspective is critical in managing meaningful school change. Yet, despite that acknowledgement, few studies have focused on the perspectives of teachers involved in mandated literacy reform. This dissertation presents the results of a three-year qualitative study that examined the perspectives of a group of kindergarten and first grade teachers who were involved in a literacy reform effort mandated at the federal level by the No Child Left Behind Act, and at the local level by the state department of education.

The study indicated that teachers were challenged by having to incorporate the mandated literacy reform into their already over-busy schedules. Further, although the teachers had limited information regarding the teaching of literacy, they were held accountable by the administration for the progress of their students, as measured by the results of standardized reading tests administered in every grade of the school. A result of this focus on accountability was that the teachers worked at giving the impression of compliance with administrative expectations rather than focusing on ways to improve the literacy skills of their struggling readers.

This study concludes that a top-down mandate with a focus on accountability and sanctions as a means of improving school performance is not an effective way of achieving literacy reform. Teachers need to be held accountable for the academic progress of their students, but they also need to be given focused, long-term support so they can learn how to encourage the literacy development of their students.