Teacher beliefs as a lever for change and the construction of teaching practice in a high -stakes science environment
This qualitative case study examines the relationship between teachers' beliefs and their instructional practice in the context of a high-stakes testing environment. The seven participants teach high school level Living Environment, formerly known as Biology, in a public high school in New York State. Their teaching experiences range from one to seventeen years.
Data collection included two focus groups, a card-sorting task, personal interviews, classroom observations, a survey, and document analysis. Grounded theory analysis led to the construction of an emergent substantive-level theory of the relationship between teacher beliefs and their instructional practice.
The findings reveal the New York State Regents exams for Living Environment have caused the participants to adapt or maintain their classroom tests to mirror the Regents exam, and to choose curriculum materials compatible with the New York State Regents curriculum. Yet, none of the teachers believe their instructional practice has been influenced by the exam or curriculum.
The findings further reveal that teacher philosophical orientations span the continuum from constructivist teaching to direct teaching, with a blend of the two in the middle. Crosstabs and Phi indicate there are associations between instructional practice and several variables. Evidence indicates there is a relationship between teacher instructional profiles and their years of teaching. The longer teachers have been teaching the less compatible are their beliefs with National and New York State learning standards and their perceived constraints to teaching the curriculum are directly linked to time management.
Although this research set out to investigate the nature of teacher beliefs, discussion with participants and data analysis have made some important discoveries about the origins of beliefs. The strongest influence in shaping teacher beliefs is the ‘trial and error’ of listening to kids and fashioning one's practice to incorporate personal beliefs about learning and beliefs about what students need. Teacher beliefs are highly personal and complex.
An important implication of this study is that teachers must be involved in the process of educational reform, not only to make it a realization but also to begin to address the ethical issues of all students receiving the same instructional content.