Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Curriculum and Instruction

Committee Director

Brandon Butler

Committee Member

Jamie Colwell

Committee Member

Steve Myran


Deliberations on the topic of alternatives to standardized assessments spurred the 2014 Virginia General Assembly legislation (House Bill 930/Senate Bill 306) that removed five, end-of-year Virginia Standards of Learning tests from select elementary and middle school subjects and supplant them with alternative measures (Virginia Department of Education, 2014). In light of the reform, the purpose of this study was to develop a descriptive account of one large Virginia school district’s implementation of alternative, locally developed assessments designed as an intervention to enhance teaching and learning. Emphasis was on the impact of policy change in social studies practice to capture teachers’ perceptions of alternative assessment in relation to teaching and learning. Specifically, this study examined, “How does reform focused on alternative assessment influence: (a) teachers’ perceptions, and (b) educational practice?” A theoretical framework, adapted from Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory (1979), offered a conceptual stance through which to view the formed relationships between educational systems (i.e., state, district, and classroom) acting upon student learning. Using phenomenological analysis within case study, this study followed sixth/seventh grade social studies teachers and district leaders through their enactment of performance-based tasks as formative means of assessment. Through extensive individual and focus group interviews, classroom observations, and document/artifact analysis, the ways in which alternative assessment reform influenced teachers’ perceptions and educational practice were uncovered. Main findings from the study revealed (1) participants’ lived experiences in making the transition from an old to a new assessment accountability system; (2) the establishment of “common ground” between district leaders and teachers through supportive interventions (i.e., professional development); and (3) the development of teachers’ responsive teaching that linked assessment accountability to practice. Discussion focuses on bridging the gap between assessment policy reform and educational practice with regard to the scaffolds and interventions provided for teachers. Suggestions for social studies educators, district leaders, and state policymakers focus on the growing demand for pedagogy that best supports the practice of alternative assessment.


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