Dominant Discourse, Educational Research, and the Hegemony of Test Scores: If You Only Have a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail

Arnold Dodge, Ruth Silverberg



Observation of the rapidly changing conversation in school improvement prompted an analysis of public discourse and the creation of a framework for understanding forces both influencing and reinforced by its creation. In this paper, we explicate the interactive processes of normalizing, simplifying and conflating ideas about educational practices, using test score results as a convenient tool.  Examination of peer-reviewed articles that focused on “test scores” in the educational research literature since the inception of the federal No Child Left Behind initiative through the lens of the discourse provided substantial confirmation of the use of test scores in service of these three processes. The findings of the current study suggest a need for educational researchers (especially those examining structural, instructional, and social programs in schools) to re-examine the purpose and nature of their investigations, not only for the science behind their conclusions, but for the rationale behind framing their investigations in the context of standardized testing. This analysis of the intertwined paths of policy and research may lead to strategies for academics to contribute to the halting of a dangerous and growing trend.








test scores; reform discourse; educational research;accountability

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education