Trickle-Down Accountability: How Middle School Teachers Engage Students in Data Use

Julie A. Marsh, Caitlin C. Farrell, Melanie Bertrand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Despite a growing body of research on data use in education, there has been relatively little focus on the role of students. This article begins to fill this gap by exploring teacher and administrator reports on engaging students in data use at six middle schools. Even though teachers expressed a belief that involving students in data use would motivate students, they often enacted potentially demotivating, performance-oriented classroom structures: sharing data publically, comparing results with others, focusing on status, and providing limited feedback/support on how to close gaps in knowledge. School and district conditions and accountability policies shaped these classroom practices. In some cases, these contextual factors pressed teachers to focus on performance; in others, it buffered them, allowing for a greater emphasis on individual student learning. The authors contribute a theoretically driven, motivational perspective on data use and a cautionary tale of the “trickle-down” effects of accountability policy on students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-280
Number of pages38
JournalEducational Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • accountability policy
  • data use
  • data-driven decision making
  • district context
  • school context
  • students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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