Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Major Professor

William R. Black, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Vonzell Agosto, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Zorka Karanxha, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Arthur Bochner, Ph.D.


Culture of Measurement, Educational Leadership, High-Stakes Testing, Narrative, Pilgrimage, Testing Season


The purpose of my study is to explore the stories of the ethical tensions K-12 educational administrators navigate when implementing high-stakes assessment policy in a culture of measurement during testing season. Some educational leaders, in particular K-12 school and district administrators, struggle with the tensions existing between their own personal belief systems, organizational dilemmas, and the requirements of enacting high-stakes assessment policies. Using narrative inquiry as method, I collected and analyzed four school administrators selected who expressed frustration with enacting high-stakes assessment policies. The participants include a middle principal, a middle school assistant principal, a high school assistant principal, and a middle school testing administrator. Through their stories, I raise questions about the purpose of high-stakes assessment and the impact of policies at the implementation level and the impact of policies on the daily practices of school administrators. I illustrate how school administrators negotiate these tensions or have resigned themselves to accept what they cannot change. The findings include the reallocation of capital and human resources during testing season and the abundant loss of instructional time. Additional findings comprise of the juxtaposition between compliance and agency school administrators’ experience, and the nuanced ways schools and districts work to game the system of accountability. Findings also involve how educational leaders work within the boundaries of high-stakes assessment, and at times, find small spaces to resist high-stakes assessment implementation. The study shines light on how they accept the differences between their own personal ethics and the requirements of their jobs. Implications include the need for more scholarship surrounding the allocation and reallocation of resources in public schools during testing season, and the impact high-stakes assessment implementation has on vulnerable populations of students, especially students with disabilities, and students who are English language learners. The participants' stories revealed aspects of high-stakes assessment policy implementation, which impact the lives of students and educators that have not been explored in great depth. I argue for centering ethical leadership and the need for training and socializing school leaders to be social justice advocates for their students even while they are also implicated in systems of accountability. Finally, I also present the inquiry as a pilgrimage metaphor as journey toward not only understanding how school leaders grappled with ethical dilemmas associated with implementing high-stakes assessment in a culture of measurement during testing season, but also a journey to understand my place, as a school administrator, in this ethical conundrum.