This investigation analyses the emergence of a school improvement industry in Chile, a country well known internationally for being highly marketised and commodified and for its high- stake testing policies (Bellei & Vanni, 2015; Falabella, 2020a; Parcerisa & Falabella, 2017). In this country, not only does school provision follow market rules, but in the last 15 years, the hardening and diversification of accountability measures has contributed to expand a market of commercial services for schools. Resorting to commercial ‘school improvement’ services, which in Chile are known as services of Educational Technical Assistance (ATE, for its acronym in Spanish), is one of the main ways both public and private schools address accountability pressures.
Existing research tends to attribute the varying responses to accountability pressures to variables of a different nature, ranging from school leadership styles to the broader socio-economic contexts in which schools operate. However, to date, research has overlooked the role of subjective variables (such as school actors’ perceived and experienced pressures) in the mediation and enactment of PBA. To address this gap, this chapter aims to analyze the production of different patterns of responses to PBA within schools from a policy enactment perspective. On the basis of a mixed-methods study conducted in Chile, we analyze how school actors’ interpretations of and dispositions towards PBA, on the one hand, and their experienced levels of pressure, on the other, influence how they respond to the accountability regulatory system. As we will show, the responses to PBA that have been identified go beyond conventional alignment–decoupling dichotomy and include a more varying range of options. Our perspective is premised on the assumption that the way school actors respond to policy prerogatives is contingent on the way these actors make sense of PBA pressures and expectations within their broader social and institutional frameworks. In other words, the responses to PBA that we identify are the result of analyzing how school actors see and live accountability regulations in their reference contexts. To build our main arguments, the chapter is structured as follows: in the first section, on the context of the research, we introduce Chile’s long trajectory of experimentation with learning metrics and a broad range of related accountability measures. In the second section, we present our theoretical framework, where we highlight the importance of focusing not only on policy interpretation but also on perceived regulatory pressure to understand how policies are enacted. After presenting the methodology of our study in the third section, in the fourth one, we offer the main findings of the research in the form of a new categorization of school responses to PBA regulations. Finally, the conclusions highlight the key mediating role of subjective variables in the configuration of different patterns of school responses to PBA, and we reflect on the research and policy implications of our study.