Test‑based accountability and perceived pressure in an autonomous education system: does school performance affect teacher experience?

Across the globe, education quality has become synonymous with student per-
formance. The shift towards test-based accountability (TBA) has changed what is
required of schools and what it means to be a ‘good teacher’. Different tools may
trigger a performance orientation within schools, from administrative (such as the
Inspectorate) to market (schools competing for students). It is logical to assume
that TBA policies will be interpreted and enacted differently in schools at differ-
ent ends of the performance spectrum, and this, in turn will affect the expectations
on teachers and the pressures they feel. Based on interviews with teachers (n = 15),
principals (n = 4) and the school board (n = 1), this study compares the experiences
of teachers in two ‘high’ and two ‘low’ performing primary schools under the same
management in one Dutch city. Findings reveal that the schools respond differently
to TBA, and are facing different performance pressures, yet in all four, test data was
found to significantly shape educational practices. It was further found that teachers
experience pressure in different ways; however, it cannot be said that those in high-
performing schools experience less pressure compared to those in low-performing
schools, or vice versa. Rather, teachers’ experience of pressure is more closely
connected to their schools’ logics of action: the practices the schools adopted in
response to accountability measures and their relative market position.