In and out of the ‘pressure cooker’: Schools’ varying responses to accountability and datafication

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.