School of Education


Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (EdD)


Gail Collins


Differentiation, Detracking, Performance Assessments, English, Constructivism




The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand how teachers described the experience of using performance assessments in detracked English classrooms. The theory guiding this study was constructivism, a psychological theory of learning based on the work of Vygotsky, which holds that learning, especially lasting, meaningful learning, results from the activity and self-organization resulting from learners’ attempts to create meaning. The central research question addressed how teachers described the experiences and purposes of teaching in detracked secondary English classrooms, with additional research questions focusing on the use of performance assessments, advantages and disadvantages of detracking, professional development, and other differentiation methods in detracked English classrooms. Interviews, focus groups, and open-ended prompts were used to collect data from 14 teachers who taught in detracked English classrooms using performance assessments. I carried out data analysis through the transcendental phenomenology approach described by Moustakas (1994). Three themes emerged from the analysis: students need support, teachers need support, and performance drives learning. In answering the research questions, teachers described detracked classrooms with a wide range of readiness that makes individual attention necessary for effective differentiation, which is rewarding but time-intensive. Professional development was described as lacking in availability and quality. Performance assessments are used to promote higher-level thinking, provide choice that enhances relevancy, and drive student efficacy.

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