Investigating meaningful impact in adolescent writing achievement within a high-stakes testing context

Julie Smit, Mellinee Lesley, Whitney Baker-Beach, Elizabeth Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: This case study examined the consequences of a literacy initiative designed to improve writing instruction for a high school under pressure to increase standardised test scores or face government oversight. Realities of underperforming schools, such as interruptions to instructional time, a focus on formulaic essay writing and decontextualised grammar skills, high teacher turnover, and a disproportionately large percentage of students with low ability levels, impact the implementation and sustainability of research-based practices. Thus, we embarked on a school-university partnership designed to overcome these barriers. We co-constructed research to determine the effectiveness of an instructional framework designed by the school's instructional coach (a teacher educator hired by the school district responsible for enacting literacy reform and providing professional development) and her work with four ninth-grade and tenth-grade English teachers (Years 10 and 11) in the United States. This engaged scholarship process empowered teachers and the instructional coach to make changes in their approach to writing instruction. Methods: Our case study used the following data sources: teacher and student interviews, professional development and classroom observations, student writing attitude surveys and analyses of student writing. We utilised grounded theory to determine changes in classroom practice and students' academic growth. Results: Our study revealed strengths of the professional development regarding classroom management and student writing dispositions. Yet it also illuminated problems such as continued emphasis on reading instruction, limited opportunities for student choice and lack of writing strategies that transferred to composing extended text. Conclusion: These results raised critical questions, which aided the instructional coach in refining professional development for writing instruction.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Research in Reading
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • adolescent writing
  • engaged scholarship
  • high-stakes testing
  • impact
  • school-university partnerships


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