A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Systemic Reform: Perspectives on Personalizing Education - September 1994

Change Has Changed: Implications for Implementation of Assessments from the Organizational Change Literature

Suzanne M. Stiegelbauer


The twenty-odd years of research on change in schools have provided a wealth of information on processes that work and do not work. For many, however, the successful implementation of new programs and processes, or innovations, remains a dilemma. The long-term commitment necessary for successful implementation and continuation is hard to keep in focus and even more difficult to keep funded, although the real goal of change remains always to have an impact on outcomes. Schools and teachers get involved in new things to make the educational process better and to improve themselves or their students' capacity to learn. Yet, reaching outcomes requires keeping up the pressure, getting past initiation to the real work of change -- work that progressively has taken on new dimensions and new possibilities.

When we speak of change, we may be talking about a specific agenda, as in the use of assessments, but we also are talking about changing the way that people (including students) work together as they apply assessments, and we are talking about how those assessments relate to other aspects of school life. In short, our concern is with the school, not just the classroom.

This paper deals with those elements important to the actual work of change: people, processes, practices, and policies (Loucks-Horsley, 1989). The paper also is about a new model for change, one which reflects a different way of thinking about how change fits into today's educational systems. To paraphrase Matt Miles (1992), and at the risk of overstating the obvious, the secret of change still lies in the applied common sense of the people involved. People know more than they think they know; the problem is putting that knowledge into action, and that means reflecting on or processing what they think and developing a flexible sense of where they are going. This paper takes some of the pieces of change as presented in the research of the last two decades and puts them together so that educators can use what they know to develop an environment wherein change succeeds.

Change: Old and New

A Linear Approach

Back in the 1970s, when the research on change in schools began in earnest, change was viewed primarily as classroom change -- one teacher, one classroom, one innovation. In fact, the central paradigm for planned educational change through the early 1980s provided an innovation focussed perspective on the implementation of single changes in curriculum and instruction (Fullan, 1985). Thinking about change was linear in those days. One found or developed an innovation that would meet the needs and outcomes one had already defined. Not surprisingly, many desired results did not occur.

We now know a number of different reasons why -- lack of match to the environment, lack of follow-through, lack of definition, lack of practice and training in the innovation. Change in these circumstances could be described as an event, because it was selected and announced; and it was assumed that change would then simply happen. Emphasis was on designing and adopting good programs, not on implementing them. Frustration with the lack of outcomes foreshadowed by such an approach was a major factor in the initiation of research on the change event, or on what happened between adopting a program and getting results.

An Overlapping Approach

Change is now approached a bit differently. The research on change has generated an emphasis on process and its context. Effective change no longer affects one teacher in one classroom, but the very culture of schools. As Larry Cuban says, many of the early efforts at change might be called "first order changes". They are addressed to more superficial elements of the classroom and the school system and do not stress the organization to any meaningful degree. However, many of the changes required by current societal and educational demands go deeper than any surface treatment can address, and require what Cuban calls "second order changes" -- changes that go deep into the structure of organizations and the ways in which people work together (Cuban, 1988). This kind of change is multifaceted, slower, and means changing attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, relationships, and the way people collaborate.

Many argue that making change operational and institutionalized within a system is only part of the challenge. Crandall, Eiseman, and Louis (1986) note that the goal of institutionalization is often tantamount to routinization, which decreases the capacity of schools to integrate responses to new needs and issues. The assumption is that renewal (Hall & Loucks, 1977), rather than institutionalization, is a more appropriate focus for school improvement. Renewal implies an organizational culture geared toward continuous learning and improvement, rather than completing the implementation of individual changes (Stiegelbauer & Anderson, 1992).

In new models for change, organizational capacity for continuous renewal and growth points toward the direction of the future and changing the culture of schools what schools do and how they work is the real agenda (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1992). Planning for individual change is only part of changing the educational environment as a whole. This sounds imposing, and in many ways it is. However, the past 20 years have taught us something about strategies and processes that can be applied to good effect. (See Figures 1 and 2 for visualizations of the old (linear) and the new (overlapping) processes of change.)

Contrasting Views: Linear vs. Overlapping

-------------------------------------------------------------------------- |                                 FIGURE 1                               | |                                                                        | |                                                                        | |                     A Linear View of the Change Process                | |                                                                        | |                                                                        | |                                THE IDEAL                               | |                                    ||                                  | |                                    \/                                  | |                          THE SOLUTION - PROGRAM                        | |                                    ||                                  | |                                    \/                                  | |                        AUTOMATIC IMPLEMENTATION                        | |                                    ||                                  | |                                    \/                                  | |                          OUTCOMES AND EFFECTS                          | --------------------------------------------------------------------------   -------------------------------------------------------------------------- |                              FIGURE 2                                  | |                                                                        | |            -----------------------------------------------             | |            | ------------------------------------------- |             | |            | |          Overlapping Phases             | |             | |            | |         of the Change Process           | |             | |            | ------------------------------------------- |             | |            -----------------------------------------------             | |                                                                        | |                                                                        | |            --------------------------------------\                     | |            Institutionalization                   \                    | |            ----------------------------------\     \                   | |            Implementation                     \     \                  | |            -----------------------------\      \     \                 | |            Initiation                    \      \     \                | |                                           \      \     \               | |                                           /      /     /               | |                                          /      /     /                | |            -----------------------------/      /     /                 | |                                               /     /                  | |            ----------------------------------/     /                   | |                                                   /                    | |            --------------------------------------/                     | |                                                                        | |                                                                        | |            ================================================>           | |                                 TIME                                   | |                                                                        | |                                                                        | |  Figure courtesy of Michael Fullan                                     | -------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

[Table of Contents] [People: The Most Important Element In Change]