Since the days of Horace Mann, standardized testing has been used as a control mechanism by policy makers to determine who makes decisions about what will happen in public schools. A dynamic struggle for educational control and governance has continued since that time between the local, state, and federal levels. This struggle for control puts school principals in a unique organizational position where they are expected to use standardized tests within the school community with teachers, students, and parents to improve education but at the same time manage external accountability mandates from district, state and federal levels of governance. To further complicate the testing picture, multiple stakeholders from diverse backgrounds write about standardized testing, making the testing literature complex and seemingly contradictory. These competing narratives create distractions and confusion in the standardized testing debate. The purposes of this archival study was to (a) explore the literature about standardized testing to find patterns in the narratives that are being told in the disciplines of education, policy, economics, psychology/psychometry, and history; and, (b) analyze those narratives to determine what major themes emerged from each discipline so that principals can better understand the testing landscape. In each source we tracked first-author characteristics, one of which was author academic disciplinary background—the academic discipline the author primarily trained in during their formal education. With a better understanding of these disciplinary narratives, a principal is in a stronger position to understand and communicate more effectively about standardized testing within their school community, as well as manage the demands from external influences. This study used NVivo software to organize and analyze text from 147 documents from authors representing the five different disciplinary backgrounds. These documents were written by proponents and critics of testing. Patterns emerged that confirm that using standardized testing as a control mechanism is one of the most common themes in the testing literature. Each narrative is influential in unique ways, but the most important finding of this study shows that the two loudest narratives are those from education and policy. Both disciplines often focus on the reality that standardized testing is used as a control mechanism. Authors from the discipline of education wrote about this topic from a reactive and defensive position. Educators dominate the professional literature, but don't have nearly as strong of a voice in the mainstream media. On the other hand, the analysis demonstrated that authors in the realm of public policy write about standardized testing in a proactive and assertive tone, and they have a stronger voice in mainstream media. Understanding all five narratives can enable principals to more effectively and proactively take control of the standardized testing narrative in their own school community.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Educational Leadership and Foundations



Date Submitted


Document Type





standardized testing, accountability, educational leadership