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External and standardized assessments based on student results are a contested education policy among school actors. Movements of opposition have emerged in different countries, especially in those contexts with high-stakes accountability systems. However, this phenomenon has not been analyzed in soft accountability systems. The objective of this article is to study the opt-out movement in Catalonia, understood as an anti-standardization movement in a system of soft accountability. In order to do so, we adopt the case study approach as a methodological strategy, based on the triangulation of semi-structured interviews with activists (n = 14), key stakeholders (n = 3), and document and press analysis (n = 25). The results shed light on the emergence and nature of the movement, its opportunity structures, the discursive frames and the repertoires of collective action. Our results show how accountability instruments have a ‘life of their own’ beyond their policy design. In this sense, the opt-out movement in Catalonia identifies potential risks and adverse effects similar to those reported in high-stakes systems, developing a repertoire of collective action and discursive frames similar to other emerging anti-standardization movements in high-stakes contexts.
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Journal website: Manuscript received: 7/12/2021
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Twitter: @epaa_aape Accepted: 3/11/2022
Anti-Standardization and Testing Opt-Out Movements in Education:
Resistance, Disputes and Transformation
education policy analysis
A peer-reviewed, independent,
open access, multilingual journal
Arizona State University
Volume 30 Number 133 September 6, 2022 ISSN 1068-2341
Why Do Opt-Out Movements Succeed (or Fail) in Low-
Stakes Accountability Systems? A Case Study of the Network
of Dissident Schools in Catalonia
Lluís Parcerisa
University of Barcelona
Marcel Pagès
University of Girona
Andreu Termes
Barcelona Institute of Regional and Metropolitan Studies (IERMB)
Jordi Collet-Sabé
University of Vic - UCC
Citation: Parcerisa, L., Pagès, M., Termes, A., & Collet-Sabé, J. (2022). Why do opt-out movements
succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? A case study of the Network of Dissident
Schools in Catalonia. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 30(133). This article is part of the special issue Testing Opt-out
Movements: Resistance, Disputes and Transformation, guest edited by Javier Campos-Martínez, Alejandra
Falabella, Jessica Holloway and Diego Santori.
This is an unofficial translation provided by the authors, and it was not peer-reviewed in English.
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 2
Abstract: External and standardized assessments based on student results are a contested education
policy among school actors. Movements of opposition have emerged in different countries,
especially in those contexts with high-stakes accountability systems. However, this phenomenon has
not been analyzed in soft accountability systems. The objective of this article is to study the opt-out
movement in Catalonia, understood as an anti-standardization movement in a system of soft
accountability. In order to do so, we adopt the case study approach as a methodological strategy,
based on the triangulation of semi-structured interviews with activists (n = 14), key stakeholders (n =
3), and document and press analysis (n = 25). The results shed light on the emergence and nature of
the movement, its opportunity structures, the discursive frames and the repertoires of collective
action. Our results show how accountability instruments have a ‘life of their own’ beyond their
policy design. In this sense, the opt-out movement in Catalonia identifies potential risks and adverse
effects similar to those reported in high-stakes systems, developing a repertoire of collective action
and discursive frames similar to other emerging anti-standardization movements in high-stakes
Keywords: opt-out movement; low-stakes accountability; standardized tests; social movements;
education policy
¿Por qué tienen éxito (o fracasan) los movimientos opt-out en sistemas de rendición de
cuentas con bajas consecuencias? Un estudio de caso de la Red de Escuelas Insumisas en
Resumen: La evaluación externa de las escuelas basada en los resultados de los estudiantes es una
política controvertida entre la comunidad educativa. En diferentes países han surgido movimientos
de oposición a las pruebas estandarizadas, especialmente en aquellos contextos con sistemas de high-
stakes accountability. Sin embargo, este fenómeno no se ha estudiado en sistemas de soft accountability.
Este artículo analiza las razones que explican la emergencia y el éxito (o no) del movimiento de
“escuelas insumisas” en Cataluña, entendido como un movimiento anti-estandarización en un
sistema de soft accountability. Para ello, adoptamos el estudio de caso como estrategia metodológica, a
partir de la triangulación de entrevistas semiestructuradas con activistas (n=14), actores clave (n=3),
y análisis de prensa y documentos (n = 25). Los resultados arrojan luz sobre la emergencia y
naturaleza del movimiento, su estructura de oportunidades, los marcos discursivos y los repertorios
de acción colectiva. Nuestros resultados muestran cómo los instrumentos de rendición de cuentas
adquieren ‘vida propia’ más allá de su diseño. De este modo, el movimiento de escuelas insumisas en
Cataluña identifica riesgos y efectos adversos similares a los identificados en sistemas high-stakes,
desplegando un repertorio de acción colectiva y marcos discursivos parecidos a otros movimientos
anti-estandarización emergentes.
Palabras clave: movimiento opt-out; rendición de cuentas de bajo riesgo; pruebas estandarizadas;
movimientos sociales; política educativa
Por que os movimentos opt-out em sistemas de responsabilização de baixa consequência
são bem-sucedidos (ou fracassam)? Um estudo de caso da Rede de Escolas Desobedientes
na Catalunha
Resumo: Avaliações externas e padronizadas com base nos resultados dos alunos são uma política
educacional contestada entre os atores da escola. Movimentos de oposição surgiram em diferentes
países, especialmente em contextos com sistemas de high-stakes accountability. No entanto, esse
fenômeno não foi analisado em sistemas de responsabilização soft. Este artigo analisa as razões que
explicam o surgimento e o sucesso (ou não) movimento opt-out na Catalunha, entendido como um
movimento anti-padronização em um sistema de soft accountability. Para tanto, adotamos a abordagem
do estudo de caso como estratégia metodológica, a partir da triangulação de entrevistas
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 3
semiestruturadas com ativistas (n = 14), principais stakeholders (n = 3) e análise documental e de
imprensa (n = 25). Os resultados lançam luz sobre a emergência e a natureza do movimento, sua
estrutura de oportunidades, as estruturas discursivas e os repertórios de ação coletiva. Nossos
resultados mostram como os instrumentos de responsabilidade têm uma ’vida própria além de sua
concepção de política. Nesse sentido, o movimento de opt out na Catalunha identifica potenciais
riscos e efeitos adversos semelhantes aos relatados em sistemas de alto risco, desenvolvendo um
repertório de ação coletiva e estruturas discursivas semelhantes a outros movimentos anti-
padronização emergentes em contextos high-stakes.
Palavras-chave: movimento de opt-out; prestação de contas de baixo risco; testes padronizados;
movimentos sociais; política educacional
Why Do Opt-Out Movements Succeed (or Fail) in Low-Stakes Accountability
Systems? A Case Study of the Network of Dissident Schools in Catalonia
In recent decades, the diffusion of standardized assessment tests and accountability systems
(AS) on a global scale has intensified (Ball et al., 2017; Holloway et al., 2017). However, in some
countries the adoption of these instruments has triggered resistance from the educational
community. Among other initiatives, the use and intensification of standardized assessment tests has
facilitated the emergence of new social movements led primarily by families, such as the so-called
opt-out movement in the United States
(Lingard & Hursh, 2019; Wang, 2017) and the Let Our Kids be
Kids campaign in England (Sibley-White, 2019). In Chile, the anti-standardization movement was
organized by academic-activists that fostered the Alto al SIMCE campaign (Campos-Martínez &
Guerrero, 2016; Montero et al., 2018; Pino et al., 2016). This article aims to examine the factors that
have favoured and/or hindered the emergence, consolidation and success (or failure) of the opt-out
movement in a context of low-stakes accountability.
In contrast to the above-mentioned countries, which have a long history in the use of
standardized tests associated with high-stakes AS (Falabella & Ramos Zincke, 2019; Santori, 2020),
Spain, and in Catalonia in particular, is characterized by a shorter and erratic history and by low-
stakes AS. The recent adoption of these external mechanisms of accountability in Catalonia is linked
to a more far-reaching global reform with respect to governance of the education system, inspired
by New Public Management (NPM) (Verger et al., 2015). This reform includes assessment of
student results through a standardized test that is applied annually to all primary and secondary
schools. In this context, during the 2014-2015 school year, the Network of Dissident Schools (XEI,
after its initials in Catalan), which managed to organize boycotts in more than 80 schools and the
support of over 1700 families (Collet-Sabé & Ball, 2020). Contrary to the growing research on
resistance movements against standardized tests in countries with high-stakes AS (Campos-Martínez
& Guerrero, 2016; Currin et al., 2019; Johnson & Slekar, 2014; Supovitz et al., 2016), those that
emerge in countries like Spain with soft accountability systems have not been explored very much.
Based on a 47-state survey of 1,641 respondents, Pizmony-Levy and Green-Saraisky (2016) note that, in the
US, the typical social profile of opt-out activists is white, married, highly educated, politically liberal, whose
children attend public school and whose median household income is well above the national average. In the
US, people who participate in the opt-out movement protest against high-stakes accountability systems but
also as a sign of rejection of their undesired effects on teaching and curriculum as well as to protest against
the increasing privatization and commercialization of education (p. 6). Beyond the boycott, participants are
also characterized for their activism on and through social media and for engaging in persuasion and lobbying
campaigns (Pizmony-Levy & Green-Saraisky, 2016).
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 4
Thus, Rogero-García et al. (2014) studied Marea Verde (Green Tide), the social movement against
cuts in education that emerged in the early 2010s, present especially in the Community of Madrid. In
a similar vein, Saura et al. (2017) analyzed their network communication strategies to oppose the
commodification, privatization and standardization of education. In Catalonia, some research
explored the motivations of families to participate in the boycott of tests following a Foucauldian
approach (Collet-Sabé & Ball, 2020). Unlike previous research, this study seeks to shed light on the
phenomenon from the perspective of political process theory (Della Porta & Diani, 2011; McAdam
et al., 2003), which integrates different perspectives that enable us to understand the political
economy of social movements, exploring the dialectical relationship between structural factors and
internal elements of social movement organizations. To do this, we explore three key dimensions of
analysis: the contextual factors (Hay, 2002) that facilitated the emergence and consolidation of the
XEI in Catalonia; their rationalities and discursive frames (Benford & Snow, 2000); and the
collective action repertoires and their different impacts (Tarrow, 1993). Methodologically, this
research follows the case study approach (Yin, 2009) to study the XEI in Catalonia. Specifically, we
combine semi-structured interviews with activists (n=14) and stakeholders (n=3), with an analysis of
press reports (n = 14) and documents produced by the social movement itself (n = 11).
The article is structured as follows: first, we present the theoretical framework, which is
based on political process theory; then we describe the context of austerity and managerial reforms
that facilitated the emergence of the XEI to combat the standardization and commodification of
education; after that we describe the study’s methodology, based on a qualitative case study; and
finally, we present the main results of the research and our conclusions.
Social Movements and Collective Action in the Field of Education: A Political
Process Approach
This research draws on social movements theory and, more specifically, the political process
approach. This approach captures some of the main contributions of authors such as Tarrow (1998),
McAdam, McCarthy and Zald (1999) and Della Porta and Diani (2011) and analyzes the internal and
external dimensions of social movements, including: a) the context; b) communicative strategies and
discursive frames; c) the collective action repertoires of social movements.
First, the context in which social movements operate is decisive, not only in their ability to
influence and to introduce new issues on the political agenda, but it can also condition their
alliances, discourse and actions (Hay, 2002; Verger, 2009; Verger & Novelli, 2012). Context includes
elements such as the existing hierarchies between the different social actors, the dominant values
and the political opportunity structures (Ibarra, 2005; Neveu, 2006; Tarrow, 2012; Verger, 2008).
The political opportunity structures (POS) enable us to capture those political factors and conditions
that characterize the environment in which social movements operate and that help facilitate and/or
hinder social mobilization, citizen participation in collective action and the impact on public policies
(Ibarra et al., 2002). The POS make it possible to distinguish between relational factors (the model
of relationships woven between social movements and governments and/or other actors and
lobbies), systemic (for example, the degree of openness of the political system), and temporal (the
historical context in which collective action develops; Kitschelt, 1986; Verger & Novelli, 2012).
Second, collective action also alludes to a symbolic dimension, which is key to understanding
its mobilizing power. Interpretative frames (McAdam et al., 1999) are crucial since they act as
mediators between the structural and organizational factors of collective action. The frames refer to
“shared meanings and the concepts through which people tend to define their situation” (Ibarra et
al., 2002, p. 43) and enable citizens to “understand and speak meaningfully about what is happening
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 5
in the world” (Tejerina, 1998, p. 135). The design of the frames is crucial to guarantee their social
resonance, which is defined by their “credibility and prominence” (Benford & Snow, 2000, p. 619).
As a consequence, for a frame to be successful it needs to be credible “both in content and in
sources” and, therefore, the actors in charge of its social dissemination need to present a “solid
public image” (Della Porta & Diani, 2011, p. 114). Broadly speaking, research on social movements
tends to distinguish between three types of collective action frames: diagnostic, motivational and
prognostic (Snow & Benford, 1988). Diagnostic frames contain information that allow you to easily
identify the problem you are trying to solve and its causes. Motivational frames try to encourage the
participation of the population in the campaigns, social mobilizations and actions developed by the
social movement. For this, it is necessary to address the citizens (or the social group that is to be
mobilized), clearly identifying the subjects that will lead the social change), while providing an
optimistic message and reasons that show the viability of achieving the change in public policy
(Benford & Snow, 2000). Finally, prognostic frames aim to identify possible solutions and/or
alternatives, as well as how to achieve them (Verger, 2009). Basically, prognostic frames involve the
generation of “hypotheses about new social patterns, new ways of regulating relationships between
groups and new forms of consensus and the exercise of power” (Della Porta & Diani, 2011, p. 108).
Third, the actions of social movements serve to communicate their demands, weave
relationships of solidarity, and generate a collective identity among their members (Tilly, 1986,
2008). Further, through the deployment of their repertoires of collective action, social movements
attempt to strengthen a positive perception regarding the possibilities of change and create
uncertainty in the political system to introduce their issues onto the political agenda and promote the
production of substantive changes in public policy (Ibarra et al., 2002). The repertoires of collective
action that social movements can deploy include a range of actions, such as direct actions,
awareness-raising and political pressure, among others (Verger, 2009). Traditionally, direct actions
tend to take place in the public arena and seek to make the conflict visible and communicate the
demands of the social movement to public opinion. Within this typology of actions, we can
distinguish between those considered conventional, disruptive and innovative. In addition, social
movements can develop political pressure tactics of various kinds, for example through legal
mechanisms or transferring their demands directly to the political representatives of the government.
The effectiveness of pressure actions will depend on the level of social support the movement has,
as well as on the power of its arguments and the adequacy in juridical-legal terms of its demands.
Finally, awareness-raising actions are based on the dissemination of information generated by the
movement, in which its particular worldview is made public, as well as the problems that lie at the
root of the socio-political conflict and its causes. This typology of actions includes various activities,
such as the preparation of press releases, the promotion of social media (Twitter, Facebook,
Youtube, etc.), the organization of roundtables, talks and debates, and so forth. Generally, social
movements choose one or another repertoire of action based on the problem they face, the political-
ideological orientation of the movement, the resources available, and the context. However, it is
important to note that these repertoires are complementary, such that social movements often
combine various types of actions to achieve their goals (Verger, 2009; Verger & Novelli, 2012).
This conceptual and analytical model is used to investigate the Network of Dissident Schools
against standardized tests in Catalonia, which emerged in a context of neoconservative, market-
based reforms that we describe below.
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 6
Conservative Modernization and Educational Standardization in the Spanish
Education System
The outbreak of the global economic crisis in 2007 had notable consequences on the
member states of the European Union (EU), especially on Southern-European countries such as
Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Catalonia is one of the European regions that has suffered the
greatest impact of austerity policies in education. These measures have been selective in nature,
affecting the public sector disproportionately and equity policies in particular (Bonal & Verger, 2017;
Bonal & Verger, 2013; Bonal & Zancajo, 2016; Martínez-Celorrio, 2015).
Subsequently, at the state level, the Spanish government combined the implementation of
austerity policies with the education reform of the LOMCE (Organic Law, 8/2013, of December 9,
for the Improvement of Educational Quality). This reform promoted the consolidation of an
educational model based on what Apple (2001) called “conservative modernization”. The LOMCE
introduced elements of educational re-centralization and attacks on Catalan linguistic immersion
(Barbeta & Termes, 2014), strongly inspired by the neoliberal and neoconservative think tank FAES,
linked to the main conservative party in Spain (Olmedo & Grau, 2013; Saura, 2015). However, this
reform was widely challenged by various sectors, becoming particularly unpopular among the
educational community and Catalan public opinion (Verger & Pagès, 2018; Saura et al., 2017). In this
sense, the government of Catalonia and part of civil society perceived the LOMCE as a
recentralization policy (Saura & Luengo, 2015) that posed a threat to the model of language
immersion in Catalan in the context of the rise of the pro-independence movement
In response to the imposition of this reform, and with the impetus of the 15M
mobilizations, in 2011 the Green Tide (Marea Verde) for Public Education in Madrid and the
Yellow Tide (Marea Amarilla) in Catalonia emerged with the same objectives. This social movement
led to a new cycle of mobilization in defense of public education and against the privatization of
education, inspiring and facilitating the emergence of new social actors in the field of education.
From the substrate of this movement, among others, there emerged in Catalonia the dissident
movement against external standardized tests. However, it is important to note that in Catalonia the
adoption of external accountability mechanisms is linked to a more far-reaching global reform of
governance of the education system. In 2009, the Catalan Law of Education (LEC), which revolves
around greater autonomy of schools, an empowerment and professionalization of school principals
and defining mechanisms of external evaluation. These elements represent the three pillars of the
Catalan law of education and constitute the bases of a reform inspired by the New Public
Management (Verger et al., 2015). Since 2009, and under the framework of the LEC, an external
evaluation of student results has been implemented that is applied annually to all primary and
secondary schools. This standardized evaluation, which is census-based and applied in the sixth
(final, 12 years old) grade of primary school (although initially it was also applied to the third (9 years
A key aspect for understanding the opposition of the educational community and a significant part of
Catalan civil society to the LOMCE Education Reform Act (ERA) refers to the aspects linked to the
distribution of decision-making power between the Autonomous regions and the Central Government.
Historically, this has been a crucial element of political tension in educational debates in Spain (Engel, 2008).
In this context, the LOMCE ERA was interpreted as a recentralizing initiative that also called into question
the linguistic immersion model in Catalan, prevalent since the 1980s and which enjoyed a broad political and
social consensus in Catalonia. Thus, opposition to the LOMCE ERA in Catalonia was widespread, as it
synthesized a broad spectrum of social sectors with demands and criticisms of a political nature, cultural and
linguistic elements and educational issues.
An anti-austerity movement, the first event of which was on May 15, 2011.
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 7
old) grade of primary school) and the third grade of secondary school (15 years old), measures
students’ basic skills and has been inspired by international assessment frameworks and instruments
such as PISA (Verger & Pagès, 2018). Formally, it has no direct consequences for the students,
teachers and schools, and in political documents it is described as “a formative assessment to
improve performance and development of school autonomy”, in spite of having become “an
instrument to measure school performance” (Verger et al., 2020). In fact, in recent years, this
assessment has been consolidated as an educational policy instrument with multiple uses, and since
2012 it has been used to define a system of indicators and other “experimental” assessment tools,
including logics of performance-related payment for teacher promotion (Beneyto et al., 2019;
Collet-Sabé, 2017). Despite these experimental models, external assessment in Spain and Catalonia
has had historically, and following a bureaucratic administrative tradition, a diagnostic orientation
without a direct formal impact, so it could be characterized as a low-stakes accountability model. As
we explained in the introduction, this makes the resistance movement against standardized tests in
Catalonia a particular case: a collective action to boycott standardized tests under a low-stakes
accountability model.
This article presents a case study of the Network of Dissident Schools (XEI) in Catalonia as
an example of resistance to standardized tests in countries with low-stakes accountability systems, a
phenomenon that has not yet been analyzed very much. Case studies are empirical investigations of
a contemporary phenomenon necessarily analyzed within its historical and social context (Yin,
2009). They are methodologically appropriate when a series of specific conditions are met: the
boundaries between the phenomenon and context are not obvious and where the context is
particularly relevant to understanding said phenomenon; the phenomenon is made up of multiple,
complex and interrelated variables; data collection is based on multiple sources, which favors data
triangulation; and both data collection and data analysis are based on the prior development of
theoretical propositions (Yin, 2009). In terms of theoretical contributions, single case studies fulfill a
double function. On the one hand, they allow us to test, confirm or question well-founded
theoretical propositions, in this case relative to the context, the rationalities and discursive frames, as
well as the action repertoires of social movements. On the other hand, they allow us to formulate,
expand and propose new propositions relative to phenomena in which there is less consensus in the
academic literature, such as the idiosyncratic characteristics of opposition to accountability in
countries with soft accountability systems.
Our empirical strategy is based on the collection of data from various sources: semi-
structured with activists (n=14) and stakeholders (n=3), as well as the analysis of press news (n = 14)
and documents produced by the social movement itself (n = 11). With regards to the participants
and the empirical sources, the interviews were conducted with two specific profiles. We interviewed
activists that are mobilizers or with leadership or coordination roles (n=4), as well as activists that
participate in boycott activities (n=10), from a total of eight primary schools. The selection of the
interviewees was made following criteria of organizational responsibility in the case of the activists
with leadership roles, and following a snowball strategy in the case of the boycott participants. The
selection was not made according to schools because the object of our analysis is not the schools but
rather the XEI itself as an organizational and relational network that makes up the social movement.
In any case, the participants are from different schools to avoid contextual biases. Most participants
are from the civil servant middle classes or new middle classes, despite the fact that other profiles of
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 8
working-class origin have been included, which are less common in the network of dissident
schools, as can be observed in Table 1.
Table 1
Activists and Schools Characteristics
Activist’s role
Type of school
Interview 1
Civil servant
middle class
Urban public
school (big city)
Interview 2
Civil servant
middle class
Urban public
school (middle-
size city)
Interview 3
Working class
Urban public
school (big city)
Interview 4
New middle class
Urban public
school (big city)
Interview 5
Civil servant
middle class
Urban public
school (big city)
Interview 6
Civil servant
middle class
Urban public
school (big city)
Interview 7
Working class
Urban public
school (middle-
size city)
Interview 8
Working class
Rural public
Interview 9
Civil servant
middle class
Activist teacher
Rural public
Interview 10
Civil servant
middle class
Rural public
Interview 11
Civil servant
middle class
Rural public
Source: own elaboration
The documentary analysis was made from the public documents of the movement, including
informative material, press releases, manuals and other political documents that present its discursive
framework. Press documents published during the peak period of the protest by the Catalan mass
media were also used to analyze XEI’s discourse in the media, contextual aspects and, more
secondarily, the media treatment of the phenomenon.
An important research instrument was the interview script, which covers relevant aspects of
the political context and process, biographical questions of the interviewee, motivations and
rationalities of participation in the movement, repertoires of collective action, as well as subjective
opinions, interpretations and experiences of the external assessment system and participation in the
boycott mobilizations.
Based on these data, our analytical strategy privileged the triangulation of sources (that is,
sought the analytical complementarity of texts from different sources, rather than seeking their
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 9
mutual validation) and the analysis of content (that is, analysis of the explicit manifest content of the
text, as well as the emergent inferences that derived from it; Gorard & Taylor, 2004).
Emergence and Nature of the Opt-Out Movement in Catalonia: Socio-Political Factors and
Political Opportunity Structures
The Network of Dissident Schools (XEI) arose in Catalonia from the creation of a blog
during the 2013-2014 academic year, promoted by the commission against cuts to the “Patronat
Domènech” state school, located in the Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona. Although the
movement has an urban origin, it later spread through networks of activists and associations of
student families, reaching up to 57 schools. The movement initially arose in the context of the
economic crisis and cuts in education. The activists also point out the importance of the approval of
the educational reform to improve quality (LOMCE) in 2013, which involved a paradigm shift
inspired by New Public Management (Parcerisa, 2016). This reform included the adoption of
external standardized and centralized tests, with consequences for the accreditation of students.
These factors (economic crisis, public cuts, and reform of the LOMCE) were perceived as a threat
to state schools and educational equity, and generated a change of context that favored social
Initially we were on the committee against cuts in our school. From there we
organized and decided to resist LOMCE (...) among ourselves, the action that
marked a before and after was the refusal to do the tests. This was the origin.
(Blanca, activist)
At the beginning, the actions of this movement received a noteworthy public and media
attention. Nevertheless, the removal of the more polemic aspects of the reform (Real Decreto-Ley
5/2016), and the discontinuity of families as actors of collective action, limited the success of such
movement in the long term. However, the implementation of the LOMCE accentuated regional
tensions, which are very present in the education debate in Spain (Bonal, 2000; Engel, 2008). Thus,
in Catalonia, the reform is interpreted as an attempt at recentralization by the Spanish central
government (Saura & Luengo, 2015), generated, initially, a favorable context for the consolidation of
a wide and ambiguous alliance among multiple actors. In fact, as we discuss below, the XEI was able
to take a strategic advantage of this context to frame its discourse.
In addition, under the dominant administrative tradition in Spain, of a bureaucratic and
hierarchical nature, the external mechanisms of accountability have had an erratic trajectory
et al., 2019), facilitating the emergence of movements of opposition to these reforms. In this
context, the combination of different elements generated a new structure of opportunity,
understood as a condition of possibility for the emergence and incipient consolidation of this
movement and its repertoire of collective action.
For instance, in the Catalan education reform act (2009) the development of an independent evaluation
agency was considered but never get materialized (Verger et al. 2015). Subsequently, other isolated policy
initiatives were implemented but not retained at the long term, including a system of quality indicators and
teachers’ evaluation with incentives attached, or the so-called “pedagogic audits” for low performing schools
(Verger & Pagès, 2018).
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 10
Composition, Actors and Alliances of the Network of Dissident Schools
Typically, opt-out movements have been led by middle-class families with high cultural
capital and frequently white (Pizmony-Levy & Green-Saraisky, 2016). In the case of the XEI, the
activists who exercised a leadership role belong mainly to factions of the new middle classes with
high cultural capital. In this context, we identified an affinity between the social positions of the
participants in the network, coming mostly from middle class families with high cultural capital, and
their educational preferences for weak or soft pedagogical framing, in terms of Bernstein (Ball,
2003). These preferences are expressed as a certain inclination for transversal pedagogical
approaches (in contrast with highly separated and standardized approaches) as well as for models of
personalized evaluation. Here, we should highlight that such educational preferences are sustained
with particular non-directive and flexible caring models, based in post-material values of emotional
wellbeing where children should be the center and the focus of their own development. The relative
homogeneity of the movement’s social composition facilitates the consolidation of shared
interpretive frames and cultural codes close to the school institution that allow it to question core
aspects of the educational process, such as evaluation methods, curricular contents and teaching
methodologies but without questioning its commitment to education as a central strategy of family
social (re)production, habitual in the new middle classes with high cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1984).
We have not felt against the school or boycotting the school, despite distancing
ourselves from it at times, with this more critical spirit of respecting children’s
rhythms (...) In the end, we haven’t gone against the school because the school too
(…) we have felt very legitimized, supported and very understood [by the school].
(Ferran, activist)
The opt-out movement in Catalonia is organized around a coalition of different actors. More
specifically, this is based on the adhesion of formal and informal family associations that, in many
cases autonomously, organize themselves to share discourses (talks, books and so on), resources
(proposals, material and so forth), education, discursive frames (for example, debates on public
education organised by many education stakeholders), and repertoires of collective action in
network. From a horizontal dynamic established under the aegis of the FAPAC (Federation of
School Parent Associations of Catalonia) and Marea Amarilla (Yellow Tide), the XEI crystallized as a
network that brings together, gives support and coherence to the different nodes that compose it.
Unlike other contexts where teachers (as in the case of Chicago, see Au, 2016), students and
academics (as in the case of Chile, see Hernández-Ortiz & Garrido, 2021; Montero et al., 2018;
Parcerisa & Villalobos, 2020) have played a very active role in mobilizing opt-out movements, the
XEI is made up mostly of families. Initially, the XEI arose from family associations of state schools
located in the city of Barcelona. Organizationally, it collaborates with social movements made up of
families (school family associations) through diverse strategies and multiple forms of activism in
different platforms that facilitate the creation of informal spaces where leaderships are built and
ideas and actions are shared and disseminated. These will make up for the lack of formal
organization and the precarious coordination mechanisms between social movements:
We are an informal network and don’t want to formalize it… We work in a network,
we think that all these movements should have a common umbrella and the people
have to be in different places. There are people from the XEI in the Yellow
Assembly, others in the FAPAC, because we have to be there… Because otherwise it
is very difficult to articulate discourses. (Blanca, activist)
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 11
Ideologically, the XEI is inspired by social movements focused on education: the Marea
Groga [Yellow Tide in Catalan], the Marea Verde (Green Tide) and the movements organized around
protests against the LOMCE. The network of dissident schools tried to weave alliances with other
actors of the educational community, including teacher unions, pedagogical renewal movements, and
student unions. However, the XEI finds it difficult to consolidate proactive alliances that go beyond
formal support, especially among teachers and including teachers’ unions.
In this regard, the institutional characteristics of the Spanish education system and the design
of the tests made the alliance between the XEI and teaching staff difficult. On the one hand, the
design of the tests under a low-stakes model did not involve consequences for the teachers, thus did
not generate a direct questioning of the teachers. However, the characteristics of the Spanish
education system are based on a bureaucratic tradition and administrative control typical of the
Napoleonic state models. These models tend to privilege a rigid and standardized administrative
system, in which the teaching staff are frequently highly restricted by normative structures (Verger et
al, 2019; Voisin & Dumay, 2020). In this context, the Catalan Department of Education exerted
pressure on schools and management teams with the treat of administrative sanctions to guarantee
the realization of the test, fact that limited the participation of teachers in the boycott. This can
partly explain the neutral position or tacit support of the teachers and the unions with regard to the
boycott initiative, as well as a certain indulgence of its promoters in assuming that “they didn’t want
to create consequences for the teachers” or “confront the educational community” (Blanca, activist).
The teachers’ unions maintained a low profile: while they were not favorable towards the tests, they
also did not play an active role in the field of collective action beyond giving formal support to
families through communications and participation in press conferences.
Communication and Collective Action Frames against Standardized Tests and Privatization
in Public Education
The communicative strategy of the XEI, like other contemporary social movements in
Spain, was strongly influenced by the indignados movement (Álvarez-Ruiz & Núñez, 2016; Barranco
& Parcerisa, 2020). Social media played a central role in the external communication strategy of the
XEI, which tacked advantage of the use of online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to
disseminate its messages and spread its calls for actions of protest. In discursive terms, the
diagnostic frame of the XEI combined a narrative that made a global questioning of the state reform
of the LOMCE and of the cutbacks with a detailed critique of the standardized tests of the LEC.
Thus, the XEI holds that the LOMCE promotes a model of education (but also political and ethical)
that is neoconservative, that opposes the inclusive model of education and society that they defend.
First of all, the XEI formulated a critique of the curriculum proposed by the LOMCE,
arguing that LOMCE curriculum was politically conservative, with an elitist conception of
education, and pedagogically narrowly focused on instrumental competencies and outdated
academicism (XEI, 2015). As Victor points out, “the LOMCE [...] was a law that could have been
enacted in 1960. Everything was exams, a system in which those that pass continue and those that
fail are left behind [...]. It was a law of ‘natural selection” (Victor, activist). The XEI also denounced
the centralization of the curriculum, which was presented as an imposition of the central
government on the autonomous communities, a discourse that enabled them to combine the
education debate with the regional conflict between Catalonia and Spain. The XEI knew how to play
strategically with this context, on some occasions framing the fight against the LOMCE as a
rejection “of an educational model that Madrid wanted to impose” (Alberto, activist). This facilitated
the incorporation of other family profiles and made “some parents who may not have joined to
support not taking the tests” (Alberto, activist).
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 12
The XEI also denounced the managerial approach of the LOMCE and pointed out that this
reform promoted the questioning of teacher professionalism and the fragmentation of the education
community. Under this reform, teachers would become mere instructors, undermining their role as
educators. The XEI also opposed the new model of managerial school governance since it created a
“pyramidal structure crowned by the figure of the principal” that would replace “the previous
horizontal structure that functioned democratically through School Councils” (2015, p. 1). Finally, it
argued that the LOMCE introduced a new ethical-political framework into the educational system
that would be founded on individualism, competition, segregation and privatization” (XEI, 2015, p.
1). According to one activist of the movement, behind the managerial reforms of the LOMCE and
LEC “there is an idea of commodifying and privatizing public education” (Blanca, activist).
As can be seen, the XEI used the LOMCE strategically to criticize the components
associated with the NPM that penetrated the Catalan educational system with the enactment of the
LEC. According to the XEI, both reforms would try to insert new forms of business management
into public education, thus inoculating the values and action logics of the private sector in the
organization of schools. XEI activists identified the standardized tests as a central pillar through
which the endogenous and exogenous commodification and privatization of education, at both the
state and regional levels, are promoted. According to the XEI, the tests are the main tool of the
LOMCE “to classify the schools, establish rankings and promote [...] competition between people
and schools. They are the key instrument to assign market value to each school” (XEI, 2017, p. 5).
The XEI’s criticisms of the standardized tests include its excessively narrow focus (which
captures only elements of memory in relation to instrumental competences, literacy and numeracy),
but which obviates other knowledge, such as soft competences (creativity, reflexivity, emotional
education and critical thinking), as well as the situated and contextual knowledge of students.
Further, according to the XEI, there is an intrinsic tension between the projects of schools and the
centralized and standardized nature of the tests. It is also a tension that is more pronounced in
schools that actively exercise pedagogical autonomy to propose their own, differentiated educational
models, and define their own “innovative” and “unique” pedagogical projects. These types of
schools, with a majority of middle-class families (Síndic de Greuges, 2016), are those that participate
most frequently in the boycott against the tests.
External tests are not what we want. What we want, what we think, is that we must
evaluate the work of the school, more creative, more participative, the life experience
of the children, and not so much the results; we don’t want a school that is
competitive. It’s very idealistic, all this, but that’s how it is. (Mireia, activist)
A central part of XEI’s criticism are the negative impacts, the undesired effects on
pedagogical practices (occasionally unethical) they believe would arise once the tests of basic
competencies were consolidated: stress for the students, generalization of teaching to the test, and
the exclusion of disadvantaged students from the test (cream skimming) impacts and practices also
identified in other contexts (Pizmony-Levy & Green-Saraisky, 2016).
In many schools with students [with academic difficulties] they did not make them
take the tests so that they did not lower the school’s grades, which already shows the
perversion of the system … [In my daughters’ school] they spent three, four weeks
preparing exclusively for the tests. They trained for the tests. I don’t send my
daughters to train for state exams, I send them to learn, to socialize (Víctor, activist)
According to the XEI, another risk associated with the tests is the publication and
dissemination of the results of the schools that perform best and their effects in terms of school
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 13
segregation and competition. Along these lines, Anna points out that “ranking schools makes them
and families compete [...] Imagine what this means for the families: creating ghettos”.
Finally, with regards to the prognostic frames, the XEI opts for “a universal, inclusive public
education of quality that seeks not only academic excellence but also an integral education and one
that believes in the values of an egalitarian, solidary, inclusive and transformative society”. The
desirable solution for the XEI is a personalized model of teaching, one that respects and is based on
the different rhythms of learning, the interests and situated knowledge and context of each student;
that cultivates multiple intelligences and promotes soft competences; and that uses continuous
assessment and takes into account the specific nature of each school. In organizational terms, they
also propose that governments contribute at least 7% of GDP to public education” and facilitate
the participation of the educational community in a process of public deliberation on the future of
education (XEI, 2015, p. 2).
The Boycott of Standardized Tests: The Repertoires of Collective Action
The XEI’s repertoires of collective action combine different types of actions. First of all,
with respect to actions of political pressure, the XEI activists highlight the difficulty in dialoging
with the education authorities, and especially with the Barcelona Education Consortium and the
Catalan Department of Education. As one of the activists points out, while it is true that on some
occasions, they managed to hold meetings with the government, the result of these meetings was not
satisfactory for the XEI, since their main demands were ignored.
In general terms, the actions organized by the XEI were characterized as “very grassroots
and articulated through social media” (Blanca, activist). In this way, the XEI deployed awareness-
raising actions by organizing talks and roundtables with social actors and experts.
I gave talks throughout the region, in [various municipalities], explaining what the
standardized tests meant. WhatsApp groups didn’t exist during the LOMCE,
everything was done by mail [electronic]. Basically, putting up posters, talks, speaking
with everybody in the street (...) We gave many park talks, in the parks outside the
school. Sending emails to those that had them. (Víctor, activist)
In terms of communication, the XEI tried to spread their ideas and actions through social
networks, aiming to atrract the attention of the media in order to reach a wider audience. The
intention was for “the action itself to serve as a platform” (Blanca, activist), in order to influence
public opinion and thus consolidate its counter-hegemonic narrative.
However, the aforementioned collective action repertoires were a complement to the actions
to boycott the standardized tests, which would be the movement’s central protest tactic. The choice
of this tactic was not easy. Initially, there were a number of proposals for dissent against the
LOMCE, such as “not asking for schooling in Spanish”, “not asking for the subject of religion”,
“not choosing the subject of Entrepreneurship and Business Activity”, and not taking the children
to the retakes in the 3rd and 6th grade of primary school” (Commission against cuts, 2014, p. 7).
Despite the non-binding nature of the tests, families expressed doubts, unease, and dilemmas when
placing their children at the center of the boycott, generating a complicated situation or
I didn’t want to put my daughter in the position of being the only one not going to the tests,
because it is more complicated at some ages, such as the 3rd grade, in which they are still
young. (Mireia, activist)
Many families thought “What will happen to my child if I don’t take them to do the
tests?” It’s very complicated [the boycott]. (Víctor, activist)
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 14
However, the XEI considered that the most disruptive and effective way to oppose the
LOMCE was the strategy of boycotting the standardized tests. Moreover, the standardized tests
were conceived as the pretext to make a general criticism and articulate a global discourse against
pro-privatization reform processes. As Blanca, one of the founders of the XEI, stated, “with the
tests” they could boycott and [...] have a certain echoin the media, while with other things they
couldn’t”. One factor that favored the choice of boycotting the tests as a form of protest was that
the results of the primary school tests were non-binding (Commission against cuts, 2014).
From the point of view of the XEI activists, the boycott of the tests was not an end in itself,
but rather a means to capture the attention of public opinion and spread and articulate the discourse
against the standardization, segregation, and commodification of education. Several interviewees
pointed out that the alternative activity to the tests that they organized was conceived as a way of
doing pedagogy and generating and strengthening community ties:
We networked the Gràcia schools (...) Most of the schools that didn’t do the tests
carried out alternative activities, like visiting an air-raid shelter in the Plaza del
Diamante, and another day we went to the Plaza de la Vila and made some murals.
The parents also organized themselves so that 2 or 3 parents stayed with the
children. (Mireia, activist)
The boycott tactic appears to be as an innovative and disrupting action, which allows to
increase the visibility of the protest, both in social media and traditional mass-media. However, the
practical development encounters some difficulties that might hinder its success. One of the salient
challenges is related with the difficulties of aligning the interests among different actors of the
school community. As it has been observed in contexts of high stakes accountability (for instance, in
Chile), the alignment of interests among school actors turns into a difficult task due to the presence
of important economic and reputational incentives attached to the test. Therefore, in certain
contexts, such actions tend to conflict and divide the school community (Parcerisa & Villalobos,
2020). This is why the previous preparation of actions, the pedagogy and the search of mechanisms
trying to minimize the costs of participating in the collective action appears to be critical. In the case
of the XEI, despite tensions and fears generated for the treats of repression towards schools and
teachers in particular, as well as the intra-familiar doubts and dilemmas caused by the participation in
a protest that is ultimately exerted by sons and daughters, it appears important to highlight the
critical role of an internal action protocol, which contributed to build trust and develop a greater
perception of safety among organizers and participants.
Accordingly, and in order to encourage families to participate in the boycott, a Practical and
reasoned guide to conscientious objection to the LOMCE was prepared, with the support of lawyers who
advised the movement. This gave families a certain confidence and legal security in the face of the
boycott. Unlike school administrators and teachers, who could face serious administrative penalties,
the costs to families of not taking their children to do the tests were much lower. In some cases,
pressure from the administration on the schools was so strong that they even threatened to “initiate
disciplinary proceedings against teachers” (Ana, activist). In fact, pressure by school inspectors was
recurrent in many schools. As can be seen in the following quote, the dissent guide prepared by the
XEI was very useful for families to not back down and proceed with the boycott actions:
When we decided not to take the children [to the tests], [the inspectors] told them to do the
tests on other days, not to say anything and to do the tests. But since we had this guide, we
entered the school, we had the whole guide, we had the signed papers, we had everything,
everything prepared. (Roser, activist)
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 15
However, the threats of repression towards the teachers generated some doubts among the
families that organized the boycott, as one activist mother pointed out: When I had some doubts, it
was because I saw that something could happen to them (the teachers)”. In this case, the guides
prepared by the XEI, together with the fact that, in some cases, they had the tacit support of the
school (including management and the teachers), made it possible to finally boycott the tests.
Therefore, the construction of alliances between the school actors appears as a critical factor for
understanding the greater (or lesser) support for the boycott actions. In short, the alignment of the
interests of management, teachers, families and students is crucial to understand the success (or not)
of the boycott in schools. However, it is important to emphasize that the very nature of the tests as a
measurement instrument makes it difficult for these alliances to remain in place over the long term
due to the potential persuasive power generated by datification, its appearance of objectivity and the
generation of dynamics based on “the need to measure and compare oneself with others” (Marta,
activist). In other words, the standardized tests insert values associated with the idea of performance
into school cultures, which makes it extremely difficult to carry out acts of resistance against these
instruments (Ball, 2000; Baena et al., 2020).
The results of this research indicate that changes in political opportunity structures related to
the austerity measures in education, together with the educational reform of the LOMCE, favored
the emergence of the network of dissident schools. Discursively, XEI’s frames identified the
standardized tests as an instrument of control and covert privatization of education with negative
impacts on teaching models. Among the potential solutions to reverse the effects of the
neoconservative educational model, the XEI proposed repealing the LOMCE, eliminating the
standardized tests, increasing the education budget, and promoting a new universal and inclusive
public education.
As is the case in other countries (such as the United States, see Pizmony-Levy & Green-
Saraisky, 2016), in Catalonia the opposition movement to standardized tests has been led
fundamentally by families, which tend to overrepresent factions of the new middle classes. A
correspondence between the social positions of families and their cultural dispositions and
educational affinities is observed due to weak pedagogical framing. As a complement to this
argument, we can point out that the boycott of the tests has greater structural likelihood of being
successful in those schools with “innovative” pedagogical projects, that are actively distinguished
from their educational setting, and that are in greater conflict with a centralized and standardized
model of assessment, led by middle class families with high cultural capital, non-traditional
educational preferences and, also, a habitus that is very close to the codes of their school (in which
they are the overwhelming majority and/or have a significant capacity to influence). In these
schools, not only do families have cultural dispositions and educational affinities that are more
critical of standardized educational models, but also the teachers and management team, tend to
share similar approaches, generating more possibilities for micropolitical alliances between families
and other school actors to realize the boycott. In addition, the high social capital possessed by most
of the families that make up the network favors the creation of alliances and relationships with other
social actors and educational authorities.
However, in organizational terms, it is necessary to underline the difficulty of consolidating
this type of movement over the long term due to the turnover of its members, as well as due to the
routinization of the external evaluation policy instruments by school actors and the increasing use
that schools make of the tests, internally or pedagogically and externally or relative to the local
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 16
educational market. Thus, beyond resisting standardization, there is the possibility that in the
medium term families and schools can be persuaded and co-opted by the power of numbers,
metrics, classifications and rankings (Biesta, 2015), becoming agents with interests in maintaining
such political instruments (Simons & Voß, 2018; Verger et al., 2019), either to maintain a high
position in the hierarchy of the local educational market and/or to preserve a privileged situation in
the field of education, or for expressive ends that is, to improve pedagogical practices through the
use of external data. In this regard, Au (2008) points out that the new middle class tends to have a
strained or contradictory relationship with accountability systems based on tests since, on the one
hand, they can benefit from these systems while, on the other hand, they oppose standardization and
the forms of teaching that these policies promote.
The research also highlights the reasons that explain the choice of the boycott as a resistance
strategy, its organization and the tensions experienced by the activists. The collective action
repertoire allowed to visualize the social protest against the standardized test but also involved
organizational challenges and might trigger tensions among different school actors (see Parcerisa &
Villalobos, 2020).
Finally, this article shows how collective action of boycotting the standardized tests changes
and reconfigures the school micropolitics, problematizing power relations inside and outside the
school organizations and their daily educational practices. In such a context, families emerge as
actors with growing agency within the educational sphere. For their part, teachers and principals
tend to seek a balance between the demands and preferences of the families, the mandates of the
educational authorities and the strategies and pedagogical and organizational models of the schools.
In any case, the action of dissent against the standardized tests, beyond achieving its direct
objectives, has enabled the questioning and problematizing of a wide range of school practices,
including pedagogical and methodological approaches, privatization of education and school
segregation, curricular content, assessment models and the actual participation in standardized tests.
Although it was not the focus of our article, in recent years protests against standardized tests have
been increasingly led by the movement of high school students. In this regard, future research
should investigate the action logics and rationalities of this collective action, and also examine the
similarities and differences with the Network of Dissident Schools.
In short, this article shows that, regardless of the consequences associated with the
standardized tests, in countries with a Napoleonic administrative tradition, their implementation
might favors the emergence of resistance by the educational community (see Verger et al., 2019).
Such resistance is related to the very nature of the standardized assessment tests, their incentives
(high, low stakes) and the unwanted effects that are associated with such policy instruments
(creation of rankings to promote competition between schools, practices such as teaching to the test
and selection of students to improve scores, and so forth). In fact, as research carried out in low-
stakes contexts shows, the implementation per se of these instruments entails symbolic effects that
can generate rejection by school actors. At the same time, however, these instruments also introduce
new rationalities linked to the culture of performance and generate new interests and subjectivities
among school actors (Falabella, 2020; Holloway & Brass, 2018; Verger et al., 2019 ) that make it
difficult to organize collective action against standardized tests.
The authors acknowledge to anonymous reviewers and the members of the REFORMED project
for their comments and suggestions that have contributed to improve the final version of the paper.
Moreover, the authors want to thank the funding by the European Research Council under the
program Horizon 2020 of the European Union Research and Innovation, grant number 680172.
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 17
Finally, Lluís Parcerisa acknowledges the funding associated to the postdoctoral program “Ayuda
Juan de la Cierva-Formación” (FJC2020-045847-I) funded by
MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033, and the European Union “NextGenerationEU/PRTR”.
This work was supported by the European Research Council under Grant 680172; FJC2020-045847-
I/MCIN/AEI /10.13039/501100011033/“NextGenerationEU”/PRTR.
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About the Authors
Lluís Parcerisa
Universitat de Barcelona
Lluís Parcerisa is a Juan de la Cierva Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Teaching
and Learning and Educational Organization of the University of Barcelona (UB). His main
research interests include the role of international organizations in the global governance of
education, the datafication of schooling, and the enactment and effects of school autonomy with
accountability reforms in the education sector.
Marcel Pagès
Universitat de Girona
Marcel Pagès is adjunct professor in sociology of education and comparative education at the
University of Girona, Department of Pedagogy. His research interests are education reform
processes, school governance and inequalities in education .
Andreu Termes
Barcelona Institute of Regional and Metropolitan Studies (IERMB)
Andreu Termes is a postdoctoral fellow at the Barcelona Institute of Regional and Metropolitan
Studies (IERMB). His main interest deal with privatization of education and accountability policies,
political economy of educational reforms, and segregation and social closure processes.
Jordi Collet-Sabé
Universitat de Vic- Universitat Central de Catalunya (UCC)
Jordi Collet-Sabé is an associate professor of sociology of education at the University of Vic-
UCC (Barcelona) and the former vice-rector for research. His research interests are education
Education Poli cy Anal ysis Archives Vo l. 30 N o. 133 SPECIAL ISSUE 22
policy at global, national regional and local level; family-school relations; and education for the
common (good).
About the Editors
Javier Campos Martínez
Universidad Austral de Chile
Javier Campos Martínez is assistant professor at the Institute of Education Sciences of the
Universidad Austral de Chile, researching educational inclusion in teacher training and higher
education. He participates in the Working Group on Educational Policies and the Right to
Education of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), and is one of the national
coordinators of the Teacher Work Studies Network (ESTRADO) in Chile. Co-founder of the
campaign against Chilean standardized tests Alto al SIMCE, he has worked on designing and
implementing experimental programs that foster inclusion and school success through assessment
for learning at the local level.
Alejandra Falabella
Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile)
Alejandra Falabella is an associate professor of the Department of Educational Policy and School
Development at Universidad Alberto Hurtado (Chile). Her main areas of interest are in sociology of
education and the relationship between education policy, school practices, social class and gender.
Falabella’s research focuses on the ways market-driven and accountability policies are understood
and experienced among schools and families. Recently she has studied the ways new public management
policies affect early childhood education, using feminist theory. Falabella is associate editor of the
journal Education Policy Analysis Archives.
Jessica Holloway
Australian Catholic University
Jessica Holloway is a senior research fellow and Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow within
the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education (ILSTE) and the Research Centre for
Digital Data and Assessment in Education at Australian Catholic University. Her research draws on
political theory and policy sociology to follow two major lines of inquiry: (1) how metrics, data and
digital tools produce new conditions, practices and subjectivities, especially as this relates to teachers
and schools, and (2) how teachers and schools are positioned to respond to the evolving and
emerging needs of their students and communities.
Diego Santori
King’s College London
Why do opt out movements succeed (or fail) in low-stakes accountability systems? 23
Diego Santori is a senior lecturer in education and society at King’s College London. His research
interests include the relationships between education policy, economics and subjectivity and the
ways in which their interpenetration produce new cultural forms and practices. His work has
appeared in leading academic journals and major international collections such as the World Yearbook
of Education 2016, the International Handbook on Ethnography of Education, and the Handbook of Global
Policy and Policy-Making in Education. Together with Stephen Ball and Carolina Junemann he has
published Globalisation and Education Policy Mobility (Routledge, 2017). He has also served as a
panel member for prestigious funding bodies such as UKRI. He is currently researching the impact
of test-based accountability on teacher-pupil interaction; and the mechanisms, motivations and
influence of grassroots organisations involved in resisting standardised testing in England.
Anti-Standardization and Testing Opt-Out Movements in Education:
Resistance, Disputes and Transformation
education policy analysis archives
Volume 30 Number 133 September 6, 2022 ISSN 1068-2341
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This cross-national study contributes to the comparative literature on institutional variations in the regulation of the teaching profession by developing a theoretical typology articulated around teacher education, labor market regulation, and the division of labor. Drawing on Freidson’s work on professionalism in the field of sociology of professions, our typology highlights four models of regulation – the ‘market’, the ‘rules’, the ‘training’, and the ‘professional skills’ models. We discuss how these models, embedded in a bureaucratic, market-oriented or professional approach, shape the regulation of the teaching profession and teachers’ work in different contexts.
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El artículo busca analizar la campaña Alto al SIMCE en Chile, mediante un marco analítico que combina distintas herramientas heurísticas de las teorías de movimientos sociales. Específicamente, el artículo explora los marcos discursivos presentes en las narrativas del movimiento, así como también aspectos vinculados a la formación y trayectoria de la campaña, la identidad colectiva, las alianzas y los repertorios de acción colectiva empleados por los actores para tratar de incidir en las políticas educativas. A nivel metodológico, el artículo se basa en un estudio de caso, con una aproximación cualitativa que combina el análisis documental y de prensa con entrevistas semi-estructuradas a activistas. Los resultados ofrecen reflexiones y conocimiento novedoso sobre los factores externos e internos que pueden favorecer y/o dificultar el éxito de la acción colectiva contra la rendición de cuentas basada en pruebas estandarizadas en el campo educacional.
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Neoliberal policy technologies are spreading across the globe. Most go unrecognised and unopposed, but in some cases, they have provoked reactions and movements that reject or resist them. In this article we focus on one such movement of resistance, consisting of a network of families (the ‘opt out’ movement) that is boycotting the Standard Assessment Tests of primary education in Catalonia. We draw on exploratory research based on in-depth interviews with six of these families, as well as a review of articles, websites and documents produced by or about the movement. The participation of these families is examined in the light of Foucault’s notion of resistance in two different respects: resistance as a ‘tactical reversal’ and refusal as an ‘aesthetics of existence’. We begin with an outline of the global ideological context in which the Standard Assessment Tests are set, and then examine the background to the opt out movement’s resistance to the Standard Assessment Tests in Catalonia. This is followed by a Foucauldian analysis of this resistance, and then a description of the methodology used and the families interviewed. We make no significant empirical claims in the paper but rather seek to theorise certain paradoxes and tensions in relation to opting out and end with some remarks on the significance of the movement.
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El uso de evaluaciones como herramienta de control gubernamental tiene una larga y apasionante historia que comienza en el siglo XIX. Este artículo narra la genealogía de las evaluaciones estandarizadas en Chile desde la segunda mitad del siglo XIX y su posterior desarrollo hasta hoy en día. El estudio se basa en una extensa recopilación y análisis documental, sumado a la realización de entrevistas a actores involucrados en los últimos periodos indagados. Ahora bien, más que profundizar en cada momento histórico, los autores han priorizado entregar una visión panorámica de los orígenes de las evaluaciones nacionales y su trayectoria revelando las continuidades y discontinuidades en su producción, las racionalidades y disputas en juego y las redes de actores e instituciones involucradas.
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Public policies have a moral order, an ethical horizon. They offer a vocabulary of imagined micro-policies. Using the case of Chile, this paper examines the ways in which accountability policies are reworked within schools and how they affect actors’ subjectivities. It adds new findings to the existing body of research on school accountability policies, offering in-depth evidence based on the case of Chile, which has a high-stakes testing model and a widespread competitive voucher system. The research is based on case studies of ten public and private subsidised schools, framed by a sociological perspective of policy enactment theory. The research findings show the ways that accountability policies are recreated, expanded, and intensified at the local level, permeating an ethic of competition. The analysis focuses on three qualitative trends: school actors’ sense-making of test scores and labels; zones of safety and risk for teachers under an accountability regime; and the emergence of a sticky web of persuasion, surveillance, and coercion among school members in order to improve performance. The practices examined are not understood as ‘secondary effects’ or an ‘implementation problem’, as if they occur unconnected from the policy rationale. The outcomes are consistent with the policy itself in interaction with school life.
There are few empirical studies on the cultural consequences of social movements. This article contributes to alleviating this problem, examining the cultural outcomes produced by the action of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH), one of the most important social movement organizations to appear in Spain in the 2010s. Concretely, through qualitative methods, we analyse the content and form of the PAH’s discourse and the communicative practices developed to disseminate it to the population. Following, we examine this diffusion using quantitative methods. The article shows that PAH activists produced a discourse with a form and content that sought to achieve alignment with the common sense of the majority of the population, that their communicative practices took advantage of the opportunities offered by social and mass media, and, lastly, that the PAH’s diagnosis and proposals resonated among a majority of the population.
Opt Out Florida, a largely White, middle-class social movement comprised of parents – most often, mothers – opposed to high-stakes standardised testing in U.S. public schools, has received media criticism for its homogeneity. This article elucidates that trend while simultaneously offering a more nuanced view, using theories of internalised dominance, colourblindness, and powerblindness to analyse Opt Out members’ racial story lines and testimonies. These discursive frames underscore the paradox of a White, middle-class movement purportedly acting for social justice aims: to democratically solve the problem of high-stakes testing, Opt Out members must seek out diverse perspectives. Otherwise, they are not just opting out, but missing out.