Strange Frame Fellows: The Evolution of Discursive Framing in the Opt-Out Testing Movement
by Richard Paquin Morel - 2021
Background/context: In recent years, opposition to accountability policies and associated testing has manifested in widespread boycotts of annual tests—mobilized as the “opt-out movement.” A central challenge facing any movement is the need to recruit and mobilize participants. Key to this process is framing—a discursive tactic in which activists present social issues as problems that require collective action to solve. Such framing often relies on compatible political and ideological commitments among activists and potential recruits. Yet the opt-out movement has successfully mobilized widespread boycotts in diverse communities. How have participants in the movement framed issues relating to testing and accountability?
Purpose/objective/research question/focus of study: I explore the discursive tactics of participants in the opt-out movement by analyzing how they frame issues related to testing and accountability over time. I ask two research questions: (1) What frames did participants in opt-out-aligned social media groups use to convince others that standardized accountability tests are a problem and build support for the movement? (2) To what extent and how did the deployment of frames change over time?
Research design: I conducted a mixed-methods study combining qualitative content analysis to identify frames and computational analysis to describe their co-deployment over time.
Data collection and analysis: I compiled a text corpus of posts to opt-out-aligned social media pages from 2010–2014. I analyzed posts using open coding to identify frames used by participants in online communities. Frames were categorized by their orientation—the general way in which they framed the problem of testing and accountability. I then analyzed the co-deployment of frames using network analysis and hierarchical clustering.
Conclusions/recommendations: The longitudinal analysis of frames reveals key differences in the frames used by participants. While more politically oriented frames—those characterizing testing as a social issue affecting the public schools at large—were common in early stages of the movement, less overtly political frames—those characterizing testing as an individual issue affecting children and local schools or a technical issue—became more prominent over time. Over time, socially oriented frames became decoupled from other frames, showing independent patterns of deployment. This suggests that the movement may have benefited from de-emphasizing politically oriented frames, but that it lacked an overarching shared narrative, which has the potential to limit how it might affect accountability policies and testing.
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