The Enactment of Applied English: Does Caring Lead to Teaching to the Test?


  • Stefan Denis Merchant Queen's University
  • Jessica Rich Queen’s University
  • Don Klinger University of Waikato
  • Rebecca Luce-Kapler Queen’s University


Many school systems require students to pass one or more standardized examinations to graduate. This case study of three lower academic stream English classes in a single Ontario secondary school explored how the presence of a high-stakes standardized examination affected the enactment of the curriculum. Qualitative data were collected through a combination of teacher interviews, classroom observations, and teaching/learning artifacts. The findings of the inductive analysis suggest that the four teachers in the study cared deeply about the emotional well-being and scholastic success of their students; however, this caring sometimes manifested itself in less than ideal teaching practices, such as the use of external rewards, removal of student responsibility for learning, and teaching to the test. Seven strands are identified, each describing how caring is manifested within this teaching/learning context. Three vignettes describe actual classroom events which epitomise how caring was demonstrated by these teachers towards their students. While positioning teaching to the test as an act of caring is unusual, the evidence from this study suggests teachers do it because they believe it will benefit students’ well-being and future outcomes. These findings suggest that for any high-stakes test, caring teachers may teach to the test and narrow the curriculum.

Keywords: English curriculum, standardized testing, caring, washback, motivation, learning skills

Author Biography

Stefan Denis Merchant, Queen's University

Ph.D. Candidate | Assessment and Evaluation

Queen's University




How to Cite

Merchant, S. D., Rich, J., Klinger, D., & Luce-Kapler, R. (2020). The Enactment of Applied English: Does Caring Lead to Teaching to the Test?. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue Canadienne De l’éducation, 43(3), 803–828. Retrieved from

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>