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Background/Context: Since 2013, opting out of state standardized tests has become a movement—the grassroots, organized efforts to refuse to take high-stakes state standardized tests. In particular, opt-out rates in the state of New York have been consistently fluctuating around 20%.

Purpose/Objective: This study aims to examine the actor coalitions and discourse coalitions that have propelled the opt-out movement in the state of New York—the movement’s epicenter with the highest opt-out rate in the United States.

Conceptual Framework: This study is conceptually grounded in the advocacy coalition framework (ACF), a prominent conceptual lens to investigate the formation of coalitions and their impact on policymaking. The ACF posits that advocacy coalitions are forged by policy actors who have similar policy preferences. By contrast, differences in policy preferences are manifested in the discourse that serves to defend or propose coherent arguments as justifications for policy preferences held by the opposition coalitions.

Research Design: This study compiled the Opt-out Discourse Data Set by using data from 323 press articles and 52 archival documents from 2015 to 2018. Each news article or archival document was coded with three variables: movement actors, statements articulated by the actors, and the actors’ sentiment toward the statements. An actor-statement bipartite network, an actor coalition network, and a discourse coalition network were created, respectively. Next, Freeman degree centrality was calculated to identify major actors and their statements. The network metrics of density and connectedness of the two competing coalitions were calculated to compare the coalitions’ network structure.

Findings: In the actor coalition network, the movement advocacy coalition is clearly more densely connected than the movement opposition coalition in terms of the number of actors, coalition density, and coalition connectedness. The discourse coalition network shows similar patterns: the movement advocacy coalition is densely connected, as evidenced by the numbers of nodes in each coalition and the network metrics of coalition density and connectedness.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study concludes with a discussion on how the future of the opt-out movement depends on (1) how the movement advocacy coalition continues to amass power and influence in education policymaking, and (2) how the New York State Education Department exercises its power over implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Moreover, this article demonstrates the application of discourse network analysis to examine qualitative data in education research. The discourse network approach is particularly instrumental in explaining a policy output by identifying coalitions and their interactions within and across the coalitions.


Original Manuscript version of an article published in:

Wang, Y. (2021). Examining the actor coalitions and discourse coalitions of the opt-out movement in New York: A discourse network analysis. Teachers College Record, 123(5), 1-26.