Can Good Principals Raise Test Scores?

A principal can no longer merely walk the hallways instilling fear in little Johnny or Suzy who happens to be late for class or caught without a hall pass.

According to an article in Education Week (“Principal Matters”, November 11, 1998), six of the seven characteristics that define today’s principal include specific mention of student learning. For example, the article states that a good principal “provides clear goals and monitors the progress of studentsâÂ?¦spends time in the classroomâÂ?¦does not tolerate bad teachers.”

Today’s principal cannot follow the dictates laid out by Taylor’s Scientific Management theory where schools followed the assembly-line approach with rote learning through dittoes. As education met the business world in the 1980s, principals now need to satisfy their customers (parents with college in mind for their kids) and produce products (test scores) of high quality. If we are to keep up or meet up with high-achieving Japanese students, then schools’ number one focus must be student achievement.

The trend in education follows big business. We are moving away from the more authoritarian type leadership to a more socialistic setting. The little guy’s opinion matters more. However, the goal of a high quality competitive product seems constant. A good principal knows this. After all, test scores are printed in the newspaper. High test scores are always a popular draw of new families to schools.

Certainly, a principal takes on all of Mintzberg’s ten managerial roles . (Henry Mintzberg has defined 10 managerial roles. See: Henry Mintzberg, Mintzberg on Management, New York; The Free Press; July 1989). But the one most vital to his success is that of leader. Today’s principal cannot just be used to handle disturbances or speak before community functions. Today’s principal needs to monitor what is going on in the classroom, analyze test scores and work with her staff to set direction for future student success.

Student achievement will improve if schools make this their number one priority. That means principals must spend their time monitoring what is being taught, delegating out smaller tasks to capable staff, providing a workplace suitable to positive morale and creating a school environment where teachers are motivated to teach and students are motivated to learn.

Current Thinking

The education world knows that principals make a big difference in developing the kind of learning that goes on in their schools. We are looking more for “instructional leaders” and less for the “manager”. Educators, as well as students, are to be held accountable for meeting academic standards.

Although there is still much controversy over the value of strong emphasis on academic, content, and performance standards, it is not something likely to go away in the near future. According to Education Week, August 2001, “As of 2000, 49 states – all but Iowa – have at least some academic standards. Forty-seven states have academic standards in all core subjectsâÂ?¦.”

It is still the principal who is largely responsible for shaping teaching and learning in her school. Positive school achievement relies on the leadership of this one individual. “Good principals pay attention to curriculum and teaching.” (Education Week, Nov. 11, 1998, “Principal Matters”)

Key to principals’ roles in helping students meet state standards is the area of supporting teachers. Good principals know that if you have good teachers and you provide them with what they need, students will achieve at a higher level. The Education Week article points to administrators who support their teachers.

One principal is noted as saying “she spends a lot of her time studying test scores, finding the gaps in students’ learning, making sure there’s alignment between the district’s core curriculum and oursâÂ?¦”

More and more evidence points to the importance of the instructional leader role of good principals. The article notes studies that identify schools that achieve as being “attributable to the actions of the building principal.” Principals are key to setting realistic student achievement goals. It is also noted that principals affect the goings on of a school in direct and indirect ways. For instance, the personal actions of a principal – being visible on campus – can indirectly impact student achievement.

Of course, ultimately it is the teachers who must also be responsible for student achievement. But a supportive principal can make quite a difference in that teacher meeting the needs of her students. Principals need to be in the classrooms seeing and hearing what is going on so that they can address teacher concerns. To meet these high standards, schools need transformational leaders with clear visions and high motivations.

Schools need principals who understand the mission of the school they lead. They need principals who are not afraid to deal with bad teachers. Mostly, schools need principals who set high expectations and see that their teachers live up to these, or leave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 − two =