Monday, January 9, 2012

Principal-Student Discussions Improve Reading Scores

Recently published research is challenging the notion that principals exert their greatest influence over school outcomes variables through indirect means. Historically, the school leadership literature has pointed to several school level variables, including establishing school mission and goals, collective efficacy, trust, and academic emphasis, that principals might choose to target as they work towards improved student achievement. Some more recent work, however, is indicating that principals can offer a direct influence on student achievement and other school outcomes. In some of my work, protecting instructional time has emerged as a specific instructional leadership function that has a direct influence on student achievement (Fancera & Bliss, 2011), while others have found that principal-student conversations can improve student reading scores (Silva, White, & Yoshida, 2011).

In the study conducted by Silva, White, and Yoshida (2011), conversations between principals and students resulted in a 2.6 percentile point net gain in reading achievement scores. The authors conducted this experimental study with eighth grade students in an eastern Pennsylvania suburban school district who failed to achieve proficiency on their seventh grade reading assessment. These researchers designed the study to examine the effect of two principal-student conversations, the first within one month and the second within one week of the state assessment, on student reading achievement. The authors concluded that these principal-student conversations, which focused on prior student achievement and current expectations, can improve the level of students' effort and achievement through improved perceptions of their principal. They wrote, "our experimental treatment basically helped low­ achieving students set goals for performance and provided them with encouragement from an authority figure" (Silva, White, & Yoshida, 2011, p. 787).

How do you think principals can utilize such conversations with their students to improve accountability test scores in your school? Does your answer differ if overall student learning, as opposed to improved accountability test scores, is the dependent variable? Please join the discussion.

Fancera, S. F. and Bliss, J. R. (2011). Instructional leadership influence on collective teacher efficacy to improve school achievement. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 10, 349-370.

Silva, J. P., White, G. P., and Yoshida, R. K. (2011). The Direct Effects of Principal–Student Discussions on Eighth Grade Students’ Gains in Reading Achievement: An Experimental Study. Educational Administration Quarterly, 47, 772-793.

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