I am currently in my fourth year as the principal of a K-5 school with great students, an outstanding faculty and staff, and academically involved parents. A great situation, no doubt. As we continue to work hard to improve our school's performance on our district's primary (and, unfortunately, only) measure of achievement for K-5 students, the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK), I continue to struggle with how to lead our school as an organization to continue to improve on this accountability assessment.
As I've discussed with my superiors when our 2011 NJ ASK scores indicated that we did not make adequate yearly progress (AYP), if our sub-par performance was due to lack of effort by faculty and staff, then that would be an easy fix. We would get the under-performers off the bus in classic Jim Collins fashion, and we would seek out those teachers and support staff members who are dedicated to improving NJ ASK scores. This, dare I say fortunately, is not the case in our school, though. So, you might be asking yourself at this point, "Well, why didn't you make AYP?" My response is simply - reality.
In keeping with the intent of this blog, there is a solid research base that indicates schools with higher concentrations of poverty and English language learners, larger class sizes, and heterogeneity with regard to ethnicity typically do not perform as well as those schools with lower concentrations of students in these categories. More specifically for our school, we did not make AYP due to under-performance in the language arts/literacy (LAL) content area, and in New Jersey at certain grade levels, as much as 80% of the variance in student socio-economic status and LAL scores is accounted for by the other variable. So, the evidence (i.e. reality) suggests that our school should not have performed as well as some of the other schools in our district and state-wide district factor group. This is not an excuse. It does, however, cause me to struggle with how to lead our school to improve on the upcoming 2012 NJ ASK. Well, the only option I have is to look to the evidence, otherwise, some of my colleagues might start referring to me as a "huckster."
It is clear in the literature that leading a school with a focus on improving school culture and climate, trust, efficacy, and emphasizing academics is related with improved student outcomes. I continue to lead with these variables in mind and am mindful of the influence of my every decision on each of these. Obviously, this hasn't been enough due to our failure to make AYP in 2011, which contributes to my struggles.
Luckily, I've learned of yet another school-level variable that researchers have found to help previously low-achieving students perform at higher levels. These scholars, Silva, White, and Yoshida (2011), from Lehigh University discussed how principal-student conversations can help students set goals for performance and help to motivate them to realize improved results. So, our school counselor and I plan to implement this approach in the upcoming weeks to, hopefully, take the next step in terms of improving student performance on the NJ ASK.
As I continue to struggle with the principalship as it relates to improving our school's accountability test performance, I will always turn to the evidence. Some of my colleagues and superiors have other perceptions of the utility of this approach, but I would rather struggle as I practice evidence based school leadership than to become a data-proof principal.
Please share your thoughts.
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.