As educational accountability policies continue to hold school leaders responsible for the success of their schools, it is crucial to assess and develop leadership throughout the school year. In honor of School Principals’ Day and the IES 20th Anniversary, we are highlighting NCER’s investment in formative leadership measures. In this guest blog, researchers Rich Halverson and Carolyn Kelley from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Mark Blitz from the Wisconsin Center for Education Products and Services discuss the development and evolution of their IES-funded Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning (CALL).
What is CALL?
CALL is a survey tool based on a distributed leadership model that emphasizes the work of leaders rather than their positions or identities. In 2008, we led a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to identify the key leadership tasks necessary for school improvement, regardless of who made the tasks happen. The CALL survey invites each educator in a school to assess the degree to which these core tasks are conducted, then aggregates these responses to provide a school-level portrait of the state of leadership practice in their school.
How was CALL developed?
Our CALL team relied on over 30 years of research on leadership for school improvement to name about 100 key tasks in five domains of practice. The team then worked over a year with expert educators and leaders to articulate these tasks into survey items phrased in language that teachers would readily understand as describing the work that happens every day in their schools. We designed each item to assess the presence and quality of leadership practices, policies, and programs known to improve school quality and student learning. We validated the survey with qualitative and quantitative analyses of survey content, structure, and reliability.
What inspired you to develop CALL?
We believed a measure like CALL is necessary in the era of data-driven decision-making. Educators are inundated by accountability and contextual data about their schools, but they are left on their own for data to help them understand how to develop and implement the strategies, policies, and programs that support student success. Traditional school data systems leave a hole where feedback matters most for educators–at the practice-level where the work of leaders and educators unfolds. That is the hole that CALL is designed to fill.
How is the CALL different from other leadership surveys?
Traditional surveys include items that invite educators to rate their leaders on important tasks using Likert scale measures. The results of these surveys produce scores that allow leaders to be rated and compared. But, as a school leader, it is hard to know what to do with a 3.5 score on an item like “My principal is an effective instructional leader.” CALL items are designed differently. Each CALL item response represents a distinct level of practice, so respondents can learn about optimum practices simply by taking the survey. If the collected responses by educators in your school averaged a “2” on one of the items, the description of the next level practice (“3”) clearly articulates an improvement goal.
In addition, our online CALL reporting tools provide formative feedback by allowing users to compare item and domain scores between academic departments and grade levels, as well as across schools. The reports name specific areas of strength and improvement, and also suggest research-driven strategies and resources leaders can use to improve specific aspects of leadership.
How did CALL transition into a commercial measure?
The CALL project provides a model of how IES-funded research can have broad impact in schools around the country. We are thrilled that CALL developed into the rare educational survey that was embraced by the people who tested it as well as the research community. Many of our development partners asked about whether they could continue with CALL as the survey took on new life as a commercial product after our grant ended.
The Wisconsin Center for Education Products and Services (WCEPS) provided us with the business services and the support to bring CALL to market. CALL became a WCEPS partner in 2014 and has since developed into a successful leadership and school improvement resource. Under the leadership of WCEPS’s Mark Blitz, the CALL model became a framework to build successful collaborations with learning and research organizations across the country.
Leading professional learning groups such as WestEd, WIDA, the Southern Regional Education Board, and the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement worked with Mark and the WCEPS team to build customized CALL-based formative feedback systems for their clients. Research partners at East Carolina University, Teachers College, and the University of Illinois at Chicago used CALL to collect baseline data on leadership practices for school improvement and principal preparation projects. CALL has also developed customized versions of the survey to support leadership for personalized learning (CALL PL) and virtual learning (Long Distance CALL). These partnerships have provided opportunities for hundreds of schools and thousands of educators to experience the CALL model of formative feedback to improve teaching and learning in schools.
What’s the next step for CALL?
In 2021, the CALL project entered a new era of leadership for equity. With the support of the Wallace Foundation, we created CALL for Equity Centered Leadership (CALL-ECL) to provide school districts with feedback on the leadership practices that create more equitable schools. CALL-ECL is part of a $100 million+ Wallace Foundation initiative to transform how districts across the country develop partnerships to prepare and support a new generation of equity-centered leaders. According to Wallace Research Director Bronwyn Bevan, “The foundation is excited about CALL-ECL because it will help leaders identify the organizational routines that sustain inequality and replace them with routines that help all students thrive.”
Our $8 million, six-year CALL-ECL project will document the development of these new preparation and support program, and will create a new CALL survey as an information tool to describe and assess equity-centered leadership practices. We believe that by 2027, CALL-ECL will be able to share the practices of equity-centered leadership developed through the Wallace initiatives with districts and schools around the world. Our hope is that CALL-ECL will give school leaders and leadership teams the data they need to continually evolve toward better opportunities and outcomes for all young people.
Richard Halverson is the Kellner Family Chair of Urban Education and Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis in the UW-Madison School of Education. He is also a co-director of the Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning and leads the Wallace Foundation Equity-Centered Leadership Pipeline research project.
Carolyn Kelley is a distinguished professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Dr. Kelley’s research focuses on strategic human resources management in schools, including teacher compensation, principal and teacher evaluation, and leadership development.
Mark Blitz is the project director of the Comprehensive Assessment of Leadership for Learning (CALL) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Products & Services.
This blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), program officer for NCER’s education leadership portfolio.