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Research has shown that school leaders can substantially influence student outcomes, including student achievement, and that some school leaders improve student outcomes at a much faster rate than others. The strong influence of school leaders on student outcomes as well as the variation in school leader effectiveness has led to the creation of multiple programs designed to help school leaders improve student outcomes.

This review focuses on interventions aimed at making school leaders, specifically principals, assistant principals or deans of students, more effective at improving the achievement of students in grades PK–12. These interventions are targeted at adults who are considering becoming school leaders; undergoing preparation for school leadership; or already employed as school leaders. The interventions may be delivered in a variety of educational and training settings. Although the interventions are delivered to school leaders (or potential school leaders), this review focuses on outcomes for students, teachers, and school leaders. Student outcomes include measures of achievement, progression in school, social-emotional learning, and behavior. Teacher and school leader outcomes include those that research has shown are related to student achievement, including teacher instructional practice, retention of teachers and school leaders, and leadership practice.

The following research questions guide this review:

  • Which school-leader-focused interventions improve achievement, progression in school, social-emotional learning, and behavior for students in grades PK–12?
  • Which school-leader-focused interventions improve outcomes for teachers and school leaders that are related to these student outcomes?

Protocol Details

  • Version: 4.0
  • Released: June 2019

What is a Protocol?

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) uses the Study Review Protocol to review all studies, including those cited as evidence for U.S. Department of Education grant competitions, studies that were funded by the Department, and studies identified for systematic reviews of evidence based on a search of the research literature in a particular topic area. As articulated in the WWC Procedures and Standards Handbook, Version 5.0, when the Study Review Protocol is used to review studies for systematic reviews, an accompanying topic area synthesis protocol will provide criteria for the literature search; guidance on how to identify and prioritize relevant studies for review and inclusion in evidence synthesis products; and guidance on intervention, sample, and outcome eligibility criteria for the synthesis.

The Study Review Protocol is used in combination with the WWC Handbook to guide the review of all studies by the WWC. In particular, the Study Review Protocol provides additional information on eligible outcome domains for all topic areas reviewed by the WWC and provides examples of outcome measures that fall within each domain. Starting in January 2021 with the release of the Study Review Protocol, Version 1.0, the WWC publishes an updated version of the Study Review Protocol to align with an updated version of the WWC Handbook. The current version of this protocol, the Study Review Protocol, Version 5.0, was published in March 2023 to accompany the WWC Procedures and Standards Handbook, Version 5.0.

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