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District Policies Related to Principal Evaluation, Learning-Centered Leadership, and Student Achievement

Year: 2016
Name of Institution:
University of Connecticut
Goal: Exploration
Principal Investigator:
Donaldson, Morgaen
Award Amount: $1,399,024
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2016-6/30/2019)
Award Number: R305A160100


Co-Principal Investigators: Peter Youngs (University of Virginia; Shaun Dougherty (University of Connecticut); Madeline Mavrogordato (Michigan State University)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to examine associations between district policies related to principal evaluation, principals' enactment of learning-centered leadership practices, and student reading and mathematics achievement. Principals play a critical role in providing high-quality education to students by influencing teaching and learning through their leadership. In the past five years, the great majority of states have approved legislation mandating that public school principals be evaluated annually using formulas that incorporate students' academic growth. However, scant research examines how school district policies are related to leadership practices that are associated with improved student outcomes. In particular, almost no research links principal evaluation with leadership practices or student performance. By examining these relationships in diverse districts, this study will contribute to the field's understanding of the potential influence of new principal evaluation policies on leadership practices and student performance.

Project Activities: The researchers will examine key district-varying attributes of evaluation policies: (a) the degree to which a district's evaluation policy focuses on learning-centered leadership; and (b) the extent to which a district includes principal monitoring, professional development, rewards and/or sanctions in its principal evaluation system. Researchers will first collect data from districts on their evaluation policies and also survey principals about their leadership practices and evaluation experiences. Then using mixed methods, researchers will examine the relationship(s) between the focus of district evaluation policies, enactment of leadership practices, and student performance in reading and math.

Products: Researchers will produce preliminary evidence of potentially promising principal evaluation policies and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in 25 school districts in Connecticut, Michigan, and North Carolina. Districts vary in urbanicity, student enrollment, and student demographics.

Sample: The sample includes personnel from 25 districts (approximately 75 district leaders, 300 principals, and 4,800 teachers) with variation in leadership and teaching experience, age, and race/ethnicity. Reading and math achievement data from the students (n=180,000) will also be analyzed.

Intervention: Malleable factors include learning-centered leadership practices and principal evaluation policies. Identifying their relationship with each other and with student performance is important to future efforts to improve leadership and student performance.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will employ a mixed method design, using surveys, interviews, district policy documents and student achievement data. The research team will administer the Vanderbilt Assessment for Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) and a researcher-developed survey to gather data on principals' experiences with principal evaluation, principal professional development, principal rewards and sanctions, and demographic information. Data from these separate survey administrations will be merged into one database for analysis. The researchers will also collect student mathematics and English language arts (ELA) tests scores in grades 3 through 8 in each of the three states in the study. Finally, researchers will conduct and district administrator interviews to determine whether, in their view, the extent to which principal evaluation policies focus on learning centered leadership is related to learning-centered leadership enactment by principals.

Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: Measures include estimates of the extent to which district-level principal evaluation policies (1) focus on learning-centered leadership, (2) monitor principals' practice, (3) link evaluation to professional development, and (4) use rewards and sanctions. Outcomes include principals' enactment of learning-centered leadership, measured both by the VAL-ED and by researcher-developed measures, and student scores on state standardized tests in mathematics and reading. Measures also include qualitative descriptions of processes through which principal evaluation influences principals' leadership.

Data Analytic Strategy: First, researchers will model the relationship between the extent to which principal evaluation policies focus on learning-centered leadership and principal enactment of learning-centered leadership using a three-level multilevel model. Second, the researchers will model the association between district policy focus and principal enactment of learning-centered leadership using the moderators described above. Third, researchers will examine whether the relationship between district policy focus and student performance is mediated by principal enactment of learning centered leadership. Fourth, the research team will analyze transcripts from administrator interviews to determine whether and how, in their view, the key attributes of principal evaluation policies are related to principals' enactment of learning-centered leadership practices.