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Study: Site Management Has No Effect on Scores

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Teacher involvement in school management and decisionmaking does not appear to help or harm students' performance on standardized tests, a University of Virginia study has found.

The popular reform, known as site-based management, did not have a statistically significant effect over a three-year period on scores of 4th graders in 35 Virginia elementary schools, according to the study. Instead, the socioeconomic status of the student body accounted for most of the variation among test scores, the researchers found.

The study also found that test scores were not influenced by the degree to which teachers were involved in administrative decisionmaking.

But the results do not mean school-based management is bad, said James Esposito, an associate professor at the University of Virginia's Curry school of education in Charlottesville. "All we're saying is there is no evidence that it has anything to do with student achievement as measured by standardized tests," said Mr. Esposito, who led the project.

Mr. Esposito and doctoral student Lisa Bell completed the research this year. He was to present the unpublished results last week in Louisville, Ky., at a national conference of the University Council for Educational Administration, which is based at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Mr. Esposito acknowledged that the management method--which moves power from the district level to the campus level--could have an effect on student achievement that might be measured another way, such as through student portfolios.

He also said it could have some benefit on aspects of school life other than student achievement. Site-based management, for instance, may help teacher morale, he said, by fostering "the whole notion of democracy" in school-level management. The study defined site-based management as the involvement of teachers in making decisions; it did not look at parent or community involvement.

The researchers used a survey of superintendents to identify school systems in the state that applied some form of site-based management. Thirty-five schools, or 9 percent of all those identified as having such management, were randomly selected for the study. Then the researchers looked at the involvement of teachers in schools that had used the technique at least since 1990.

During the period that was studied--1991-92 through 1993-94--test scores of 4th graders declined in 18 of the sample schools and increased in 13 of them. In the remaining schools there was no change. The results show the random nature of the influence of site-based management, Mr. Esposito said.

No Solo Act

Joseph Murphy, the chairman of the department of educational leadership at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said he was not surprised by the findings of the Virginia study. Site-based management used by itself as a management intervention or a political tool won't do anything to help student achievement, he said. But it can be helpful if employed in a school community already committed to improving teaching and learning, he said.

Officials with the National Education Association, a staunch advocate of teacher decisionmaking, agreed with Mr. Murphy. "There are a number of factors that need to be in place for a school to be a quality school that advances student achievement, not just that one or another group of people has input into decisionmaking," Lynn Coffin, the director of the NEA's National Center for Innovation, said.

But Mr. Murphy said the Virginia study's findings about site-based management would be "a major shock to lots of people who've gotten on this bus and are just driving down the road thinking they've got the answer to their problems."

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