Published Online: April 23, 1997

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Principals Survey Finds Support for Standards, Voluntary National Tests

San Antonio

Most elementary and middle school principals support national reading and math standards as well as voluntary national 4th grade tests in those subjects.

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Those are among the findings from a survey of more than 1,300 members of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, released last week at the group's annual conference here. But the survey also showed that roughly the same percentage don't think those tests alone will improve achievement.

"There is a prevailing view of educators that we don't want to be held accountable," said Carole L. Kennedy, the president of the 27,000-member organization. "But we do, as long as we don't judge the schools on just one test."

The annual survey, mailed to 3,000 randomly selected NAESP members, summarizes what principals are thinking about current education issues and trends. For example, nearly 80 percent of the respondents said schools should offer full-day kindergarten programs. More than 60 percent agreed that their communities would benefit from year-round school schedules, but fewer than 30 percent expressed support for single-sex education.

About 75 percent of principals responding to the survey said parents are less involved in their children's education than in the past. But Ms. Kennedy, the principal of New Haven Elementary School in Columbia, Mo., said she has doubts about those findings. Parents are showing more interest in school activities and curriculum, she argued, but administrators are still struggling to make parents part of the decisionmaking process.

"If you teach parents how to use the system, then you're going to have some very powerful allies," she said.

The principals in the survey also cited discipline as a big concern--especially as it relates to special education students.

More than 80 percent of the principals said they spend too much time on discipline, and 78 percent agreed that federal special education law unreasonably limits their ability to manage disruptive or dangerous special education students.

Parent involvement and discipline were recurring themes--and popular session topics--throughout the April 12-15 conference. A crowd crammed into a session led by Esther Wright, a former teacher and principal who now runs a San Francisco-based consulting company called Teaching From the Heart. She encouraged principals to look for the good qualities in children, even if they cause problems in the classroom.

Her message focused on teaching children the consequences of their actions, instead of constantly meting out punishments.

"Some of you are burned out because you think your job is to solve problems," Ms. Wright said. "Your job is to teach people to solve problems."

For the eighth year in a row, about 150 principals attending the convention donated two hours of their time to answer questions and advise parents who called the National Principals' Hotline.

School psychologists were also on hand to tackle questions that might need their attention, and a special line was set up for Spanish-speaking parents.

During her two hours at the phones, Elcendia Nord, the principal of Milwaukee's Silver Spring Elementary School, received three calls from parents of children with attention-deficit disorder. "I have a child with ADD, so I can identify with some of the problems and frustrations they are having," said Ms. Nord, who has been working with the hot line for five years.

Another parent called with concerns over her 4-year-old daughter, who was having night terrors, and a female student called saying she was being sexually harassed by a male teacher. The teacher who took the call urged the child to report the behavior to an adult immediately.

Many of the calls from parents focused on conflicts with teachers or administrators. And several volunteers said they have a sense that parents sometimes want to talk through an issue before they actually go to their own principals.

"A lot of people just need to be listened to," said Herbert Burrell, the principal of Dacula Middle School in Dacula, Ga., who has been volunteering for four years. "You have to be a good listener."

--LINDA JACOBSON

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