Principals’ Group: Focus Less On Test Scores, More on Building Capacity

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — February 25, 2013 3 min read
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Policymakers should focus more on building principals’ effectiveness and capacity as instructional and building leaders and less on standardized tests, according to a set of policy recommendations released last week by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

The NAESP released the recommendations in conjunction with its National Leaders Conference, which kicked off here yesterday. The association frames its recommendations as a response to federal regulations that increasingly tie principal effectiveness and evaluation to students’ test scores. The recommendations focus on how to measure, define, and build effective leadership.

Tomorrow, 180 NAESP members from 48 states will be on Capitol Hill discussing and advocating for many of these priorities.

Gail Connelly, the executive director of the NAESP, said that her organization is concerned with the focus on standardized tests. “Principals don’t shy away from accountability,” she said. “They’re committed to the professionalism of being a principal. But the inordinate focus and overreliance on testing as a key measure of student and school success is a big concern.”

From the recommendations: “Federal policies must avoid overuse of standardized assessment scores as the sole or primary criterion to measure student performance; to rate, grade, or rank principal, teacher, or school effectiveness; to allocate funds; or to take punitive measures against schools and/or school personnel.”

The principals’ association advocates for a broader understanding of a principal’s role, which includes building relationships with parents and the community and creating a positive school culture. It also recommends improving professional development and support for school leaders.

The NAESP makes eight recommendations:

  • Acknowledge the core competencies of effective principals;
  • Develop comprehensive, fair, and objective principal evaluation systems;
  • Develop accountability systems that include growth models and multiple measures;
  • Hold principal preparation programs to common high standards;
  • Insist on standards-based certification, induction, and mentoring;
  • Invest in identifying and retaining effective principals;
  • Dedicate ongoing professional development that strengthens core competencies; and
  • Strengthen elementary principals’ knowledge of early-childhood education.

The organization also recommends that more specifics about education leadership be added to a number of federal regulations. For instance, they suggest that “core competencies of effective leadership” be defined in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. They also recommend that the federal government define an effective principal evaluation system in Title II of ESEA, saying that many states have rushed to develop systems that may not be accurate reflections of principals’ duties and roles.

In addition to the policy focus, the principals are talking about leadership strategy, arts education, and more at their leadership conference here. Attendees gathered this morning for a roundtable discussion between Andrew Rotherham, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit education advocacy organization, and Frederick Hess, the director of the education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, that touched on the federal role in education, turning around low-performing schools, and how educators and policymakers can communicate with each other. (A word of disclosure: The conversation was moderated by Virginia Edwards, the president of Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week; Hess writes an opinion blog hosted on

There were also some challenging questions from principals. I took note of questions about why the education policy conversation is so often focused on charter schools, which represent a small portion of the nation’s schools, and about why the focus is so often on negatives rather than on potentially helpful examples of successful principals and schools.

Want to keep up with school district and leadership news? Follow @district_doss on Twitter.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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