How Effective Are Principals in Assessing Teacher Skills?

Why is this question important? Principals can have a positive or a negative impact on student performance. We know that the ability of principals to identify which teachers are effective and which are low performing plays an important role in this process. What we are not sure of is, how good are principals in performing this vital assessment?

See further discussion below.


Source(s): Leading for Instructional Improvement: How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise

Result(s): The average placement of principals across five dimensions of teaching and learning on a four-point scale developed at the University of Washington is between 1.47 to 2.03. Thus, the average principal falls between “novice” and “emerging” in the critical skills that can make a difference in teacher performance and student achievement.

Implication(s): Current pre-service and on-the-job training for principals as well as other school leaders is inadequate. Training assessing teacher performance should be included as core to principal’s preparation. Basing teacher evaluations on principals’ assessments is unwarranted if principals cannot effectively judge teaching performance. Improving teacher performance in the classroom is important in achieving school reform goals, and developing the skills of principals is essential in making this happen. Principals already interact with teachers, they are often in classrooms, and they are dependent on teachers for the success of the schools they manage. Research has revealed the importance of feedback and coaching for improving performance. If principals are to effectively provide feedback, then it is important that they are trained to a level of expertise in judging the skills of teachers.

This study opens the door to better understanding how to improve the competency of school principals. Additional research needs to be conducted in order to improve the depth of our knowledge on a principal’s ability to effectively evaluate teacher performance.

Author(s): Stephen Fink and Anneke Markholt

Publisher(s): Jossey-Bass

Study Description: Researchers at the University of Washington have been developing the instrument Five Dimensions of Teaching and Learning over the past 10 years. The tool is designed to measure how well principals understand instruction. Principals watch a 20-minute video on a math or language arts lessons being taught and then are asked to provide a written response to three questions:

1. What do you notice about teaching and learning in this classroom?
2. Based on your observation, what feedback would you provide the teacher?
3. If this were a pattern of teaching in your school, what are the implications for teacher professional development?

The information is then analyzed using a four-level scale developed by the research team. Participants are rated on five dimensions of teaching and learning, including a total of 13 subcategories.

Five Dimensions of Teaching and Learning

  1. Purpose
    • Standards: How lessons connect with external standards
    • Teaching point: The specific learning goals that are expected of students for a lesson
  2. Student Engagement
    • Intellectual point: Who does the work and the nature of the work
    • Engagement strategies: The structures, strategies, and approaches teachers use to elicit student learning
    • Talk: Communication among students and between student and teacher
  3. Curriculum and Pedagogy
    • Curriculum: The instructional materials used in the lesson and how they align with standards
    • Teaching approaches and strategies: Identification of the teaching pedagogies used in lessons
    • Scaffolds for learning: The level of teacher support of learning that works toward student independence
  4. Assessment for Student Learning
    • Assessments: The methods a teacher uses for students to demonstrate acquisition of knowledge and skills in relation to lesson goals and transfer of skills
    • Adjustments: Teacher decisions based on assessment to support student acquisition of lesson objectives
  5. Classroom Environment and Culture
    • Physical environment: Teacher’s use of resources and space to facilitate learning
    • Routines and Rituals: Classroom systems, rules, and routines that facilitate student learning and the values of the community
    • Classroom culture and climate: Classroom discourse and interactions that reveal the values of the classroom culture in comparison to stated values

Rating of Principal’s Expertise in Assessing Teachers
Two independent experts rate each principal’s response. The ratings range from novice to expert:

1 = Novice
2 = Emerging expertise
3 = Developing expertise
4 = Expert

The analysis includes approximately 1,800 participants from 31 school districts. Since the study, the number of participating principals has increased to more than 2,000 and the number of districts to more than 41, with little significant change in the outcomes.

Levels of Expertise

Novice: No mention of or a complete misconception about the lesson or class activity.

Emerging expertise: Notices some of the structures of teaching (charts on the walls or room arrangement), but not the purpose for the structures. Provides a non-analytical accounting of what happened. Offers a surface-level knowledge of the classroom activity. Uses the proper terminology but does not elaborate on what is observed.

Developing expertise: Is able to identify key components of the classroom activity. Discusses or questions teaching decisions made by the teacher. Demonstrates knowledge of how the teaching decisions are impacting student outcomes. Identifies subtle teaching decisions and understands why they were made. Discusses and elaborates on all the items from emerging expertise.

Expert: Demonstrates all of the items from developing expertise. Provides additional discussion of the subtleties of the lesson taught. Considers the teaching decisions in the larger context of standards and units of study.

Fink, S. and Markholt, A. (2011). Leading for instructional improvement: How successful leaders develop teaching and learning expertise. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Copland, M. A., & Blum, D. (2007). Developing district-wide expertise in leaders’ ability to analyze and improve instructional practice. Seattle, WA: Center for Educational Leadership. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from Google books