In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Assessing School Leader Effectiveness

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks Specific to Assessment of Leader Effectiveness
  • Textbooks Specific to School Effectiveness
  • School Leader Skills and Dispositions
  • Leadership Development and Training Programs
  • Leader Accountability for Student Achievement
  • Leader Influence on Teachers
  • Leader Influence on School Climate
  • Policy Briefs
  • Educational Leadership and Policy Reform
  • National and State Assessment Programs
  • Assessment Instruments
  • Other Assessment Tools

Education Assessing School Leader Effectiveness
Lee Alvoid, Beverly L. Weiser
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0050


The urgency in the first decade of the 21st century to scrutinize American student achievement, compared with global competition, has resulted in a greater emphasis in the literature on the role and influence of school leaders in relation to student outcomes. As a result of this emphasis on accountability, researchers have aimed to determine the relationship between successful school leadership behaviors and practices and their effect on increasing teacher effectiveness and student achievement outcomes. Although an attempt was made to include the empirically validated research, much of the literature and research on linking principal leadership skills, knowledge, and actions to academic performance is qualitative in nature, meaning that findings are generally based on surveys, interviews, questionnaires, self-report checklists, and researcher observations. Accounting for the variability that principals contribute to raising teacher knowledge, teacher instructional abilities, student motivation, and student academic achievement has confounded researchers and statisticians for many reasons. Most of all, it is very difficult to control for such variables as teacher experience, teacher training and content knowledge, principal preparation programs, the resources available for professional development and continuing education, the community and family involvement in a school, and the presence or lack of research-based curriculum materials and resources. Fortunately, researchers, program evaluation specialists, educational agencies, and foundations have begun designing mixed-method and quantitative research studies isolating the areas of influence that school leaders can have and tying those areas directly to student achievement results. Summary findings from national reports, policy briefs, journal articles, online sources, and books that represent early-21st-century evidence-based principal behaviors, qualities, skills, and preparation programs directly related to improving teaching instruction and student achievement have been included in this article. Although empirically validated evidence linking principal performance to student achievement outcomes is limited, and there is need of further research efforts, this article reports on the reliable information on why leaders need to be more accountable for increasing students’ academic performance and how they can achieve this.

Introductory Works

National reports supported by funding from organizations such as the Wallace Foundation and produced at university research centers provide an introduction to the complex issues surrounding the influence of school leaders on student achievement. Researchers have sought to identify the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that school leaders exhibit in high-performing schools. These researchers attempt to isolate those identified behaviors and to measure how the behaviors create the conditions that are conducive to selecting, implementing, and sustaining organizational practices and instructional programs that promote student growth in academic skills. This section includes national reports and foundational works that undergird the attempts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries to strengthen assessment of school leader behavior and effectiveness. Included in the introductory works are studies of how leaders are selected, trained, and developed in order to promote the type of systemic change that is needed to alter the course of achievement for our lowest-performing students. Pitner 1988, a framework for studying principal effectiveness, is included as a foundational article for many studies. Hallinger and Heck 1996, a review of research related to principal effectiveness, is an overview of historical attempts to isolate variables to evaluate principal effectiveness. A meta-analysis conducted by researchers in Waters, et al. 2003 at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) points to leader behavior that creates the conditions necessary for student achievement to occur. Leithwood, et al. 2004 provided a solid review of the literature that formed the basis of a six-year research project attempting to examine the links between leader behavior and student achievement. Funded by the Wallace Foundation, Louis, et al. 2010 is a more comprehensive study attempting to study the effects of leaders on student outcomes. Additional introductory works provide insight into the selection, training, and support of school leaders. Levine 2005 critiques preparation programs and includes recommendations for program design improvements. Davis, et al. 2005 is a review of the literature regarding principal preparation. The subsequent report, Darling-Hammond, et al. 2007, includes case studies of eight programs that appear to be successful in preparing successful school leaders. These foundational works and national reports seek to inform the reader about the quest to identify effective leader preparation and behavior and about the impact of school leaders on student achievement.

  • Darling-Hammond, Linda, Michelle LaPointe, Debra Meyerson, Margaret Terry Orr, and Carol Cohen. 2007. Preparing school leaders for a changing world: Lessons from exemplary leadership development programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ., Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.

    A case study approach was used in this report to isolate variables of quality in preservice and in-service leadership development programs. Factors for success included the robust nature of the leadership model used in the program, the fidelity of implementation, the selection of candidates, and partnerships supporting the program.

  • Davis, Stephen, Linda Darling-Hammond, Michelle LaPointe, and Debra Meyerson. 2005. School leadership study: Developing successful principals. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ., Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.

    This review of the literature captures critical and descriptive literature about the selection, preparation, and development of school leaders. Findings are categorized as key elements of leadership, pathways, program design, and the presence or lack of policy support for leader preparation.

  • Hallinger, Philip, and Ronald H. Heck. 1996. Reassessing the principal’s role in school effectiveness: A review of empirical research, 1980–1995. Educational Administration Quarterly 32.1: 5–44.

    DOI: 10.1177/0013161X96032001002

    The framework in Pitner 1988 for identifying administrator effects was used to organize the studies in this meta-analysis on the impact of school leaders on achievement. Categories include direct effects, moderated effects, antecedent effects, mediated effects, and reciprocal effects. The analysis reinforces the complexity of isolating variables related to principal effectiveness. Available online through purchase.

  • Leithwood, Kenneth, Karen Seashore Louis, Stephen Anderson, and Kyla Wahlstrom. 2004. Review of research: How leadership influences student learning. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.

    Researchers from the Universities of Toronto and Minnesota describe the basics of successful leadership to meet the challenges of the school reform needed to improve student achievement. The review provides background on studies that isolate variables related to leadership and to the influence of school leaders on learning outcomes.

  • Levine, Arthur. 2005. Educating school leaders. Washington, DC: The Education Schools Project.

    This foundational report reveals problems with traditional school-leadership programs, including reasons for failing to produce leaders who can sustain organizational and instructional practices that promote student achievement. Recommendations for change in preparation programs are outlined in the report.

  • Louis, Karen Seashore, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom, and Stephen E. Anderson. 2010. Investigating the links to improved student learning: Final report of research findings. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.

    Tying leadership actions to student learning, this comprehensive six-year research study examines principal performance and impact on achievement. Uses mixed methodology to extend beyond qualitatively designed studies, which mainly utilize self-report and stakeholder survey data.

  • Pitner, Nangy. 1988. The study of administrator effects and effectiveness. In Handbook of research on educational administration: A Project of the American Educational Research Association. Edited by Norman J. Boyan, 99–122. New York: Longman.

    Pitner’s framework regarding principal effects has been used often to classify the types of effects characteristic in research that attempts to tie leader behavior to student outcomes (see Hallinger and Heck 1996).

  • Waters, Tim, Robert J. Marzano, and Brian McNulty. 2003. Balanced leadership: What 30 years of research tells us about the effect of leadership on student achievement. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

    A meta-analysis of thirty years of research on school factors that affect student achievement points to the school leader as a significant factor in school quality. The authors identify leadership behaviors that affect teacher performance and create a positive school climate that focuses on academic growth.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.