New report reviews the relationships between principal characteristics and student achievement

A principal can have a big influence on a school. This is something I’ve noticed over and over again. But what are the characteristics of a great principal and what is the influence of those characteristics on student achievement? This question is tackled by a new systematical review by Osborne-Lampkin et al. that I found via @dylanwilliam. The most important result is maybe not what you’ve expected:

Only one study was a randomized controlled trial (Silva et al., 2011). That study stands out because experimental studies are the only type of study that can provide credible evidence on whether an intervention is effective.

This is the summary of the report:

Researchers have linked positive student outcomes, including student achievement, to high-quality school leadership (Grissom & Loeb, 2011). Ensuring the quality of school leaders is a priority across the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southeast Region. In Florida the Department of Education is revisiting state and district policies regulating how principals are trained, certified, and evaluated.

To support these reform efforts, the Florida Department of Education partnered with REL Southeast to conduct a systematic review of research to illuminate the potential relation­ ships between principal characteristics and student achievement. Each document selected for inclusion was systematically reviewed and the key findings were synthesized to answer the question: What is known about the relationships between principal characteristics and student achievement?

This systematic review examined 52 empirical studies published between 2001 and 2012 on the relationships between principal characteristics and student achievement in the United States.

Key findings include:

  • The only randomized controlled trial study that addressed the relationships between principal characteristics and student achievement found that grade 8 students randomly assigned to have one-to-one conversations with the principal scored higher on the state English language arts test than students who did not have such conversations (Silva, White, & Yoshida, 2011).
  • All other studies provided correlational or descriptive information about the relationships between principal characteristics (including precursors, behaviors, and leadership styles) and student achievement.

Abstract of the review:

This report reviews studies that have investigated the relationships between principal characteristics (including precursors, behaviors, and leadership styles) and student achievement. Only one experimental study examined a principal intervention designed to improve student achievement. It found that grade 8 students randomly assigned to have one-on-one conversations with the principal scored higher on the state English language arts test. An additional 38 quantitative and 2 mixed method studies provided mixed evidence of the relationships between principal characteristics and student achievement; 11 qualitative studies mirrored the quantitative ndings.

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