Research shows most principal assessments are ineffective in gauging whether principals are—or are not—promoting learning. Often assessments focus on general management skills and knowledge rather than on specific behaviors (such as data analysis and goal setting) that lead to school-wide improvements in teaching. This Wallace Perspective describes the need for principal assessments that are focused on instructional leadership, grounded in professional standards, reliable enough to produce fair evaluations and specific enough to provide feedback that can guide professional growth. One assessment that meets all of these criteria is the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education, known as VAL-ED. Principals are evaluated by both supervisors and teachers, and then receive an outline of their strengths and weaknesses measured against professional standards.
The benefits of better leader assessments are many. Stronger assessments can pinpoint the kind of support and intervention principals need to improve teaching and raise student achievement. They can also help prevent a supervisor from overlooking substantial school improvements not yet reflected in test scores. And they can guide broader changes in policy and practice, such as by realigning principal preparation and licensure to focus on the competencies that matter most for productive student learning.