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Study: Failing Grade for One School Principal Exam

Is a common certification test hampering principal diversity in America’s schools? A new study says yes.

As K12 public education confronts new instructional, technological, and communications challenges, the role of the school building principal is changing.

To ensure school leadership is best equipped to meet the needs of today’s students, districts and states will have to rethink how they train, test, and recruit school principals.

Want more on how to recruit effective principals? Read The next big thing in PD? How about niche training for principals?

While districts have traditionally used standard certification tests as one way to vet principals, new research shows at least one of these tests may be doing more harm than good when it comes to recruiting diverse and prepared school leaders.

Leadership tests don’t predict achievement

In the new study, researchers from Vanderbilt University and Rowan University reviewed the results of the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (SLLA) taken in Tennessee from 2003 to 2013. Tennessee is one of 17 states that requires principal candidates to pass the test before receiving their principal’s license, the study’s authors write.

The researchers compared a decade’s worth of test results with overall job performances to determine whether the exam was a good predictor of principal success.

The research found that a principal who scored high on the SLLA was no more likely to receive higher performance evaluation ratings from supervisors or achieve higher student test scores in their schools than those who scored lower on the test.

Does the SLLA restrict diversity?

Perhaps the most alarming finding in the new study, researchers found that men and women of color fail the SLLA exam at a much higher rate when compared with their white counterparts. This comes at a time when schools are struggling to hire and retain leaders of color.

As the study’s authors write:

“This finding—that failure rates among non-white candidates are approximately three times as high as for their white colleagues—suggests that failure to obtain the required cut score may be an important barrier to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in a principal workforce that is overwhelmingly white.”

As Jason Grissom, the lead author of the study told The 74:

“The SLLA is trying to measure whether principals have the leadership knowledge to be ready to lead a school. But it may not measure the right kinds of knowledge…Leaders of color may bring a different kind of knowledge and experiences to the table that are just as useful for school leadership but that aren’t being measured by the test.”

Are your schools struggling to find and hire good school building leaders? What steps are you taking to increase diversity at the principal level? Tell us in the comments.