Principals' Perceptions of Factors Affecting Student Achievement

Article excerpt

In the fall of 1991, the author embarked upon a study to determine if there were differences in the way that elementary principals perceived the importance of certain factors which affect the level of student achievement. More specifically, a comparison was sought between the opinions of innere city v. suburban principals with regard to these factors.

Several surveys relative to student achievement have been completed which involve a combination of respondents: parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, state education officials and teacher educators (Scott and Teddlie, 1984, Hoerr, 1989, Williams, 1984, Schoemaker and Pecheone, 1984, and White, 1983). The focus of these studies was on predictors of student achievement and the effect of parental involvement on student achievement.

The study being reported concentrated only on elementary principals, since they occupy a unique vantage point from which to perceive the influence of conditions which affect the academic achievement of their students.

A perceptionnaire was developed containing twenty-five items which may contribute to students' academic achievement. The items ranged over a wide variety of contributing factoring, including levels of parental involvement, lack of funding, problems involving classroom control, excessive state education department mandates, and so forth. Each item was followed by a Likert scale, with responses weighted from 1 ('not important at all') to 5 ('very important').

Fifty perceptionnaires were mailed to principals of elementary schools in the New York City school system and fifty to principals of suburban schools in Rockland County, which is located northwest of the city and contains many smaller districts. The first twenty-five returns from each type of district (inner city and suburban) were used to tabulate results for this article.

Procedure

Principals were asked to grade each item as to the degree of negative effect they felt that particular item had on their students' achievement; thus a grade of '1' indicated that the principals felt that particular item was 'not important at all' and a grade of '5' indicated that item was 'very important' as a factor having a negative effect on student achievement.

As the results obtained on the fifty perceptionnaires were analyzed, rankings were generated for each of the twenty-five items in each of the two groups. These rankings |1=highest, 25=lowest~ were then compared to determine levels of agreement, or disagreement on particular items, between the two groups of principals.

Discussion of findings

For purposes of readability, results are presented below in narrative form. A statistical treatment of the data may form the basis of a future paper in this area.

The item receiving the highest combined ranking by both groups of principals was worded as follows:

Item 1 . . . lack of parental concern - no contact with the school - no supervision of homework

This item was ranked #3 by inner city principals and #1 by their suburban counterparts. The extremely high priority given to item 1 by both groups of school leaders underscores the importance of parental involvement in the education of their children.

Also ranking very high with both groups was:

Item 6 . . . inability to recruit and retain excellent teachers

Inner city principals ranked this #1 compared to a #4 ranking by suburban principals. The implication here appears to support the widespread assumption that we are not recruiting our best and brightest students into the teaching profession, or it could be a reflection upon the quality of our teacher preparation programs.

These items were closely followed by one having to do with family conditions:

Item 24 . . . lack of family structure (less than ideal family conditions)

Ranked #2 by suburban principals and #5 by those in the inner city. …