Academic journal article Rural Educator

Principals as Assessment Leaders in Rural Schools

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Principals as Assessment Leaders in Rural Schools

Article excerpt

This article reports a study of rural school principals ' assessment leadership roles and the impact of rural context on their work. The study involved three focus groups of principals serving small rural schools of varied size and grade configuration in three systems. Principals viewed assessment as a matter of teacher accountability and as a focus for the school professional team. They saw themselves as teachers first, stressing their importance as sources of teacher support, serving a 'buffer role, ' ameliorating external constraints to effective assessment and learning. Bureaucratic environments and trappings of large-scale assessment were seen to be incompatible with the familial nature of rural professional contexts. Other constraints were the logistical challenges of small student populations, higher instances of multi-graded classrooms, and the absence of grade-alike professional interaction. Conversely, smallness enabled professional interaction and transformational leadership. Finally, the quality of system-level support emerged as a critical catalyst for assessment leadership at the school level.

Key Words: principals; teacher accountability; assessment of learning; assessment leadership

One aspect of the assessment reform movement that has not been well researched is its connection to the role of the school principal. It is well known that assessment reform (McMillan, 2001 ;Stiggins, 2002) has been defined and promoted in a number of ways and with its own lexicon reflecting pedagogical stances and strategic preferences related to such orientations as assessment literacy (Cizek,1995; Fullan, 2001), assessment for learning (Stiggins,2001 ), assessment of learning, (Stiggins,2001);assessment as learning (Earl & Katz.2006) and large-scale testing. These have become central elements of the principal's mandate (Harris, 2002). One of the concepts mat has been used- but not frequently examined- in educational research is that of assessment leadership that we have defined as the role and expectations of formal school leaders in relation to the task of enhancing assessment literacy among school professionals and paraprofessionals (Noonan & Renihan, 2006). It is also recognized that the role of instructional leader is very much influenced by the context in which the school leader operates. That context may include, for example, the size of the school, the nature of the community, grade levels (early, middle, high school), and the types of students involved (e.g., students with special needs, members of diverse cultural and language groups).

The purpose of this article is to report and discuss the findings of an exploratory study designed to shed light on how principals in rural schools perceive and engage their assessment leadership responsibilities. Particular attention was devoted in this study to the impact of rural contexts upon the instructional leadership and assessment leadership provided by principals. In short the study addressed the following questions:

1 ) How do principals of rural schools understand what it means to be an assessment leader in rural contexts?

2) To what extent and in what ways does rural school context affect the principal's instructional/assessment leadership role?

Why are these questions relevant to rural educational research? In light of recent reforms, the expectations placed upon in-school leaders for enhanced attention to (and accountability for) leadership for learning has been felt by principals throughout the world (Phillips et al. (2003). The impacts of these developments on principals have included an increased demand for new sets of leadership knowledge, leadership appreciations and leadership skills (Noonan & Renihan, 2006). These include skills of leading professional development, knowledge regarding the use of achievement data in classroom planning, school planning and decisionmaking, and appreciations for the importance of nurturing professional collaboration on matters relating to instruction and student achievement. …

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