Every educator, from federal, state, district, and school leaders, to classroom teachers and parents, plays an important part in creating assessment systems that support student learning. Principals provide leadership, and in collaboration with teachers, can powerfully impact the assessment environment in their schools. In a recent blog post, we shared insights from an article in Principal Leadership by members of The National Task Force on Assessment Education on how principals can establish a productive assessment environment. While this is essential, it is not sufficient: ongoing monitoring and feedback to teachers in their schools is important for real improvement.
Principals can provide important ongoing support to teachers by monitoring and modeling assessment literacy. As the article describes, classroom observation provides a strong opportunity for principals to provide continuous feedback to teachers to build their assessment literacy. Teachers are learners, too. Principals can model assessment literacy to help teachers learn effective assessment practices by using classroom observation rubrics to:
- Provide clear and specific targets to be assessed. Observation rubrics contain specific targets for teaching practice. Assessment literate educators know the importance of starting with clear learning targets to be assessed. So, by sharing these targets with teachers, principals model an important characteristic of assessment literate educators.
- Use observations and assessment of teaching practice to help develop teachers’ skills and competencies by clearly communicating results to teachers. By using clear, precise language and examples, principals can support teachers’ effective use of assessment for learning.
- Present feedback in ways that foster teachers’ motivation to keep striving for success. Without context, a score alone may not be motivating or useful for a teacher who wants improve their ability to use assessment to improve instruction and support student learning. In contrast, if principals take time to provide substantive and actionable feedback to help teachers, and provide time for teachers to review and reflect on this, it can be motivating and help teachers move their practice forward.
Further, principals can help teachers see the connection between assessment and effective instruction. As an example, the article highlights Michigan and Maryland professional development initiatives focused on formative assessment practices. Through these initiatives, teachers learn how to use data from informal activities to quickly gather data and to use these data to adjust instruction.
One former Michigan principal, Warren Woods Middle School’s Jennifer McFarlane, worked to show teachers in her school how the formative assessment practices they were learning related to the rubric she used in classroom teacher evaluations. As the article notes:
As it turns out, there was a substantial overlap in the teaching practices that she, as a principal, would look for in her observations and the ideas teachers were learning about and implementing as part of professional development. McFarlane’s work demonstrated to teachers that their professional development was directly related to how they would be evaluated, and also showed her commitment to supporting her teachers to excel in their assessment practices.
As principals support teachers’ assessment-literate instructional practices, districts can also support principals’ efforts. As the article states:
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), one of the allowable uses of funds includes capacity-building in districts to assist teachers, principals, or other school leaders with selecting and implementing formative assessments, designing classroom-based assessments, and using data from such assessments to improve instruction and student academic achievement.
ESSA provides real and important opportunities to support transformation of assessment and of education. Principals can, and should, take this opportunity to lead this change.