Research News

Vanderbilt University and Discovery Education partner to offer new tool to evaluate school leaders

Discovery Education and Vanderbilt University are partnering to launch a new research-based evaluation tool that measures the effectiveness of school principals. The Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED), which is being exclusively distributed by Discovery Education, was created at Vanderbilt University through a grant from the Wallace Foundation.

"We are delighted to collaborate with Discovery Education on the development and distribution of this new service. VAL-ED builds a picture of principal effectiveness by providing a detailed assessment of a principal’s perceived performance," Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development, said. "This assessment empowers administrators to effectively evaluate staff, diagnose strengths and weaknesses, and recommend pertinent professional development."

VAL-ED was developed by Peabody faculty Joseph Murphy, Ellen Goldring and Stephen Elliott, and Andrew Porter, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, to provide detailed, evidence-based assessment of principals’ performance. It has been tested at more than 300 schools nationwide and is aligned with the national leadership standards set by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium.

VAL-ED assesses principals in six core components related to student learning, including high standards, rigorous curriculum and performance accountability. Six additional evaluation areas of key processes measure leadership skills such as planning, advocating and communicating.

"VAL-ED is a clear improvement over previous evaluation instruments," Discovery Education Assessment Director William Dycus explained. "Many school districts have created various instruments to measure the performance of principals, but few have been as meticulously researched and rigorously tested. By providing accurate and reliable data, VAL-ED aids administrators in making decisions that impact student achievement."

Field tested in 100 elementary schools, 100 middle schools and 100 high schools in 53 districts in 27 states, VAL-ED shows how a principal’s performance compares with their peers nationwide, and determines if a principal is performing at a "basic," "proficient," or "distinguished" level. The VAL-ED assessment can be completed in 20-25 minutes, in either online or pencil and paper formats. It can be used annually to facilitate a data-based performance evaluation, or it can be used more frequently to measure performance growth or provide principals ongoing feedback throughout the school year.

To provide the 360-degree perspective on performance, teachers, the principal and the principal’s supervisor complete the evaluation. The actual assessment instrument is composed of 72 questions, in which each respondent is asked to evaluate the principal’s performance on 72 behaviors. Respondents rate performance on a scale from 1 for "ineffective" to 5 for "outstandingly effective" after considering data on which the evaluation is based, such as school documents or personal evaluation.

For more information on VAL-ED or any other Discovery Education assessment products and services, please visit or call 866-814-6685. For more information about Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, ranked the No. 2 education school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2008, visit

Media contact: Melanie Moran, (615) 322-NEWS