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Principals have lots of teacher effectiveness data, but don’t use them

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Time and timing are two key barriers to principal data use, a recent Vanderbilt study found. (IStock)

There are more teacher effectiveness data available to U.S. school administrators now than at any other time in history. But according to a new Vanderbilt study, only a fraction of the data collected are actually used by principals to inform their hiring, placement, evaluation, support and teacher leadership decisions.

Ellen Goldring
Goldring (Vanderbilt)

“The government mandates evaluations and data collection for accountability, and those data have the power to make principals more successful in their day-to-day activities as school leaders,” said Ellen Goldring, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Education Policy and Leadership at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development.

“But we found the data were not being utilized very well for a number of reasons. In many cases, the systems weren’t in place to interpret the data, or even access it efficiently, and principals didn’t have the training and support they needed.”

Jason Grissom (Vanderbilt)
Grissom (Vanderbilt)

Time and timing are two other key barriers to principal data use, noted Jason A. Grissom, assistant professor of public policy and education and a collaborator on the study.

“Principals face so many demands on their time already, so it can be difficult to find the time to access and analyze data, particularly when those data are not always available to principals at the time talent management decisions need to be made,” he said.

These conclusions come after a yearlong study in which Goldring, Grissom and their colleagues conducted in-depth interviews and surveys in six urban school districts and two charter management organizations across the nation over the 2012-13 school year.

A summary of the study’s findings, and a series of recommendations for more effective usage of the data can be found at the researchers’ new website, The site was designed to serve as a resource for principals, school administrators and policymakers.

On the site are in-depth papers on such topics as the changing role of principals as instructional leaders; and system redesign and support for principal data use. In addition there are case studies of exemplary principals using teacher effectiveness data for talent management decisions. The case studies include video and audio of the principals and their teachers and leadership teams, and can be used for training and instructional purposes.

Additional Peabody collaborators include Christine M. Neumerski, Marisa Cannata, Timothy A. Drake, Mollie Rubin and Patrick Schuermann. The study was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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