The principles of principals

Atlanta principals are feeling more than just summer heat. And recent probes into test score discrepancies have revealed just how hot it can get. When low springtime scores at Deerwood Academy turned into huge gains during a summer-school retest, Principal Lisa Smith was accused of tampering with the results. Meanwhile, when 2009 National Distinguished Principal Lee Adams admitted his school's statistically improbable gains could look "a little bogus," he and the assistant principal went under investigation. Test-score ups and downs can make or break a principal's career. High scores mean bonuses and promotions into higher administrative levels; persistently low scores, big drops, or even big gains can equal disciplinary action. When it comes to student achievement, "The principal, ultimately, is the one responsible," explains Max Skidmore, a professor at the University of Georgia. "The buck stops with them," says Fulton district spokeswoman Susan Hale. But we're not so sure that's entirely true. Principals have very little hiring and firing autonomy under most union contracts and state laws; since teacher quality has been deemed the most likely predictor of student success, having no control over their teaching teams can leave principals being held responsible for circumstances outside their control. It's important that we hold administrators accountable for student achievement, but let's give them the leeway to get the job done.

"Principals bear weight for test goals," Heather Vogell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 17, 2009

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