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May 1, 2002
Vol. 59
No. 8

A Defense of the Test for School Leaders

    A new test aligned with national standards for school leaders bridges the gap between leadership theory and practice.

      A recent Public Agenda report (Farkas, Johnson, Duffett, Foleno, & Foley, 2001) shows that public school superintendents and principals believe that leadership is the most essential factor in improving U.S. schools and districts. Nearly 7 in 10 superintendents (69 percent) and principals (68 percent) believe that with the “right leadership, even the most troubled school districts can be turned around” (p. 7).
      The results of the Public Agenda study support the underlying principles of the Standards for School Leaders (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1996), created in 1996 by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium, a program of the Council of Chief State School Officers. Each of the six consortium standards is defined by several knowledge, disposition, and performance statements or indicators that discuss what effective school leaders should know and be able to do.
      Any set of standards expresses the knowledge and skills that a community values. Although each consortium standard focuses on a different crucial component of school leadership, all six begin with the same phrase: “A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by. . . .”The bottom line of schooling, after all, is student learning. Everything principals do—establishing a vision, setting goals, managing staff, rallying the community, creating effective learning environments, building support systems for students, guiding instruction, and so on—must be in service of student learning. (Institute for Educational Leadership, 2000, p. 4)
      Educational Testing Service has created a national licensure examination for school leaders based on the consortium standards. The School Leaders Licensure Assessment consists of 25 constructed response items based on a series of vignettes and complex case studies and takes the licensure candidate six hours to complete. Education practitioners and education leadership preparation program professors designed the items to be relevant and authentic and to assess the candidate's awareness of the standards and ability to apply the standards to real-life situations.
      The School Leaders Licensure Assessment was developed because the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium recognized that creating strong professional standards is only half the battle (Latham & Pearlman, 1999). Unless the standards for school leaders influence practice, they will become just another theoretical model gathering dust on a library shelf. The consortium believed that the licensure assessment would engage potential principals, and the institutions that train them, in a serious study of the standards.
      The School Leaders Licensure Assessment is not the first assessment for school leaders to be adopted by state regulatory agencies, but it and its related assessments, the School Superintendent Assessment and the School Leader Portfolio Assessment, are the only ones based on the Standards for School Leaders. A licensure assessment study kit (Educational Testing Service, 2000) provides a complete test with related scoring rubrics and actual scored responses. The kit has become a useful professional development tool and instructional supplement in school leader preparation programs.
      Reese and Tannenbaum (1999) point out that assessments cannot measure all requisite skills—but that they should measure the knowledge and skills determined to be most relevant to safe and effective professional practice. The knowledge and skills that the School Leaders Licensure Assessment measures were defined by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, as well as by a job-analysis study of beginning school principals in the United States. Reese and Tannenbaum (1999) report evidence from a U.S. content validation study that indicates that the School Leaders Licensure Assessment is in fact firmly grounded in the consortium standards and that the assessment exercises and scoring rubrics faithfully reflect the indicators that they were designed to measure.
      A license signifies that practitioners have the knowledge and skills that should enable them to be competent professionals (Tannenbaum, 1999). The license, however, does not mean that practitioners will be competent professionals. A license is not a guarantee of the public's protection or the competency of the practitioner. It indicates only that an individual has met the initial requirements of education, experience, minimum competence as measured by an examination, or a combination of the three. District personnel entrusted with the responsibility of selecting and hiring qualified, competent school leaders must look beyond the licensure assessment results to make informed hiring decisions. Other factors to consider include the candidate's academic preparation, record of achievement, previous professional experiences and related recommendations, and job interview performance. Those charged with hiring school administrators should look for candidates who will provide the education leadership expected by the community. Ensuring that the candidate understands a set of nationally recognized standards for school leaders and is aware of how those standards apply to real-life situations is a start in meeting this expectation.
      The Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards can and should have an ongoing impact on practicing, experienced school administrators. In addition to guiding day-to-day practice, the standards can have a powerful effect on induction programs, professional development opportunities, and performance appraisal systems for all school leaders. As Elmore (2000) states,Leaders must lead by modeling the values and behaviors that represent collective good. Role-based theories of leadership wrongly envision leaders who are empowered to ask or require others to do things they may not be willing or able to do. But if learning, individual and collective, is the central responsibility of leaders, then they must be able to model that which they expect or require others to do. Likewise, leaders should expect to have their own practice subjected to the same scrutiny as they exercise toward others. (p. 21)
      Educational Testing Service publishes the School Leadership Series Test at a Glance (Educational Testing Service, 2001), a free information booklet designed to give candidates a sense of what to expect on the assessment and how it is scored. Because the booklet provides only four sample items—and therefore cannot possibly convey the richness and complexity of the complete School Leaders Licensure Assessment—it is not sufficient for researchers and others attempting a critical analysis of assessment.
      Many professors from school leadership preparation programs who hope to gain a deeper appreciation of the consortium standards and a better understanding of the licensure assessment have joined other experienced school leaders from across the United States to participate in an Educational Testing Service—sponsored licensure assessment scoring session. These three-day sessions occur after each of the three annual national administrations of the assessment. Participating in a scoring session gives these veteran educators a firmer understanding of the standards and of how to apply them in real-life situations.
      The professors and school leaders participate in extensive scoring training to learn how to properly apply the scoring rubrics for each item. They also learn that no one or two assessment items can address all the standards completely. Each item taps just a few standards and related knowledge or performance indicators. Taken together, however, the test items give candidates the opportunity to apply all the standards. Candidates respond to test items using their preferred format (sentences and paragraphs, bulleted lists, or outlines, for example) and different contexts (using examples, citing from research). Scorers must examine each response through the lens of the consortium standard being addressed in the question.
      Often the biggest hurdle for the professors and school leaders who attend the scoring training is the temptation to apply their own standards to the item and the candidate's response. During training, scorers learn to assess the merit of responses on the basis of their application of the consortium standards. They learn to put aside their biases and make informed judgments about responses from the targeted set of candidates—those preparing to enter school leadership with little or no experience. Scorers, with their extensive academic preparation, training, and experience, must constantly remember to ask themselves, How might the novice respond to this item? Scorers must address how well the candidates apply the relevant standards to the issues they face, given their limited, and in most cases nonexistent, administrative experience.
      Creating assessment items and constructing a test form are two parts of quality assessment. Other parts include ensuring that those who test candidates administer the assessment according to its intended purpose and that those who score candidate responses judge them fairly. Training scorers to apply rubrics appropriately and monitoring scorers' work ensure the validity of the test and the fairness of the testing.
      Another Tool in the Leader's Toolbox

      Another Tool in the Leader's Toolbox

      A Framework for School Leaders: Linking the ISLLC Standards to Practice (Hessel & Holloway, 2001) translates the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards into specific responsibilities of school leaders to bridge the gap between standards and practice. The Framework consists of 24 components of professional practice that articulate the role of the school leader and highlight features of the standards that are essential to the school leader's enhanced role.

      The Framework also describes four performance levels of professional practice: rudimentary, developing, proficient, and accomplished. Because it compares levels of school administrator practice to the standards, the Framework has a variety of possible applications for those interested in preparing and mentoring new school leaders, implementing professional development for practicing school leaders, and evaluating administrators.

      Published by Educational Testing Service, Rosedale Rd., Princeton, NJ 08541. Price: $36.


      Council of Chief State School Officers. (1996). The Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards for school leaders. Washington, DC: Author.

      Educational Testing Service. (2000). School leaders licensure assessment study kit. Princeton, NJ: Author.

      Educational Testing Service. (2001). School leadership series test at a glance. Princeton, NJ: Author.

      Elmore, R. (2000). Building a new structure for school leadership. Washington, DC: The Albert Shanker Institute.

      Farkas, S., Johnson, J., Duffett, A., Foleno, T., & Foley, P. (2001). Trying to stay ahead of the game: Superintendents and principals talk about school leadership. New York: Public Agenda.

      Hessel, K., & Holloway, J. H. (2001). A framework for school leaders: Linking the ISLLC standards to practice. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

      Institute for Educational Leadership. (2000, October). Leadership for student learning: Reinventing the principalship. Washington, DC: Author.

      Latham, A., & Pearlman, M. (1999). From standards to licensure: Developing an authentic assessment for school principals. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 13(3), 245–262.

      Reese, C., & Tannenbaum, R. (1999). Gathering content-related validity evidence for the School Leaders Licensure Assessment. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 13(3), 263–282.

      Tannenbaum, R. (1999). Laying the groundwork for a licensure assessment. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 13(3), 225–244.

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