Assessment leadership: two cases of effective practice
The effective use of formative assessment practices has resulted in some of the largest gains in student learning ever documented (Meisels, 2006; Davies 2007; Black & Wiliam 2006, 1998; Marzano 2006). Given this support in the literature for the connection between improving classroom assessment and increasing student learning, the critical question among school leaders no longer seems to be, "what classroom practices best improve student learning?" Instead, leaders interested in student learning through classroom assessment are increasingly driven to inquire into the conditions that will best foster effective assessment practices in the classroom. The purpose of this study was to take cases of schools where changes in classroom assessment practices had increased student learning, and to examine both the practices of leadership that supported the assessment initiatives, and the ways in which these leaders were connected. In recent studies of school improvement efforts focused on classroom assessment, Wiliam (2004, 2007) and Reeves (2007) concluded that teachers required support across the entire school system in order to embed effective formative assessment practices into their instructional repertoire. Hargreaves (1999) and Fullan (2005) defined this type of systemic support as lateral and overall capacity. While Goleman (2006) and Barabasi (2009) pointed to the influence of the social network of learners surrounding an initiative, Fullan (2005) warned that learning networks also require quality and implementation controls in order to sustain changes. Wiliam (2007) defined this tension between educators learning from one another and being openly responsible for sharing new practices as “supportive accountability” (p. 199). This study sought to inquire into leadership networks and leadership practices that supported schools in which an assessment initiative had resulted in improved student learning. Two elementary schools were selected for study following a nomination process by central-office staff. A chain-sampling methodology was used to identify individuals who were seen to play an important leadership role in initiating and sustaining assessment efforts in each school. In all, qualitative data were generated from interviews with ten participants, eight from within the selected schools, and two central-office support staff. This study revealed several major themes in the leadership practices of leaders inside the schools: engagement in a range of formal and informal professional learning experiences by teachers and school administrators; application of assessment for learning principles to the overall work of the initiative; engagement in a multi-level learning community; and the integration of school and system-level plans. Additionally, participants described a cross-role network of leadership supports that seemed to infuse teachers and staff with the positive energy required to maintain a high level of commitment to the initiative. While all participants described feelings of frustration and discomfort with the elements of accountability to their peers, they also described valuing the high levels of active support they received from other teachers, school administrators, and central-office staff. Leadership practices within the context of a network or pattern of leadership relationships aimed at fostering effective levels of supportive accountability seem to be most effective.
DegreeMaster of Education (M.Ed.)
CommitteeStelmach, Bonnie; Burgess, David; Wipf, David; Ralph, Edwin; Noonan, Brian; Renihan, Patrick