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Improving teaching capacity to increase student achievement: The key role of data interpretation by school leaders

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  • Australian College of Researchers

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Purpose This paper argues that in a well-organised school with strong leadership and vision coupled with a concerted effort to improve the teaching performance of each teacher, student achievement can be enhanced. The purpose of the paper is to demonstrate that while macro-effect sizes such as 'whole of school' metrics are useful for school leaders in their professional development roles, there are important micro-conditions that can be uncovered in a more detailed analysis of student achievement data. Design/methodology/approach Evidence of student achievement in a variety of standardised and non-standardised assessment tasks was subjected to examination in a post-hoc, case study design. The assessment tasks were the South Australian Spelling Test Waddington Reading Test, a school-wide diagnostic writing task, teacher running records and national assessment program for literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN). Performance in selected classrooms was compared on these tests utilising a variety of parametric quantitative statistics. Findings School-based reform initiatives require external criteria on which to base decision-making. Without such criteria based on data and the capacity to interpret it, interactions in the school culture have unanticipated consequences that have the potential to neutralise school improvement strategies. Further, findings suggest that fewer but sharper and quicker data collection tools are more valuable in such teacher decision-making, but these require expertise to produce and interpret them.
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Journal of Educational Administration
Improving teaching capacity to increase student achievement: the key role of data interpretation by
school leaders
David Lynch Richard Smith Steven Provost Jake Madden
Article information:
To cite this document:
David Lynch Richard Smith Steven Provost Jake Madden , (2016),"Improving teaching capacity to increase student
achievement: the key role of data interpretation by school leaders", Journal of Educational Administration , Vol. 54 Iss 5 pp. -
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JEA-10-2015-0092
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Improving teaching capacity to increase student achievement: the key role of data
interpretation by school leaders
A global competition in educational achievement in “core subject matter areas like reading,
arithmetic/mathematics and science” has emerged (Scheerens, 2013, p.16) as governments focus
on international comparative studies of student achievement such as the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA) (see Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development, 2010, 2013). A prime motivation for such interest can be found in numerous
reports that cite the social and economic benefits of maintaining high performing education
systems in a global knowledge-based economy (see for example, Barro, 2001; Business Council
of Australia, 2005; Hanushek and Woessmann, 2009, 2010; Ministerial Council on Education,
Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008 ).
Not all observers agree with that such developments are beneficial. The thesis is that individuals
or groups of students, teachers, education professionals and whole nations can suffer real
damage, if testing comes to dominate the education system. For example, Lingard (2010) argues
that national testing has ‘likely negative effects’ on curricula and pedagogy, opens the possibilities
of ‘naming’ and ‘shaming’ poor communities where there are relationship between socio-
economic status (SES) and student performance. The widespread adoption of testing in the
name of educational improvement for national political ends, according to Lingard (2010: 132), is
connected to nations reconstituting in the face of globalization and transnationalism. In this
political climate, testing is misrecognized as inflicting harm. In contrast, Mandinach, Honey, and
Light (2006, p. 5) propose that it is necessary to identify and develop processes and practices that
support teachers’ deep and sustained examination of data in ways that are aligned to local
instructional goals, regardless of ethnic and socioeconomic background. We cannot disagree with
this goal.
In order to examine some of the issues that have arisen here, we take a step back to another
discourse that is at least readily understandable to us. We distinguish two changes that together
have made the present preoccupation with testing inevitable. Education research by Leithwood,
et al. (2008), Shen and Cooley (2008), Lachat and Smith (2005), Marzano et al. (2005), Marsh et al.
(2006), Hattie (2009, 2011, 2012), Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) and others have identified strong
links between the teaching capacities of teachers and student academic performance: that
teaching matters. In addition, school leadership, what the Head and other leaders do, has a
definite effect on student academic outcomes (Mendels, 2012; Waters et al, 2003). This relatively
new understanding of the effects of teaching and the environment in which it takes place does
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not cancel the determinism of SES but it does offer hope for neutralizing its effects (Barber and
Mourshed 2007, p.13; Waters et al., 2003). For poor communities, those who have been
excluded from the capital that schooling provides, teachers and school systems, these two points
are good news. They heighten the preoccupation with improving school system performance
because it now seems possible and it is not surprising that there is a global pattern of great
interest in test results as inputs to steer education policy and systems, especially teacher quality
(Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2013; Thompson and Cook, 2014,
p.16). The interpretation of such test results and their transformation into action to improve
student academic achievement now falls largely on the expectations of school Heads and by
association, their ‘leadership team’ (Leithwood, et al., 2008; Park and Datnow, 2009).
Drawing the discussion together, in this article, the context is a school Head’s attempt to
improve the teaching capacities of his elementary school teaching staff (Kindergarten to Year 6)
in the curriculum area of English. The Head’s strategy comprised an intensive and systematic
coaching, mentoring and feedback regime linked to a school-wide data management and
reporting system. This coaching, mentoring and feedback was supported by the use of a ‘team
teaching’ organisational structure within the school thus creating a sociocultural environment
complemented by governance and management changes in a distributed way (Spillane,
Halverson, & Diamond, 2001). The model is known as the Collaborative Teacher Learning
Model (CTLM).
The CTLM model effectively combined school-based leadership arrangements, teacher
professional development and structural changes to governance and management designed to
lift the school’s achievement levels by mobilising the talents of the entire teaching and
administrative staff. During the five-year implementation of the model (2009 to 2013), improved
student outcomes became the prime vision in the school.
To determine the efficacy of the Head’s project, we interrogated student performance
data in order to assess the success or otherwise of the Head’s initiatives in achieving enhanced
student learning outcomes. We report findings in a later section.
As the paper details, the Head played a decisive role in developing and establishing the
CTLM within the school during his tenure at the school. With this understanding, the Head
made himself responsible for all the key decisions that were taken as the CTLM evolved in the
school by being the ‘chief coach and mentor’ to his leadership team and in turn, that of his
teachers. These circumstances provided an opportunity for us to also explore the Head’s
perceptions of his progress, including his judgement about teachers’ teaching capacities, in light
of student performance data.
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Before proceeding to the remainder of the paper, we briefly review relevant literature
concerned with leadership and its effects on teaching and student academic achievement. The
review is aimed at showing the clear links between patterns of leadership, effective teaching and
improved student outcomes.
Theoretical framing
Researchers such as Leithwood et al. (2008) and Shen and Cooley (2008) point to the key role
that Heads play in improving student achievement. Marzano (2003) identified key functions of
school leaders: shaping a vision of academic success for all students; creating a climate hospitable
to education; cultivating leadership in others; improving instruction; and managing people, data,
and processes to foster school improvement. In an extensive meta-analysis, Marzano et al. (2005,
pp. 11-27) found a .25 correlation between twenty-one leadership characteristics of successful
Heads and student achievement, which potentially, can increase student achievement up to 22%
higher than the starting percentile (Marzano 2003, p. 3). Their claim is that, for students below
average, the principal’s leadership can increase performance to the average or higher range
(Marzano et al., 2005).
Feser et al.’s (2015) research into organisations is heuristic in these circumstances
because, while noting the unresolved issues in change behaviour, it suggests that a small subset
of leadership skills closely correlates with leadership success. Feser et al. (2015) identified a list of
20 distinct leadership traits and surveyed 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations around the
world to determine how frequently certain kinds of leadership behaviour are applied in their
organizations. The sample was divided into organizations whose leadership performance was in
the top quartile of leadership effectiveness (as measured by McKinsey’s Organizational Health
Index) and those that were weak, in the bottom quartile.
Four of the 20 possible types of leadership effectiveness behaviour explained 89% of the
variance between strong and weak organizations. They are:
1. Solving problems effectively. Problem solving based on gathering data, the analysis of
information and considered conclusions.
2. Operating with a strong results orientation. Developing and communicating a vision and
setting objectives that are followed through to results. Leaders with a strong results
orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to
prioritize the highest-value work.
3. Seeking different perspectives. Monitoring trends affecting organizations, grasping
changes in the environment, encouraging employees to contribute ideas that could
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improve performance, accurately differentiating between important and unimportant
issues, and giving appropriate importance to stakeholder concerns.
4. Supporting others. Showing a sincere interest in those around them in order to build
trust and inspiration and intervening in work to promote and preventing internal conflict.
Feser et al. (2015) claim that for organizations investing in the development of their future
leaders, “prioritizing these four areas is a good place to start”.
Similarly, the Wallace Foundation (Mendels, 2012), in the most current and
comprehensive study on the relationship between school administrator behaviours and actions
and student academic achievement, identified five school-level factors and six other teacher- and
student-level factors that are well-established correlates of effective schools (Mendels, 2012, p.
55). The five practices of shaping a vision of academic success, creating a hospitable climate for
change, cultivating leadership in others, improving instruction and managing people, data and
processes in particular are concerned with structural and cultural change and are central to
effective school leadership in the sense described above. These prescriptions suggest that schools
resemble organisations more generally despite their specific content.
An important insight for the present paper is that these studies distinguish between
leadership as the conventional management role of ‘minding the shop’ and leadership concerned
with the fundamental changes in an organisation that lead to better strategic outcomes (Park and
Datnow, 2009; Wayman, et al., 2005). To illustrate, in a school situation Heads are often captured
by the many management variables in the day-to-day life of school that scuttle aspirational
visions and plans, no matter how well such plans have been developed and how passionate the
Head and staff are in the search for improvement (Sebastian and Allensworth, 2012). Marzano et
al. (2005) and Sebastian and Allensworth (2012) indicate that successful Heads consciously direct
help where it is most needed or where they have prioritized school efforts and resources in order
to assist teachers to improve their performance. It is this latter form of school Head leadership
in contrast to managing the minutiae that appears to be a pre-requisite for strategic change. Our
focal school Head exemplified this profile.
It follows that the accumulating evidence is that the knowledge and skill bases for school
leaders wishing to improve schools on any scale, include an informed academic emphasis
including knowledge of relevant research, the time and opportunity to plan and implement,
structuring and scaffolding the whole school, leadership and monitoring its effects and detailed
emphasis on classroom level instructional variables (Shen and Cooley, 2008; Wayman, et al.,
2005, 2006; Mandinach, et al., 2011; Park and Datnow, 2009). The establishment of instructional
variables such as emphasizing the importance of prior knowledge, developing self-regulated
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learning and teaching, dealing with meta-cognitive strategies and establishing structured teaching
and direct instruction matter most (Witziers et al., 2003; Kirschner et al. 2006; Scheerens et al.,
2007; Seidel and Shavelson, 2007; Creemers and Kyriakides, 2008; Louis and Marks, 1998;
Marzano, 2003).
Although tentative, Scheerens (2013, pp. 23-24) claims that there is a ‘fair consensus
among reviewers’ on the rank order of such variables according to the average effect size
reported in his meta-analysis of schools. By putting together the main results from Marzano
(2003), Scheerens et al. (2007) and Hattie (2009), even with general labels, the evidence provides a
“relatively clear idea on what aspects of school functioning should be optimized in order to
enhance student performance” (Scheerens, 2013, pp. 23-24). We interpret this evidence to mean
that strategic leadership by the Head is an essential ingredient for improved student achievement
and school change. Further, if the goal is to overcome the blockages that impede the progress of
many students, significant changes in how the school operates matter (Park and Datnow, 2009;
Shen and Cooley, 2008; Hamilton, et al., 2009).
We have laboured the point about school leadership because it seems to us to illustrate the
fundamental issues of what is at stake in raising student academic outcomes. For us, there are
three core issues. First, conventionally, teacher culture is inhospitable to interrogating ‘teaching’
if it means challenging what individual teachers do. For decades ‘teaching’ has been treated as
unproblematic (Simon, 1981; Alexander, 2003) and when it comes to student outcomes, its
success or otherwise is thought to be adequately explained and justified by sociological factors.
Moreover, it is not then surprising that Confrey & Makar (2005), Hammerman & Rubin (2002)
and Kearns & Harvey, (2000) have shown that teachers do not routinely engage in thinking
critically about the relationship between instructional practices and student outcomes
(Mandinach, Honey, and Light, 2006).
Second, this does not mean that teachers are against change but the individualization and
‘medicalization’ (Goffman, 1961) of teaching is inhospitable to the scrutiny of its effects because
it cannot accommodate what failing students and their communities really aspire to, which is
success and the opportunities it presents. Third, the Head is the core strategic role for initiating
the changes required to ‘teaching’ if the goal is to improve student outcomes. Of core
importance to this position is Toth and Marzano’s (2008) call for a ‘language of instruction’ to
reduce the fragmentation of teaching.
Nevertheless, such change is not a mechanical process. As Weick (1976) has pointed out, schools
are usually loosely coupled systems with different parts of the operation operating in relatively
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autonomous ways that have effects, including the fragmentation of teaching purpose. However,
as Preedy, Glatter and Wise (2003) have so cogently argued, developing organisational
effectiveness and improvement so that all organization members understand, are involved in,
and committed to, a strategic plan needs to permeate the whole staff of a school organisation.
The Case Study
The school featured in this paper is an example of a ‘seed’ school. These are schools that already
have “a strong capacity for change, where the staff is cohesive, excited about teaching, led by a
visionary leader willing to involve the entire staff in decisions, and broadly aware of research
trends and ideas being implemented elsewhere” (Slavin, 1997, p. 7). After taking up the position,
the Head discerned that the academic performance of students, while above state and sector
norms, was ‘flat-lining’. He resolved to work on creating better academic outcomes by focusing
on an improvement of teaching through intensive staff professional development. In a project
over five years he initiated a focus on data driven instructional decision-making (Hamilton, et al.,
2005; March, et al., 2006) and conducive school structural changes to accommodate the
implications of these (Park and Datnow, 2009; Shen and Cooley, 2008). Before proceeding we
briefly explain the model developed by the Head and his staff, entitled the Collaborative Teacher
Learning Model (CTLM).
The Collaborative Teacher Learning Model
School X is a large faith-based elementary school in regional Australia but in its environment, is
similar to the nearby state schools in so far as they all have enrolments across social strata, they
deal with individual family circumstances and some social issues active in the local community.
The school has a steady enrolment of 650 students in Kindergarten through Year 6 with a
balance of experienced and inexperienced teachers. Teachers work in ‘grade’ or ‘year based’
teaching teams lead by a ‘team leader’. These team leaders in turn form the schools executive
team. The Head had been employed for five years prior to the commencement of this study in
2009.
The fundamental elements of the CTLM model are six fold, namely:
1. The average yearly enrolment of 652 elementary students in Years Kindergarten through
6, were organized into 7 teaching cohorts. The cohorts comprised teams of 4 teachers
and approximately 90 students who worked collaboratively to deliver the Australian
National Curriculum.
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2. The teaching arrangement was supported by a ‘team leader’, a personal Teaching
Performance Plan (TPP) for each teacher and a series of formalized coaching, mentoring
and feedback sessions managed and facilitated by the team leader.
3. An initial series of whole of school-wide Professional Development sessions about
‘evidence based practice’
4. Teaching techniques and their potential effect size on student performance and
translating them into strategic teaching plans. Dimensions of Learning (Marzano et al.,
1997) and Hattie’s (2009) work were the key references
5. Teaching team leaders conducted individual teaching observation-based coaching,
mentoring and feedback sessions and made regular reports to teachers both individually
and to whole of cohort about student performance on standardized tests.
6. Teaching team Leaders made teacher performance plans (TPP) for each teacher that
became an official school record of the teacher’s teaching performance. Teaching
observations based on teaching plans, actual teaching sessions, student performance data
and areas of improvement and benchmarks required to be met at a stipulated juncture in
the school year constituted the records.
7. Teaching team Leaders implemented a formal coaching and mentoring regime, guided by
each teacher’s TPP.
Methodology
As our review of headship literature demonstrated, the Head plays an important role in the life
of an effective school. Our supposition, derived from the literature, was that this Head would
have to juggle many agendas at once (Marzano et al., 2005) to accomplish the goal of enhancing
teaching so that student academic outcomes improved. We focused on the operational aspects of
the CTLM and the Heads strategies to keep track of progress. Of particular interest was the use
the Head made of conventional whole of school metrics and especially more specific student
achievement and teacher effectiveness data.
For the purposes of this paper we use evidence of student achievement in a variety of
standardised and non-standardised assessment tasks each subjected to examination in a post-hoc
case study design to test the efficacy of the CTLM in improving student outcomes. The data
were scores on teachers’ running records, a teacher-designed writing task, standardized tests
administered within the school (Waddington’s Reading Test and the South Australian Spelling
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Test), and the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy
1
(NAPLAN). These
data were collected across the period 2012-2014. An analysis of the changes in performance
across this period has been presented elsewhere (Lynch et al., 2015).
More specifically, these data were interrogated post-hoc in quantitative analyses. One
analysis examined differences in standardized test performance within a single year for differing
classrooms at the same year-level. The purpose of this analysis was to determine the extent of
between-classroom differences, their achievement relative to Hattie’s criterion, and the level of
concordance between changes in performance and the Head’s expectations regarding classroom
teacher capability. Data were not available for all tests for all years, due to variations in
implementation of the tests across different classes in the school. For those tests where data was
available, difference scores were calculated for students within classes, means were calculated and
confidence intervals were constructed to enable interpretation. The same analysis was conducted
on the school-based writing task. Multiple regression analyses were conducted on the NAPLAN
results with respect to the standardized tests, the writing task, and teacher running records.
Performance in selected classrooms was then compared on these tests utilising a variety
of parametric quantitative statistics and the results used to conduct an examination of the Head’s
perceptions of this data as it relates to each teacher. In seeking to examine the Heads
perceptions we found in Strong et al. (2011, p.367) evidence of a low accuracy of the
average
principal
to judge the teaching performance of the teachers he /she supervises. The contention
for us was that we had a ‘seed school’, with significant data source capacities and according to
the student performance data, we reveal later, what can be described as an effective Head. We
thus aim to investigate if he proves to have a greater level of accuracy in judging the teaching
performance of his teachers.
The Data Sources
As indicated earlier, the school utilized the South Australian Spelling Test (SAST), the
Waddington Reading Tests (Waddington, 2012) as a well as a ‘school-wide diagnostic writing
task’ and ‘running records’ to focus teaching endeavours and determine student achievement
growth. In this paper we used these tests and tasks as well as data obtained from the National
Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) for this school as the basis for
analysis. Before continuing we first provide an account of each.
1
National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy. See http://www.nap.edu.au/naplan/naplan.html
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The South Australian Spelling Test (SA-ST) (revised) consists of two forms containing
70 words, differing in level of difficulty (e.g., from the word “on” to the word “seismograph”;
Westwood, 2005). The student is read the words and must write them down. Each word is
repeated, and embedded in a sentence (e.g., “ON. Please put your shoes ON. Write ON”). The
test should be terminated if the student makes 10 consecutive errors. Their score is the number
of correct answers. This score can then be compared with age norms (from 2004) provided for
the two forms, however any particular score is usually associated with a number of ages (e.g. a
score of 52 is compatible with an age between 14 years and nine months and 15 years and five
months). Test-retest reliability of the SAST is between .89 and .94 and the standard error of
measurement is 2 raw score points (Westwood, 2005). For those Year grades in which this test
was employed, it was administered in February and in November of that year.
The Waddington reading tests have a combination of letter, word, rhyme, phonic, picture
to word and picture to text recognition to assist with the identification, diagnosis and
intervention for students with learning difficulties or advanced skills. Students can do Test 1 in
the second term and Test 2 in the fourth term. The Kuder-Richardson 20 reliability index is
reported to be 0.98 for reading test 1 and 0.97 for reading test 2. The Standard Error of
Measurement (SEM) is reported as plus or minus 2 months in reading age for the two parallel
forms of the reading test. These statistics indicate that the tests are highly reliable for
determining the reading age of young children (Godfrey et al., 2001).
The Waddington tests have the following purpose:
"by bridging the gap between those teachers who rely mainly upon observation
and personal judgement in assessing a student’s performance and those who
naively accept the limited information of derived scores provided by tests as
being the major indicator of a student or school’s performance." (Waddington,
2012).
The ‘Writing Task’ provides School X staff with rigorous, focused professional
conversations about student work samples which in turn are dissected and interrogated as
evidence about each teacher’s practice and individual student progress. Each task is based on a
sequential aspect of the Australian National English Curriculum and is directly referenced to
writing task rubrics that form part of the Australian Government’s national NAPLAN testing
program. The writing task itself is based on and aimed at students writing more each day while
re-engaging teachers with the core business of writing using clauses, complex and compound
sentences and types of text such as imaginative, informative and persuasive. It exemplifies the
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collaborative curriculum and pedagogical work that teachers do in the CTLM and the school is
now assesses the Writing Task outcomes in all four school terms.
Several features of the Writing Task mark the important function it has in the CTLM.
First, it builds a common strategy and language across the whole school. Second, the Leader of
Pedagogy worked with the task at each year level, discussing key intervention teaching strategies
to allow each student to move forward and providing input into relevant PD for each teacher.
Third, The Writing Task was the vehicle to implement the Hattie co-efficient by promoting
discussion about the effectiveness of their decision-making when choosing teaching strategies.
Last, the Writing Task offered a measure that was universal across the school.
A running record is a set of observational notes of each student made several times a
year or as required by the teacher in order to identify the instructional reading level of a student.
For a teacher, the most important feature of the running record analysis is in the questioning and
interpretation of the types of errors students make when reading.
Findings
The remainder of this paper is dedicated to the analysis of the data-based approach of
the CTLM and an examination of the Head’s perceptions of this data as it relates to each teacher.
The use of data to assist in decision-making is the cornerstone of the Head’s initiative and the
school’s strategic development plan (Mandinach, et al., 2001, 2006; Shen and Cooley, 2008). It
relied on ‘teaching team meetings’ and formalized ‘coaching, mentoring and feedback’ sessions
led by a designated teaching team leader. These were linked to a school-based testing program
built around reaching the Hattie 0.4 minimalist achievement improvement criterion. In short, the
CTLM was the planned means for improving the academic performance of each student,
increasing teacher capability and exemplified a systematic approach to converting effective
leadership into a web of practical components.
Nevertheless, the CTLM meetings, coaching, mentoring and feedback relied on
interpretation of teacher and student profiles and strategic issues so that professional
development could be targeted. These interpretations in turn were based on school-based test
scores, running records of student progress and behaviour maintained by teachers, and a
composite teacher constructed ‘writing task’. These components generated information that
comprised a ‘data-driven’ approach to school leadership and change at school X. Our interest at
this point is what was generated in each of these elements and its relative efficacy for providing
data on which effective professional teacher development could be based.
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In order to unravel these conundrums, we elected to investigate year-long and shorter
term data generated by the aforementioned tests and assessment tasks.
Long-term data collection, analysis and use
As our literature review revealed leadership is an important element in the effective school. The
key role played by the Head in our case study further exemplified this finding. As we outlined in
an earlier section, the Head in School X viewed his role as central to the success of the CTLM; a
position which aligns with findings by Akert and Martin (2012) into the key role played by
actively involved school leaders in effective schools. One would expect that such Heads have
an intimate understanding of where teaching strengths and weaknesses lie and would attempt to
target these as part of their strategic planning and action. With these points in mind, we
compared the results of the CTLM with the Head’s perceptions of each teacher’s teaching
capacities to gain further insights into how the CTLM is informed by his leadership.
The CTLM featured the use of various tests and assessment tasks from which teaching
decisions were taken and teaching and learning performance judged. Hattie’s effect-size criterion
(d = 0.4) was used to provide a common expression of the magnitude of English achievement
across the school. The criterion focused him and his team leader’s attention on diagnostic test
information and pedagogical issues for each teaching team to resolve.
In order to show what a ‘data-driven’ approach involves when using, we drilled down on
the general finding that the school had achieved significant progress in reaching Hattie’s 0.4
criterion (Hattie, 2009, 2012). The changes in performance within a single calendar year were
analysed at the classroom level. We wished to determine how consistent the changes in
achievement we reported (Lynch, et al., 2014, 2015) were across the school. We also sought to
provide a cross-check of the Head’s perceptions of teacher effectiveness. The Head was asked,
post-hoc, to rank all of the teachers in terms of their competence and capability. These rankings
were then split into quartiles, identifying those in the top 25%, second 25%, third 25% and
bottom 25%. The relation between these rankings and class performance were then analysed.
Comparative data were not available for all years or for all teachers, but in a number of
instances comparisons in test performance within a year were possible. For example, Figure 1
shows the means and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) for the improvements in performance
for six Year 1 classes. These changes are shown with respect to the improvement that could be
expected due simply to maturation over the nine months between testing occasions, and Hattie’s
.4sd improvement. This figure indicates that the improvements in attainment at the whole-of-
school level are not consistent, and that there are quite large differences between classes. None
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of the 95% CIs fall below the level of improvement which should be expected on the basis of
maturation alone. Three of them (Classes D, E, and F) lie above this level, indicating that student
attainment had improved at more than this rate, which appears to be consistent with the .4sd
requirement. However the different outcomes do not appear to be consistent with the Head’s
expectations regarding competence, as the improvements in performance are unrelated to the
quartile in which the classroom teacher was placed on this dimension.
[Figure 1.]
A similar pattern emerges if other tests are considered. Figure 2 shows the same
improvement scores for classes with respect to the Year 3 SAST. Again, there are differences
between classes in evidence, although none fall below maturational expectations, and some
exceed these by a substantial margin. However there is no relation whatsoever between the
Head’s judgements of teacher effectiveness and the classroom student attainment.
[Figure 2.]
Strong et al. (2011), in their studies of “whether judges [in teaching situations] can
correctly rate teachers of known ability to raise student achievement, found that … in every case,
judges achieved relatively high levels of agreement but were absolutely inaccurate, leading to
question whether educators can identify effective teachers when they see them” (Strong et al.,
2011, pp. 367 and 379). In an earlier study Medley and Coker (1987, p. 246) found “a low
accuracy of the average principal’s judgement of the teachers he /she supervises”. Orphanos
(2014) found that Heads are capable of making accurate judgements of teacher performance but
personal interactions have the potential to cloud such judgements.
When asked how the Head made his teacher rankings, it became evident that the day-to-
day interactions about issues involving teachers and the Head dominated his immediate
judgement about teacher capacity. For example, when asked his opinions of the top performers
identified in the data reported here, he described some teachers as ‘the biggest complainer’ and
another as ‘not aligned’ with his vision for the school. In both cases he thought they were pre-
occupied with ‘peripheral things’.
Classes of course imply teachers, and in the CTLM where teaching was the prime focus
in school improvement, these data could have provided a more fine-grained data-set for the
Head or the respective teaching Team Leader to have professional conversations with, for
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13
example, Teachers A, B and C in Year 3. Bearing in mind that the composition of classes was
homogeneous, these data provide a Head and teaching team leaders with the decision-making
grounds for designing targeted professional development for teachers. The major problem with
data from instruments such as the NAPLAN, which involves an 8-month lag time in its
availability, is its lack of immediacy; making it a poor tool for data-based decision-making at an
individual level (although its value for the whole school is not diminished). The information
from standardised tests administered within the school has the capacity to inform critical
decisions within a time frame suitable to lead to effective gains in student and teacher
performance, if appropriately utilised.
The primary source of information normally used in schools for the provision of timely
feedback on attainment are running records (RR). RR provide a data source for decision-making
by individual teachers, the Leader of Pedagogy and ‘teaching team’ meetings. They are
considered to be a rich reservoir of teacher observations about every student that, once
interrogated, provide grounds for deciding which teaching strategies are needed to move a
student from one level (in reading) to the next. In some cases, there are multiple teacher
comments about individual students thus providing a form of triangulation of information.
In order to test the efficacy of the RR for teacher professional development where
improved teaching performance was sought in higher student achievement, multiple regressions
were conducted on each of the four NAPLAN tests for year 3 students as shown in Table 1.
Scores on both the SA tests conducted in February of that year, and the June RR. In all four
regressions, a highly significant and substantial proportion of the variance on the NAPLAN was
predicted by the combination of SA and RR. Scores on the SA test were significantly associated
with NAPLAN performance in all four cases.
[Table 1]
In the case of the NAPLAN Language and Spelling tests these associations were strong,
with β
values equal to or exceeding 0.7. However, the RR scores were only significantly
predictive with respect to NAPLAN performance in the case of the Reading subtest, and in the
other three cases b weights were close to zero.
Short-term data collection and analysis
Another potential source of information regarding student attainment is provided by
assessment tools such as the teacher-designed writing task described above. This task was
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14
conducted twice in each session for targeted aspects of writing, potentially allowing much greater
immediacy in the design and implementation of remedial strategies if required. In order to assess
the value of these data, a grand average was calculated across the four different tasks for each
student for each of the test administrations. The average improvement in performance was then
calculated for students in different classes of each year, and Figure 3 shows the change in writing
task performance for Year 4 students in 2012. Once again such results were typical for all year
levels and we use these results as an exemplar of such findings. As the two testing occasions fell
within a single term, and as this test is not norm-referenced for differing ages, this figure does
not include any suppositions regarding improvement with respect to maturation. However, the
dashed line shows the improvement required to achieve Hattie’s 0.4 sd change as a reference
point.
[Figure 3.]
There is clear evidence in Figure 3 of substantial improvements in student performance
in all classes, at or beyond Hattie’s .4 sd. Differences between classes are less than for the
standardised tests, although there is considerable variability as indicated by the differing
confidence intervals.
Taken together, these findings add to the literature in three ways:
First, the study reported here supports the idea that schools have ‘effects’ on student
outcomes mediated by changes in teacher behaviour. Exemplary classroom teaching focused on
improved student performance, demonstrated by Hattie’s 0.4 criterion, supports the contention
that schools do make a difference (Marzano et al, 2005; Hattie, 2009; Scheerens, et al 2007;
Witziers, et al, 2003). The ‘whole of school reform model’ (CTLM) reported here reinforces the
efficacy of a combination of distributed leadership, data-driven decision-making, coaching,
mentoring and feedback regime for teachers (Leithwood et al, 2008; Park and Datnow, 2009;
Mendels 2012; Orphanos, 2014). The paper supports further research into these elements if the
aim is to promote school Head capability, teacher expertise and student learning (Strong, et al,
2011; Sebastian and Allensworth, 2012).
Second, the paper shows that data collection tools that are current, immediately useable
by Heads and teachers and supportive of pedagogical strategies prioritising student learning are
feasible and achievable in today’s schools. However, in order to reach such a level of expertise,
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15
teacher education and professional development needs to ensure that there are staff who can
produce and interpret such tools, implying a change in the leadership and administrative
practices (Mendels, 2012; Mandinach, et al., 2011; Feser, et al, 2015; Marzano et al, 2005;
Wayman, et al, 2005; Slavin, 1997; OECD, 2010) . This has wider implications for those who
prepare teachers for work, conceptions of ‘education, and the way schools distribute resources
(Lynch, et al, 2015; Schiemann, 2014).
Finally, as Leithwood et al (2008) and others (see for example; Sebastian and Allensworth,
2012; Feser, et al, 2015; Creemers and Kyriakides, 2008) have argued, the Head has to adopt a
consistent and long-term strategic view of leadership and management. Our data show that
judgements about teaching and school performance based on micro-level interactions in the
school are less reliable and strategically productive than the planned, systematic interpretation
and implementation of data collected in less impressionable and personalised methods.
Conclusions
The business of collecting, analysing and making instructional decisions based on data is
increasingly identified as a central tenant in the school improvement process (Lachet and Smith,
2005), but for effect it requires changes in school cultures and teachers’ attitudes to data and the
role it can play in instructional decision-making (Mandinach, et al., 2011; Hamilton, et al., 2009).
This has direct implications for the Head as instructional leader and for the improvement
strategies and the support structures they choose to put into place (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012;
Park and Datnow, 2009). The CTLM provided an insight into how one Head attempted to come
to terms with such a complex agenda. In the CTLM the Head used a variety of data sources to
inform and direct this model.
Using the quantum of data sources as outlined in an earlier section, we contend that
there is clear evidence of improvements in student performance in all classes, at or beyond
Hattie’s 0.4 sd. This provides an account of the efficacy of the CTLM and by association, the
planning and implementation leadership capacities of the school Head.
Taking specific account of the greater complexity of the writing task, a combination of
standardised testing (e.g. SA-ST) and this kind of writing test analysis provides the fine-grained
detail that is essential for any program attempting to raise both the pedagogical expertise of
teachers and the academic performance of students. The former provides validity, which we have
suggested, surpasses teacher developed tests, and immediacy in the case of the writing task
statistics. The immediacy factor is of great importance for the day-to-day development of
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teaching and for the improvement of student outcomes (Mandinach, et al., 2011). Without it, the
availability of data is neutralised in the day-to-day demands of teacher’s lives.
The writing task was also irrevocably tied to the Head’s mentoring and leadership
processes and in turn, to the far greater involvement of the teachers in the design and
implementation of these tools. They generated a greater familiarisation with the structure of what
was required and the development of more effective strategies drawn from experience and the
professional development within the CTML, leading to better teaching approaches and greater
student attainment. The task is important therefore because it was necessary (but not sufficient)
to generate the changes in practice that the Head’s strategy required if better student outcomes
were to be achieved.
We also conclude that the standardised test appears to have provided much more
valuable information for the design of teaching strategies than that available to teachers through
their running records. We base this conclusion on the data analysis that shows the information
contained in the running records is of little value in estimating the likely NAPLAN performance
of pupils, unlike the SA-ST which is, in some cases, highly predictive of NAPLAN performance.
These findings underscore the challenges that Heads face in managing complex school
environments and illustrate how reform initiatives such as on-going teacher development require
external data criteria on which to base decision-making. This point is emphasised by Mandinach,
et al. (2011) who call attention to the challenges Heads face in working with a teaching workforce
untrained in such data based decision-making regimes. Without such data and the capacity to
interpret them, interactions in the school culture have unanticipated consequences that have the
potential to neutralise school improvement strategies by an incapacity to interpret and implement
the implications of rich databases. In turn, these remarks point to the need for teacher education
programs to keep pace with changes both in education research and daily practices in schools by
making data driven decision making a core component for teachers and Heads (Mandinach et al.,
2011).
This is an important finding because the paper shows that fewer but sharper and quicker
data collection tools such as the writing task statistics are possible if the expertise is in schools to
produce, interpret and implement them. Moreover, the paper provides evidence that the
resource profile, including staffing of a data-driven school, is likely to be different to the
standard school. On the basis of the data provided in the paper, we argue that these staffing and
associated resource implications need to be built into school strategic plans as essential
components for the data driven school.
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17
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Table 1: Regression Analyses, NAPLAN, SAST and Teacher Constructed Running Records
Outcome
Variable
Total variance
accounted for
F(2,53) p β for SA β for RR
NAPLAN
Writing
31% 11.84 <.001 .38* .21
NAPLAN
Language
47% 23.06 <.001 .70* -.03
NAPLAN
Reading
42% 18.85 <.001 .37* .33*
NAPLAN
Spelling
79% 97.52 <.001 .83* .07
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Figure 1. Average improvement and 95% confidence interval in months on the Waddington
test between February and November for classes in Year 1.
Lower dashed-line shows improvement that would be expected due to age. Upper dashed line
shows additional improvement at the .4 sd level. Classes are ordered by size of the mean.
Symbols indicate the quartile in which the class teacher was placed in the Head’s rank-
ordering of capability: top quartile:- filled circles; second quartile:-open circles; third
quartile:- open squares; bottom quartile:- filled squares.
0
3
6
9
12
15
18
21
A B C D E F
Mean Improvement Feb-Nov
(Months)
Classes
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Figure 2. Average improvement and 95% confidence interval in months on the SAST test
between February and November for classes in Year 3.
Lower dashed-line shows improvement that would be expected due to age. Upper dashed line
shows additional improvement at the .4 sd level. Classes are ordered by size of the mean.
Symbols indicate the quartile in which the class teacher was placed in the Head’s rank-ordering
of capability: top quartile:- filled circles; second quartile:-open circles; third quartile:- open
squares; bottom quartile:- filled squares.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
A B C D E
Mean Improvement Feb-Nov
(Months)
Classes
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Figure 3. Mean Improvement the average of four writing tasks for year 4 students in 2012.
Dashed-line shows improvement of .4 sd from the first administration of each test. Classes are
ordered by size of the mean.
There is clear evidence in Figure 3 of substantial improvements in student performance in all
classes, at or beyond Hattie’s .4 sd. Differences between classes are less than for the standardised
tests, although there is considerable variability as indicated by the differing confidence intervals.
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
A B C D
Mean Improvement
Classes
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... Along the same line, Lynch et al. (2016) claim that the context of schooling will have an impact on attributes that add to viability in schools. These attributes include leadership, high expectations, ongoing evaluation, achieving goals and giving direction and security and organisation. ...
... To be an effective principal, he or she must be visible, convey the goals and vision of the school, collaborate with teachers to upgrade their aptitudes and be associated with the identification of, and solutions to, issues. With regard to high expectations, Lynch et al. (2016) argue that high expectations equal good academic performance of learners. High-quality teaching and learning enhance excellent academic performance. ...
... The study of Noman et al. (2017) reveals leadership practices that contribute to successful schools. In the same line as Lynch et al. (2016), they refer to the importance of providing vision and specific goals for the school. In this regard, it is important to keep in mind that a vision is not only set for the school but also for each individual. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
Heads of departments, DPs and principals are part of the SMT that forms the core of school leadership. They lead and oversee curriculum support and delivery in schools. SMTs influence a number of areas, including the quality of teaching and learning in their schools. Their influence can only be realised if they understand what their roles are and how to go about executing these. The literature review reveals that there is a great need for SMTs to be trained in what they are doing and in leading their schools for successful curriculum implementation. It is with this in mind that this research undertook to explore the need for curriculum leadership training programmes for SMTs. During the research, a qualitative, phenomenological approach, underpinned by an interpretative paradigm, was followed. Sampling was done purposefully, where participants were selected because of their proximity and their knowledge and understanding of the researched phenomenon. The research used semi-structured, open-ended questions for data collection. The participants were members of the SMTs (principals, DPs and HoDs) of sampled schools. Data were also collected through field notes and audio-recording devices. The data were later transcribed into text and coded. Themes were formed out of texts with similar topics for the researcher to conclude on the findings and make recommendations for the research.
... Traditional research norms of objectivity, reliability, validity, replicability and rigour tend to rule out insider perspectives (Anderson & Herr, 1999, pp. 14-15), but for the school leader looking to build a culture of continual improvement, skills in research are an important and fundamental extension of their traditional professional activities (Lynch, Smith, Provost & Madden, 2016). ...
... More often than not, school leader researchers do two things: they work towards the systematic application of knowledge or understanding gained from research (for example, from large-scale empirical studies of instructional practice) while undertaking further investigations at a school and classroom level of the application of such studies (for example, deciding upon and implementing a pedagogical framework, interpreting and developing a school response to national standardised testing results for a particular cohort). In these respects, other professionals including those in medicine are similar to the school leader researcher in how they approach their professional work (Lynch et al., 2016). ...
Chapter
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