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How Do School Principals Influence Student Achievement?

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November 26th, 2018

Over the last few decades, more research studies have examined the effects of school and district leadership practices on student achievement (DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Marzano, McNulty, & Waters, 2005; Sergiovani, 2001). These studies have shown that principals must support teacher teams in order to facilitate a collective focus on student learning goals and promote a culture of achievement in their buildings. FAST™ has a variety of tools available to help school leaders foster an environment that leads to stronger learning outcomes.

A Recent Case Study on School Learning Climates

A recent study from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research highlighted by EdWeek focused on the specific behaviors of the Chicago public school principals who were most effective at increasing student achievement on standardized tests. The researchers examined district-wide data from over 450 elementary schools and 100 plus high schools over the course of seven years from 2007 through 2014.

The results from this study suggest that the most effective principals in the district were those who focused on developing strong learning climates versus curriculum. The authors defined strong learning climates as safe supportive environments with high, consistent, and clear expectations for students (Allensworth & Hart, 2018). Schools with the highest learning gains had principals who promoted a strong positive school climate by empowering and coordinating the work of teachers and school staff around shared goals. In these schools, systems for helping teachers to support students were developed, and shared leadership became the norm.

Using FAST™ to Foster Strong Learning Climates

FAST™ Assessments

Principals can use FAST™ tools to build strong learning climates and foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

By administering universal screening assessments for reading, math, and behavior three times per year, principals have the ability to quickly assess the academic and social/emotional learning needs of their students. In addition, these assessments help gauge how classroom instruction is impacting student learning outcomes.

These data inform teachers about whether or not their students are on track to meet end-of-the-year grade-level benchmarks. The data also helps teachers decide where to focus core and supplemental group instruction.  In turn, the data can also assist principals in determining how to allocate resources within their building.

FAST™ Reports

Principals and teachers can use FAST™ reports to dig deeper into the learning needs of their students. These reports can be used for a variety of purposes, including problem identification, analysis, and planning, as well as intervention and progress monitoring.

By focusing on the purpose and unique features of FAST™ reports, principals can design professional development that fosters Professional Learning Communities (PLC) who work collaboratively to support students (Dufour & Eaker, 1998).

FAST™ reports are viewable in different formats so principals and teachers can work together to examine data by student, teacher, grade level, and by building. These report formats help leaders ensure their students are improving to meet year-end goals. The following is a list of the different FastBridge reports that are available for leaders:

Certification Report

Detailed Group Report

Group Growth Report

Group Screening Report

Group Skills Report

Impact Report

Individual Skills Report

Individual Benchmark Report

Screening to Intervention Report

Student-at-a-Glance Report

FAST™ Professional Learning & Training 

FastBridge provides just-in-time supports to foster a strong learning climate through training and job-embedded professional development.  The Training and Resources portal contains free online courses for all FAST™ assessments as well as for screening, progress monitoring, and reporting. Each course includes eight lessons and teachers can become certified users by completing the online test.

In addition, when teachers have questions, they can go to the FAST™ Knowledge Base to get answers. Both the online courses and Knowledge Base are designed to assist teachers in developing their understanding of how to use school-based problem-solving and a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). In addition, FastBridge now offers reading interventions that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts for grades K-5.



Research shows that principals must support teacher teams in order to facilitate a collective focus on student learning goals and promote a culture of achievement in their buildings. FAST™ provides principals with the resources needed to build capacity among their staff to ensure all students in their building are learning and growing. To learn more about how FAST can help your school or district improve learning climates, request a free demo



Allensworth, E.M., & Hart, H. (2018). How do principals influence student achievement? Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

Deal, T. E. and Peterson, K. D. (1999). Shaping school culture: The heart of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

DuFour, R. and Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.

Freiberg, H. J. (1999). School climate: Measuring, improving and sustaining healthy learning environments. Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press.

Marzano, R., McNulty, B., & Waters, T. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (2001). The principalship: A reflective practice perspective (4th ed.). Needham Heights, MD: Allyn and Bacon.


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