Building Capacity for Program Improvement and Research
A distinguishing feature of UIC’s approach to principal preparation has been our commitment to measure the development of UIC leadership aspirants while studying their impacts on the schools they lead. To further this end the CUEL embarked on a data system development program in 2010 with generous support from the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation and the US Department of Education. As context, it is important to acknowledge that university-based programs to prepare school leaders have not until recently began to view themselves as accountable for the leadership impacts of their graduates. Too many intervening factors impact the success of principal or their schools, the argument went, for programs to claim much responsibility or credit. As a result they have not taken much interest in measuring the impacts of their graduates on schools or the development of early leader competencies. This situation has changed dramatically in the last decade as research has demonstrated the importance of principal practices to closing chronic achievement gaps, and new standards for leadership excellence have led to calls for programs to account for their graduates’ real-life competencies. Examples of information systems we continue to develop include:
— A relational database that bridges a wide range of information on UIC program aspirants with data on the schools they eventually lead. The database has been structured to allow us to address questions like: At what rates do our aspirants pass the rigorous eligibility exams required to seek a Chicago principalship? Do our program graduates choose to seek and lead Chicago’s highest needs schools? Do they persist in these positions longer than the Chicago or national attrition averages? Do rates of school performance accelerate after our principals take their positions, and do those rates persist in comparison with similar schools and principals of similar experience?
— Development of comparative school system data that permit more informative comparisons between UIC program graduates as early career leaders and Chicago Public School leaders of similar experience, in schools facing similar challenges. While the assignments of principals to schools is usually public information, for example, considerable work may be required to calculate principal tenure and attrition rates from public records. The payoff is the potential for more accurate comparisons between early career UIC principals and non-UIC-trained principals of similar experience.
— Use of Illinois state-wide student-level performance data to develop more accurate estimates of whether students in schools led by UIC graduates are progressing toward high academic proficiency levels as well as college readiness starting at the earliest elementary grades, with capacity to track same-student and student cohort trends down to the classroom level.
— Building out data dashboards publishable to our Center website that draw upon student career trajectory and school performance data to provide relevant and up-to-date information about the characteristics of UIC program graduates and the schools they lead.
CUEL’s evolving data systems have enabled the UIC principal preparation program to integrate more timely and pertinent data into its annual inquiry cycles. CUEL’s commitment to impact measurement has also earned UIC a reputation as a champion of data-informed accountability in the principal preparation field, and led to opportunities to mentor other principal preparation programs around the uses of data for program improvement, most notably through the Wallace Foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI).