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How Principals Drive School Success

This brief is the first in a series aimed at building our knowledge on what we know about effective school leadership. Exploring the relationship between principal observation ratings and student outcomes in Tennessee, TERA researchers find that student achievement gains, as well as teacher perceptions of school climate and leadership, are higher in schools where principals' leadership practices are rated more positively by their supervisors. Additionally, highly rated principals retain effective teachers at greater rates. Taken together, these findings show that principal leadership matters for student and school success and point to key policy levers for state and district leaders to consider as they work to drive achievement in schools.

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Key Findings
principal quality graph  
  • The practice ratings that Tennessee principals are given as part of the evaluation system predict growth in student achievement. In other words, student gains are higher in schools where principal leadership is rated more positively. 

  • Highly rated principals enjoy more positive teacher perceptions of school leadership and climate.

  • Highly rated principals retain effective teachers at higher rates.


This study used data from the first four years of Tennessee's newest teacher evaluation system, called TEAM. Researchers looked at principal practice ratings from TEAM and performed a regression analysis to assess how other measures of school success change according to the principal practice rating. 

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