Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Cooperating University

Western Kentucky University

Department (Legacy)

Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Human Resource Education

Committee Chair

Miller, Stephen K.

Author's Keywords

Leadership; Curriculum; Accountability; Kentucky; Scholastic audits; Elementary schools; School performance


Educational tests and measurements--Kentucky; Educational accountability--Kentucky; School improvement programs--Kentucky


High-stakes accountability, standards for improvement, global perspectives, and social considerations are re-defining the educational process. These powerful forces shake foundations and traditions, restructure organizational expectations, and change the role of all stakeholders. As these tremors reach the local school level, tremendous pressure is applied to respond precipitously. Measurement of school performance against standards places deficiencies in the limelight. At the local level, Kentucky school principals bear the primary burden for school success as clearly defined by the state's accountability system. Based on Kentucky's Standards and Indicators for School Improvement and its accompanying Scholastic Audit procedures, an explicit purpose of this study is to identify critical factors relevant to principals and their impact on accountability goals through leadership, curriculum decisions, and instructional practice within their buildings. Data from 181 audited elementary schools are compared to Academic Index scores to determine the effect of principals on student outcomes, both directly and indirectly as mediated by curriculum and instruction. Kentucky's accountability process assigns high stakes responsibility to school leadership, particularly in the area of instructional leadership. Most researchers agree that principal effects on student achievement are primarily a mediated effect. In the study model, Instruction accounts for 36% of the vi variance in Academic Index. Leadership in turn explains 36% of the variance in Instruction. Curriculum produced little of the Academic Index variance and Leadership accounts for only a small amount of achievement variance directly. The study quantifies achievement effects of elementary principals, exposes the reality of leadership in a high-stakes accountability environment, and discusses gaps in the support needed by school leaders to achieve accountability goals. Results are embedded in demographic variables and reveal new insights for improving struggling schools. Regression analyses reveal relationships and the extent to which variability of school achievement results is explained by Kentucky Standards--Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership. Findings reveal important, research based, understanding of Kentucky's whole-school improvement model and details specific considerations for elementary school leadership. These analyses provide hope that Kentucky's most disadvantaged schools may finally have an improvement process that is equal to the challenge.