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Principals Review Teacher-Graded Student Written Work, Enhance Instruction Quality

Principals can and should assess the quality of graded student work in their schools. Yvonne Bender offers straightforward, simple suggestions for accomplishing this kind of assessment, which can improve instruction. Included: The benefits of reviewing graded student work.

About the Author

Yvonne Bender has had more than 30 years' experience as a writer, administrator, and educator. She is the author of The New Teacher's Handbook: The Power of Positive Teaching and the upcoming book The Tactful Teacher: Effective Communication with Parents, Colleagues, and Administrators. Both books are published by Nomad Press.

With the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts that receive federal funding are subject to greater accountability than ever before. Schools in those districts must meet federally mandated standards or face the ignominy of being labeled failures and restructuring sanctions. This places school administrators under enormous pressure to ensure federal standards are met.

Yet today's principals and their assistant principals are already responsible for everything in schools from quality of instruction to quality of cleaning services. They are expected to manage such diverse problems as those involving public relations, student and staff health and safety, transportation, fund raising, and budget management. It is no wonder, then, that they have little time to personally monitor the quality of teaching in their schools and must rely on feedback from others to keep them appraised of what's happening in classrooms. As a result, administrators are often unaware of inherent weaknesses in their schools' instructional programs and surprised when these (reportedly) satisfactory programs yield poor achievement test scores.

The best way for administrators to be better informed about the quality of their classroom instruction is, of course, for them to make frequent and extensive classroom visits. Yet how can they do this when they already have too much to do and too little time in which to do it?


A relatively simple and effective solution is for them to occasionally and randomly review teacher-graded student work. While in theory this may seem like yet another time-consuming task piled upon the many others, in practice it is an easy to implement and effective information gathering strategy that can enhance teacher accountability and improve quality of instruction.

When using this strategy an administrator merely informs her staff that, in order to monitor the quality of instruction, she will at various times review teacher-graded student work. She must then follow through by requesting, collecting, and promptly reviewing that work.

Principals Can
Learn from
Student Work

Yvonne Bender says a review of teacher-graded student work can reveal many things about classroom instruction, including
--- the curriculum presented to students.
--- student understanding of the curriculum.
--- the quality of assessments used.
--- the caliber of written material distributed.
--- the quality and quantity of teacher-to-student written feedback.
--- the types of assessments and assignments used.

The request can be made in person or by a note placed in a teacher's mailbox or sent through email. Because the review's purpose is to gather objective information regarding normal daily teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher feedback, only graded work that is about to be returned to students should be reviewed. The request should also identify the work of a specific class (such as third period introductory geometry or fifth module American history) and not leave that decision to the teacher.

The review itself is made at the administrator's earliest possible convenience and takes little time to complete since experienced educators can examine a set of teacher-graded papers in a matter of minutes to glean valuable first hand insight regarding such things as

  • the curriculum presented to students.
  • student understanding of the curriculum.
  • the quality of assessments used,
  • the caliber of written material distributed.
  • the quality and quantity of teacher-to-student written feedback.
  • the types of assessments and assignments used.

While it's true that much of this information can be obtained through classroom visits, a review of teacher-graded student work not only verifies the observations made during those visits but, more important, serves as an effective substitute when emergencies and time constraints render classroom visits impossible. In some instances a review can give a more accurate picture of what is actually taking place in a classroom on a daily basis than a personal visit. That is especially true when working with teachers skilled at making adaptations and assuming affectations during the administrator's visit but whose teaching practices are otherwise perfunctory and mediocre.

The review of teacher-graded student work is a basic strategy that easily affords busy administrators important objective information regarding the curriculum and teaching practices used in their schools -- information that can be employed to improve quality of instruction, raise achievement test scores, and meet No Child Left Behind accountability standards.

Article by Yvonne Bender
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