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Performance assessment for school leaders: comparing field trial and implementation results

Margaret Terry Orr (Department of Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy, Fordham University, New York, New York, USA)
Liz Hollingworth (College of Education, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA)
Barbara Beaudin (Independent Researcher, Avon, Connecticut, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 30 August 2019

Issue publication date: 16 January 2020



The purpose of this paper is to compare two years of results for one state’s performance-based assessments for principal licensure Performance Assessment for Leaders (PAL). This includes the field trial (2014–2015) and first year of statewide implementation (2015–2016) when passing score requirements and fees were added. Survey results on candidates’ career aspirations provide concurrent validation.


Two years of PAL submissions (n=569 candidates) were scored by trained, certified scorers. Task and total score results were compared by year, preparation pathway and gender. Online feedback survey results on career aspirations for (n=146 candidates) were compared by year.


The results show that PAL assessments measure independent dimensions of leadership, differentiate candidates on leadership knowledge and skills, and confirm PAL’s internal validity. Implementation year scores were higher than field trial scores, and preparation program candidates scored better than non-program candidates did. Candidate career aspirations were stronger in the implementation year than during the field trial.

Research limitations/implications

The study is limited to one state’s candidates, but findings are generalizable based on the wide range among candidates’ districts (demographically and economically).

Practical implications

The results are promising for the leadership preparation and assessment field, demonstrating the effectiveness of performance assessment for authentic evaluation of leadership candidates’ knowledge and skill and overall readiness for initial leadership work.


This is the first large scale performance assessment for aspiring leaders designed for state licensure decisions. It is being replicated in another state and shown promise for both formative and summative leadership assessment.



This research was made possible by contract support from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Copies of the PAL technical report, Massachusetts Performance Assessment for Leaders (PAL) Technical Report Summary of Validity and Reliability Studies for 2014–2015 Field Trial of PAL, are available from the department or from the authors. Correspondence concerning this research should be addressed to Margaret Terry Orr (


Orr, M.T., Hollingworth, L. and Beaudin, B. (2020), "Performance assessment for school leaders: comparing field trial and implementation results", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 58 No. 1, pp. 38-59.



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