Principal Pointers: Using Information to Support Big-Picture Goals for Student Success

Wed June 15, 2016


It’s that time of year when principals are receiving a massive influx of data to help them analyze what their students learned in the past year. In the height of “information overload,” many principals may wonder exactly how they can work all of this information into their bigger vision of student success.

Evaluating short-term data and long-term goals should not be competing priorities. We at Cambridge examined articles by veteran principals (see below) to create a list of principals’ top three major goals. Then we looked at the ways yearly data and information can support each of them.


The number one priority veteran principals agreed upon? Becoming familiar with your students’ individual needs and goals. Many, such as Principal Bill Carozza, emphasized personal interaction. “Chat with kids during [lunch, and g]et to their competitions outside of school,” he suggests. However, as Principal Dan Parris points out, “visibility is wonderful, but it needs to be coupled with other things” that “translate into achievement with your kids.”  

Addressing Student Needs

Most principals don’t have time for a one-on-one conversation with every student, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them the individualized support they need. Data from summative assessments aligned to the curriculum can provide a wealth of information on each student’s skill gaps, right down to particular units or concepts covered in a course. However, you can go further by implementing formative assessments in core courses, so teachers can track and respond to students’ skill gaps as the class progresses, and provide differentiated instruction. By simply keeping track of the results of these assessments, you can ensure your students’ individual needs are being met throughout the year.

Supporting Student Goals

You can help students pursue their goals and achieve long-term success by encouraging them to see the end goal of their learning as far more than a diploma. Help them start thinking about their future by offering an interest inventory such as the ACT Profile, which will suggest potential career paths based on their strengths. Use the results to take stock of your students’ goals, and consider whether your school’s course offerings and instructional resources will give them the support they need to reach them. Cultivating a college-going culture is also a powerful way to encourage students to set long-term goals. As a principal, this can include anything from establishing your own day-to-day initiatives, to bringing in speakers who will motivate students to pursue a college degree, to providing admissions workshops for families and professional development for your guidance counselors.


Since teachers generally have the most direct impact on student success, it’s no surprise that principals list working closely with teachers to enhance learning as a high priority. “Give the teachers everything you can to help them do their job,” says Principal Ralph Lowe. “[T]hen get out of the way and let them do it.” Whether it’s getting the teachers’ perspective on what students need, or giving them regular feedback so they see you as an ally—not just a critic—as they work to become more effective instructors, principals agree that support for your teachers translates into support for your students.

Make Their Job Easier: Spare Them from Playing Catch-Up

Work with teachers to ensure all students get the most out of their class. When you track their students’ progress, don’t wait until the end of the year to share this information with them. Rather, communicate throughout the year to assess students’ needs and develop lesson plans that target them. Help teachers further avoid having to review material students should have mastered in a prior class by providing them with supplemental materials laddered by difficulty level, so they can assign additional practice that will help a student bridge skill gaps. Or consider initiating an additional class or outside-of-class enrichment activities to address students’ skill gaps that may go beyond the scope of any one teacher’s area of expertise.


Nearly every principal stresses the necessity of regular communication with your superintendent, other principals, and your school’s teachers, parents, and students to keep them on the same page and create an atmosphere of collaboration. However, Principal Katherine Johnson points out that one of the greatest challenges for a principal is “garnering support and getting everyone on board and getting them to be data driven and work toward the betterment of student achievement.”

When Student Success Is at Stake…

Especially when it comes to evaluating student success, principals may spend so much time answering everyone’s questions on the details that they lose the chance to explain how assessments fit into a larger initiative. In this situation, outside expertise can go a long way in delegating this task. Provide professional development for your teachers so they can explain how content will look on a particular test, and are equipped to use the results of an assessment to evaluate the areas in which their students need additional instruction. Better yet, provide a workshop for parents and students too. Share the results of formative assessments throughout the year with families, so they can see and support their student’s progress. Communicating what test results mean, and how they can enhance student learning, is the foundation for translating data into student success.


If you’re a principal (veteran or otherwise), we’d love to hear what you would add to our list of big-picture goals. What have been some of your greatest successes or challenges in using data and information around assessments to support your priorities for achieving student success? Let us know at!

 *Advice from veteran principals referenced in this blog:

Education World: Veteran Principals Offer Advice to New Colleagues

Connected Principals: 15 Tips for the New Principal

ASCD: Tips for New Principals and The Principalship: First-Year Hurdles

*For further reading:

Education World: Boosting Test Scores: “Principal” Strategies That Work

Education Next: School Leaders Matter

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Cambridge Educational Services, Inc. offers and scores tests from ACT, Inc., The College Board, and other testing companies. These are retired tests, intended for practice purposes only and not for official administration, and are based on high school curriculum as of the copyright dates of the tests. Cambridges products and services, including its score reports, are not approved or endorsed by ACT, Inc., The College Board, or the other companies that develop the tests, and Cambridge has no affiliation with any of those entities.