A new report suggests that principals must be more involved in school reform discussions.

Principal evaluation systems should not be based solely on student achievement gains, but rather on the quality of a principal’s school-level leadership and performance, according to a new report released by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The report, titled, “The Ripple Effect,” found that principals and other school-based leaders are being left out of education reform discussions. “Principals’ voices, at times, have been lost in efforts to define effective school leadership and rapidly improve educational quality,” it states.

For evaluation systems to accurately reflect a principal’s effectiveness, evaluations should focus on principals’ work and school-level leadership. The report said that many professional principal organizations and researchers have defined principal effectiveness by a principal’s knowledge, skills, attitudes and behavior that overall produces a certain quality of leadership style.

The report identified key qualities found in successful principals, including time management, modeling ethical and professional behaviors, showing initiative and persistence, engaging in ongoing reflection and learning, using data to inform strategy, judiciously allocating human and financial resources, and censuring compliance with district, state, and federal policy.

“Our research review makes it clear that principals have a strong influence on student learning, but that they do so indirectly, through the work of many other educators,” said Matt Clifford, a senior research scientist at AIR and author of the report.

“The review suggests that principals’ work focuses on establishing school conditions that are conducive to better teaching and learning. If we accept that performance feedback is most effective when it is actionable, then it makes sense that principal evaluation systems emphasize measures of school quality and leadership performance, along with measures of student learning.”

The report provides a research-based approach to principal performance evaluation design. In many ways, the report says, policy efforts have outpaced research on principal effectiveness and evaluation design.