The Research Problem
Principals are accountable to all stakeholders for student learning outcomes. To accomplish this, they manage school resources and staff through effective goal setting, decision making, and collection of evidence. Evidence helps measure to what extent the intended outcomes are met (Boulden et al., 2019; Farmer, 2007; Getz, 1991; DiScala & Subramaniam, 2011; Oberg, 2014; Pasquini & Schultz-Jones, 2019). Numerous empirical studies over the years, conducted by states, have demonstrated a positive impact of school libraries on student learning outcomes. Yet students nationwide do not have equitable access to school libraries. Schools in urban school districts with higher numbers of students from lower socio-economic families have fewer school libraries staff with certified school librarians (Gordon & Cicchetti, 2018; Lance & Kachel, 2022; Tuck et al.,2016). More research is needed to understand why and how decisions are being made that reduce access to school libraries.
When principals create a vision for the school library that can be accomplished through curriculum, instruction, and programming, teachers and librarians are better able to develop professional practice goals and build a shared understanding of student learning outcomes. These goals underpin each educator’s annual evaluation and are situated within a school’s overall plan for improving outcomes. As Oberg (2014) states “Evaluation can enhance both accountability and transformation, addressing decision making or problem-solving concerns (accountability) and also influencing people’s thinking about and developing support for the school library (transformation)” (p. 1). Previous research demonstrates principals’ have different levels of knowledge that contribute to their perception of the role of the librarian and library programs (Church, 2010 & 2015; Everhart, 2006; Lee & Klinger, 2011; Lewis, 2019; Loh, 2021). These perceptions inform decisions made about school libraries and librarians’ roles.
More research is needed to understand how principals can obtain knowledge about how to build and sustain a high-quality school library program. There is an absence of pre-service education and professional development for administrators that may result in gaps of knowledge and inconsistent perceptions of the role of the school librarian (Farmer, 2007; Hartzell, 2002; Hayat et al., 2015; Shannon, 2009). This study intends to evaluate to what extent principals’ exposure to new pieces of information or evidence, such as from observations, librarian-created documents, program data, student work, or formative assessments, can create new knowledge about the library and librarian’s role.
In Massachusetts, most school librarians are evaluated with a rubric used for classroom teachers. The responses from a poll of Massachusetts school librarians (95 librarians responded) taken in April 2022 indicated that 19% of librarians were evaluated using the DESE/MSLA school librarian rubric and 66% used the DESE classroom teacher rubric. The remaining 15% are not evaluated or do not know which rubric is used. As a result, professional responsibilities may be more singularly focused on instruction to students. Leadership, collaboration, technology integration, curriculum developer, and library manager, which are all aspects of the school librarian’s job, are not included and often not evaluated. By using a rubric tailored to the school librarian, the responsibilities of the role will be more clearly delineated. The purpose of this study is to relate the evaluation process of the school librarian to the knowledge and perceptions that the principal has of the school librarians’ role. Knowledge is defined as a cognitive understanding that is obtained from exposure to information. Perception is a point of view informed by knowledge and experience. The underpinning theories for the study fall into three categories: information theory, evidence-based practice, and shared leadership. Each topic is intertwined with the other and supports the idea of shared responsibility between the school librarian and principal to develop a vision and set goals, identify evidence, and demonstrate that goals are met. The research questions developed for the study are:
RQ.1. Among K-12 principals, what is the difference in the principal's knowledge of the role of the school librarian when using an evaluation rubric for school librarians versus a classroom teacher rubric?
RQ.2. Among K-12 principals, what is the relationship between perception and knowledge of the role of the school librarian?
The purpose of the study is to provide preliminary data on whether there is a relationship between the type of evaluation rubric used and the principal’s knowledge of the role of the school librarian. The participants, school principals, will be recruited through the Massachusetts School Librarian Association (MSLA) and Massachusetts School Administrator Association (MSAA) professional organizations. Survey questionnaires will be sent to all K-12 principals in Massachusetts to find out which rubric is used to evaluate the school librarian and measure their knowledge of the role and responsibilities of school librarians. The first set of statements are about broad categories that describe the role of the school librarian and are from the Pennsylvania study by Lance and Schwartz (2012) in which they asked “how important [administrators] believe it is for the following to happen in their schools or districts:
- Scheduling access to the school library on the basis of instructional needs rather than on a…fixed schedule,
- School librarians and classroom teachers designing and teaching instructional units together,
- School librarians providing in-service professional development to faculty,
- School librarians being appointed to school committees (e.g., technology, curriculum, standards, other advisory groups),
- School librarians and principals meeting regularly,
- Principals addressing teacher collaboration with librarians in annual evaluations of teachers” (p. 71).
The second set of questions are about more specific activities that provide the operational definition of the role of the librarian. They are compiled from survey instruments used in many state impact and empirical research studies. Principals will indicate on a 7-point Likert scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree) if these reflect the role of the school librarian in their school. The activities selected align with the DESE Model Rubric for School Librarians (Appendix B):
- Planning instructional units with teachers
- Teaching cooperatively
- Identifying instructional materials for teachers
- Offering reading incentive activities for students
- Providing information literacy instruction to students
- Providing research skills instruction to students
- Providing in-service training to teachers or staff
- Meeting with building or district curriculum committees
- Meeting with school librarians in school, district, or state
- Meeting with principal and/or building or district administrators
- Manages resources: collection development
- Integrates state and regional digital resources into the collection
- Manages computers
- Manages library website
- Manages budget
Conclusion and Next Research Steps
This study will provide descriptive and causal comparative data that can help generate hypotheses for future research studies about the evaluation of school libraries. More empirical studies are needed to better understand the impact of school librarians on student learning outcomes. Setting expectations, measuring the impact on student learning outcomes, and collecting evidence collaboratively is supported by theory on information behavior, evidenced-based practice, and shared leadership. Clarifying the school librarians’ role within the school begins with alignment with schoolwide goals for student learning outcomes. Selecting an evaluation rubric that yields evidence, goals, and information that demonstrates progress meeting professional goals may also build the principal’s knowledge of how school librarians contribute to school wide goals and improved student outcomes. Focusing on the principals’ knowledge and perceptions relates to the independent study I will undertake in fall 2022 during which I will work with Keith Curry Lance and Deb Kachel to analyze data for their Project SLIDE national study (funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services). Next year’s Forum articles will be about that work.