BEKSL: Operationalisations of Successful School Leadership – Findings of an International Literature Review


The aim of the study is to investigate how the performance of school leaders is operationalized in scientific studies. What measurements are used to assess the performance of school principals in the field of research?

Discussing the usefulness of indicators and performance measurements we use Thorndike’s concept of the ultimate criterion (Thorndike, 1949). Thorndike distinguishes between the abstract “ultimate criterion” and the actual chosen criterion measurements, where the latter refers to the specific instrument(s) used in the assessment. This differentiation between the two criteria allows to distinguish between the criterion contamination (the portion of the actual criterion measures that does not overlap with ultimate criterion measures), the criterion deficiency (the portion of the ultimate criterion measures that does not overlap with actual criterion measures), and criterion relevance (the portion where ultimate criterion measures and actual criterion measure overlap). Therefore, the concept of the “ultimate criterion” provides a useful reminder that measures that can be realized in practice are only approximations of the conceptual criteria of interest” (Wigdor & Green, 1191, p. 142). The value of a criterion measurement depends on the closeness of the criterion measure to this conceptual ultimate criterion. The conceptual criterion of interest for this project is actual on-the-job performance of principals, an abstract construct that cannot be simply counted or scored. It is therefore advisable to investigate the chosen criterion measurements for the job performance of school principals before judging the usefulness of the study’s results in which those measurements serve as criteria (Wigdor & Green, 1991).

Design and methodology

An extensive literature research was undertaken to find studies in which the performance of school leaders is being assessed. The literature research covered relevant electronic data bases form the fields of Psychology, Education and Social Sciences as well as a selection of scientific Journals from the mentioned fields. Each issue of the journals has been scanned for the period form 2022-1978. Additionally, each study found was scanned for cited studies that might be relevant.

Studies were coded according to the following a priori categories: year, country, school type, number of performance measurements, kind of measurement (e.g. questionnaire, observation), focus of the measurement (e.g. outcome, behaviour, trait), source of evaluation (principal itself, teachers, parents, school administrators) etc. The frequency of “hits” per category was analysed.


Thorndike, R. L. (1949). Personnel selection. New York: Wiley.

Wigdor, A. K. & Green, B. F. Jr. (Eds.). (1991) Performance Assessment for the Workplace Volume I. Washington: National Academic Press.


The conceptual framework and the findings on the frequency analysis of the coded studies will enable suggestions for future operationalizations of performance measurements. The insight from the analysis of the measurements used in research to assess principals’ performance will be open for discussion on methodological aspects as well for practical implications.


In most international countries the tasks and structures of schools and educational systems are changing. These changes have a particularly strong impact on the school leader’s role. Consequently, questions of selecting, training and professionalizing of school leadership personnel have been emerging and been object of scientific research. This leads to the question about how successful school leadership should be measured. But very little is known about how the performance of school principals is operationalized in scientific studies.

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