NAESP Cites PISA Results as a Call for Federal Policies That Better Support Schools and Educators

Analysis shows that in high-performing countries, policies that support the authority and autonomy of principals improve student achievement.

December 3, 2013, Alexandria, VA – Results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) highlight that U.S. students continue to struggle to perform on par with their international peers in reading, math, and science. Today, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) joined national education organizations to call on policymakers to use PISA data to shape policies that better support schools and reinforce the authority and autonomy of principals.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) PISA assessment revealed average performance of U.S.15-year-olds in reading and science, and below average performance in mathematics, compared to students in the 34 OECD countries. Although the results are disappointing, they are also misleading, due to variability in performance across American states, schools, and social contexts, with some regions of the U.S. outperforming others. 

Looking beyond performance data, NAESP notes a compelling need to use PISA data to adjust and strengthen American educational policies to better support educators and keep pace with international peers. In higher performing countries, there is a clear relationship between learning outcomes and the authority and autonomy offered to schools to manage instructional policies and practices. The U.S. education system generally designates responsibility to local school districts, leaving schools with less latitude in decision-making than many of the OECD countries with high-performing students. These results make it clear that the U.S. must build the capacity of principals to make curricular and assessment decisions to best meet the learning needs of students in their buildings.

The results indicate that the U.S. can learn from high-performing nations about policies that support better student outcomes. Higher performing countries’ policies reflect a commitment to support education professionalism by developing the capacity of educators at the point of delivery, working to attract high-quality teachers and principals, and investing in strong classroom and school leadership. In addition, international peers adhere to professional “accountability” to drive school and student performance: Educators feel their practice is accountable to their students, fellow teachers, and principals. In stark contrast, the United States’ education policies over-rely on student test scores to motivate educators (often in punitive ways) in misguided efforts to drive system changes and increase student achievement.

Now more than ever, the PISA international benchmark data highlights an important shift that must take place in federal policies to improve school and student performance. The U.S. must move away from the overuse of standardized assessment scores as the primary criterion to measure student performance; to rate, grade or rank principal, teacher, or school effectiveness; to allocate funds; or to take punitive measures against schools, principals, and teachers.

If national, state, and local systems do not take action and provide appropriate support for teachers and principals, American students will continue to struggle to meet higher expectations for learning. As educators across the country work to implement the instructional shifts and changes in classroom activities, particularly those related to the implementation of Common Core State Standards, federal policies must build the capacity of principals and teachers through quality preparation, supports for competent instructional leadership and classroom teaching, and evaluation systems that are used for the purpose of continual professional growth.

As the national representative of elementary and middle-level principals, NAESP will continue to work with policymakers and the education community to understand how the latest international benchmark assessments can be used to set better policies that will help school leaders and teachers in their commitment to help every child succeed academically and in a globally-competitive workforce.

About NAESP:

Established in 1921, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) serves elementary and middle school principals in the United States, Canada, and overseas. NAESP supports principals as the primary catalysts for creating lasting foundations for learning through policy development, advocacy, and resources for effective instructional leadership. NAESP seeks to advance the principalship and address issues in pre-K-3 alignment, principal preparation and evaluation, and building the capacity of new principals. For more information about NAESP, please visit

Kaylen Tucker, NAESP, 703-518-6257,