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Tom Alsbury, College of Education, (515) 294-5785
Cathy Curtis, College of Education, (515) 294-8175
Kevin Brown, News Service, (515) 294-8986


AMES, Iowa -- A study by an Iowa State University researcher shows a negative impact on student achievement as a result of school board turnover, but no impact resulting from superintendent turnover.

Tom Alsbury, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies in Iowa State's College of Education, said the study measured student improvement in 176 Washington state school districts over seven years. Alsbury used school district scores from the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) tests.

"The study had three main purposes," said Alsbury. "The first was to see if there is a connection between student improvement and the rate of school board turnover. Second was to see if there is an impact on student improvement and school board turnover when delineating politically motivated turnover from apolitical turnover. And last, to see if there was a connection between student improvement and the rate of superintendent turnover." The study also delineated data based upon school district size.

The study examined school districts that had reported turnover of school board members and superintendents from 1993-2000. Information on school board member defeat, resignation and retirement along with the reasons for school board turnover were then collected.

The study showed that school board turnover, whether politically motivated or not, had an impact on student achievement in all schools -- especially in schools of 500 or fewer students. It also showed that superintendent turnover did not appear to result in student achievement changes, except in very small districts. Districts of 500 or fewer students with no superintendent changes showed decreased student achievement scores.

"The conclusion is that either policy changes leading to improved student achievement typically does not occur as a result of superintendent turnover or that policy change did occur but had no influence on student achievement," Alsbury said. "This may be an indication that school boards are not pressing superintendents to make policy change that affect student achievement but are more involved with tinkering with organizational minutiae."

Alsbury said, "The most unexpected results may be that politically motivated turnover of the school board seems to affect students. It seems reasonable to suggest that turmoil in the community that is great enough to cause forced board turnover may also impact our childrens performance in school."

Alsbury added, "Forty-two percent of Iowa school districts have enrollments of 600 or fewer, with a comparable 33 percent in Washington state. In schools of this size, the actions of superintendents and school board members are more intimately known and affect students and the academic programs, making the study a potentially accurate guide for states with a higher percentage of rural school districts, like Iowa."


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