Prospective principals earn high grades on national exam

Graduates of Western Carolina University’s master’s degree program in school administration – the university’s training program for prospective school principals – have once again scored high marks on a national test that indicates how well prepared they are to fill the top leadership positions in North Carolina public schools.

Test scores recently released indicate that MSA students who took the School Leaders Licensure Assessment between September 2005 and August 2006 scored above state and national averages in all five test categories – determining pupil and community needs; curriculum design and instructional improvement; development of staff and program evaluation; school management; and individual and group leadership skills.

And, as usual, all the students passed the test and became eligible for licensure as principals in North Carolina. Students in WCU’s program have recorded a 100 percent pass rate on the licensure assessment for the past five years, said Jacqueline Jacobs, professor and head of the department of educational leadership and foundations in WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions.

Students who enroll in the MSA program, which is offered fully online, are mostly working teachers who aspire to become principals. Since WCU’s MSA program became completely Internet-based in the fall of 2005, the number of students in the program has blossomed from 28 to a total of 157 who are enrolled now.

“Word is spreading across the state about the quality of our online program,” Jacobs said.

The graduates’ achievement on the licensure assessment and the growth in WCU’s program is good news for the state of North Carolina, which is facing a critical shortage of licensed principals, particularly in the secondary schools, she said.

Current students include those who are taking the full MSA program, and others who already have earned a master’s degree in a related educational field, but are taking additional courses so they can become licensed principals. While enrollment has soared, the students’ mean scores on the national assessment have risen each year, indicating that the quality of the instruction they receive has improved even as the program shifted to an online format, Jacobs said.

Program faculty make it a point to engage students through online chats and send the students out into their communities on course assignments so the students don’t become isolated and just sit at their home computers taking in information, said Jacobs, who individually engages in four online “chats” with each student.

“I’m proud of our faculty who are working hard to build a community in the online environment. And, I’ve been very encouraged by the quality of student we are attracting,” she said.

Jacobs, who previously served as a principal in a Florida elementary school for eight years, said it takes a dedicated individual to occupy a principal’s position because of the time commitment involved. Principals are always “on-call,” she said.

Students in WCU’s program live and work all across North Carolina, and one student resides in California, but plans to move back to North Carolina to work as a principal. Most students complete the MSA program in two academic years, plus two summers, Jacobs said.

Students can enroll in the program at the beginning of any semester. They take the School Leaders Licensure Assessment during their final semester.

For more information about WCU’s master’s degree program in school administration, contact Jacobs at (828) 227-3320 or by e-mail at jjacobs@wcu.edu.