Date Published: July 2019

Jensen, K.C. (2019). Do Teacher Ratings of Their Principals Influence Their Own Evaluation Scores? An Examination of Classroom Observation Scores from The Network for Educator Effectiveness (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Missouri, Columbia, MO.

NEE’s Director of Operations and Member Services Kurtis Jensen recently completed his dissertation research examining whether principals’ personal relationships with teachers affect teachers’ classroom observations scores. Using data from the Network for Educator Effectiveness, Dr. Jensen sought to understand whether there was a correlation between the personal relationship of the teacher and principal and the classroom observation scores teachers received.

Purpose of the study

This study sought to answer the question: To what extent does the principal-teacher relationship relate to the principal’s evaluation score of the teacher?

Background of the study

Relationships between principals and teachers influence many school factors including culture, teacher success, teacher turnover, and even student achievement. Some studies have shown teacher-principal relationships also influence teacher evaluation scores. However, previous studies on this topic used observation scores that were confidential and not shared with the teacher. In this study, observation scores were shared with the teacher and had a real impact on the teacher’s career.

The research

The data in this study included 269 principals and 3,664 teachers who used the NEE teacher evaluation system during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.

To measure the relationship between the teacher and principal, the study focused on five items included in the NEE teacher survey for principal evaluation. The five survey items ask teachers to what extent they agree on a 0 to 3 Likert scale with the following statements:

  • This principal develops positive relationships with staff.
  • This principal helps staff deal with interpersonal conflicts.
  • This principal welcomes opposing opinions, criticisms, and concerns.
  • This principal helps staff deal with professional conflicts.
  • This principal is aware of the underlying issues influencing school climate.

The study applied the theory of reciprocity, which assumes if the teacher’s perceptions of the relationship were negative or positive, the principal perception is the same.


The study found that the teachers’ perceptions of their principal were, in fact, correlated with their classroom observation scores.

Specifically, for each point the principal-teacher relationship increases, the classroom observation score is expected to increase by 0.077. The correlation is represented in the graph below.

Expected Classroom Observation Outcomes graph

Therefore, it is possible that classroom observation scores are biased based on the personal relationship between the teacher and the principal.


Because evaluations can impact decisions regarding teachers’ contract renewals and salary increases, reducing bias in teacher evaluations is vital.

The first step toward overcoming biases is awareness. Studies have shown that just making principals aware of bias leads to more reliable scoring. Principals should reflect on their potential biases and focus on the objective evidence when considering classroom observation scores.

Training also can play a role in reducing bias. Discussion groups, in particular, have been found to reduce rater bias by allowing principals the opportunity to identify biases and brainstorm solutions in a simulated environment.

Another effective method for reducing bias is to increase the number of observations and the number of evaluators per teacher. If at all possible, more than one principal should evaluate each teacher to reduce the impact of unfair evaluation practices.