Struggling With Stress: Administrators And Their Challenge With AYP

Struggling with Stress: Administrators and Their Challenge with AYP

Ernestine Young


While the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies are admirable in theory their application is causing some concern with school administrators. The need for schools to disaggregate the assessment data about student grades and the fact by 2014 all students at all grade levels are expected to have proficiency in reading and mathematics (NCLB 2001) could be considered a stress factor for school administrators.

The reasons for this stress are well researched. Linn, Baker and Betebenner (2002) noted that school grades, standards and assessment procedures were not designed to NCLB standards. Linn et al (2002) also noted the definition of “proficiency” had not been clearly identified. Definitions differ depending on state policies and this inconsistency means that it is unlikely that all students will reach expected standards before the 2014 deadline (Giusbond and Neill 2004). Many students across the country are already well below the national and state ideas of proficiency which will make complying with the NCLB more difficult (Lin et al 2002).

It is worth noting that each state has its own definition of proficiency. Consequently, each state develops its own means of achieving the goals stipulated by NCLB. This makes it difficult to have a unified standard test hence making it difficult to be compliant with the NCLB act (Olsen, 2005). An effective performance assessment should consider all the unique abilities in any given child not just proficiency in reading and mathematics. However, NCLB fails to do that and instead only favors children with abilities in these two areas (Steeves et al 2002; Casbarro 2005). Test results will only ever reflect a child’s proficiency in the topics covered by the tests themselves, the tasks asked for, and what is determined as proficiency in that test (Abrams and Madaus 2003). This poses a very difficult challenge to the school administrators as they try to strike a balance between meeting the standards of the NCLB act and being fair to all children by considering each child’s special abilities in all relevant fields (Goldberg et al 2004).

The evidence for considering school administrators are stressed with this situation appears overwhelming. This study becomes particularly important in considering the overall effect of such stresses in the performance of school administrators. This is done through evaluating the causes and levels of stress, impact at both professional and personal level as well as possible way forward.

The purpose of this study is to find answers to the following questions:

  • What are the causes of stress among school administrators?
  • What levels of stress do the school administrators’ feel they are under?
  • What are the impacts of stress on the performance of school administrators?
  • What type of solution do the school administrators feel would help make the situation with AYP less stressful to deal with each year?
  • How does this stress affect the personal lives of school administrators outside their working their working environment?
  • How does the education system in place manage stress among school heads?

By probing into these questions, a clear and more concise understanding of the causes and effects of stress among school administrators will be ascertained. Understanding the cause of a problem is the first step towards finding a solution to the problem. Indeed there is need to enlighten the school administration as well as teachers in order to reduce stresses related to NCLB (Tolbert 2005). Thus, the results of this study will be a milestone development towards finding viable and lasting solution to this problem.

Theoretical Framework

Diverse and dynamic theories of stress and stress management have been put forward by different scholars, both in the past and the present. Many researches employ these theories in presenting the variables treated in the specific research or researches conducted. In this paper the Burnout Theory is relevant in the study of stress in dealing with school administrators. This theory was first developed to encompass the notion of depressed workers in their places of work (Gordon 147). Changes have been made on the theory over time to accommodate stress among professionals whose duty takes the form of offering services.

The Burnout theory was developed using working individuals and groups across employment places, laying special emphasis to nurses, social workers, and teachers. Although in its initial development stages no school administrators were constituted, changes made on it over the years have integrated the functionality of the theory on the school administrators. What makes it more suitable to this study is the fact that these school administrators offer their leadership and management services to the rest of the school. The stress that is likely to be undergone by them is actually based in their place of work, which is actually the gist of this theory.

The continued applicability and validation of this theory is fundamental to this study. Basing this study on the theory will allow for further testing and practice of the theory. Consequently, it will lead to a continued intervention in the line of study that best describes the subject matter of the paper. The apparent aim here is determine the relationship qualities characteristic of school administrators and the burnout theory based on the variables that best describes the theory (Gordon 148).

Burnout theory is a social science concern that has taken center stage in the professionalism arena. The theory presents common symptoms of stress and the levels of the burnout process at different working conditions based on different duties undertaken by an individual. In this regard, it is fundamental to this study in the context of assessing the capacities and abilities of school administrators to deal with stress and how effectively such stress can be managed. The outlined symptoms for the burnout process are listed as: anger, irritability, tiresomeness, feeling detachment and being apathetic among others. The theory binds to it individuals who are idealistic, hardworking and highly motivated; taking the essence of school administrators in its context. These are highly motivated persons in the environment they work in.

School management and service delivery requires vigorous activities that are aimed at realizing the set goals and observations of these schools. The operations characteristic of such activities requires articulate formulation and implementation of policies that are tailored towards realization of these goals. School vision and mission is a long term objective and coordination of proper decisions is fundamental to the realization of this objective. Due to the perfect notion associated with the system that this school administrators work under, issues of stress and related phenomenon are expected. Through this theory, it will be understood what actually characterizes the working environment of the administrators, pointing out on the specific areas of interest in order to present answers to the aforementioned research questions.

External and/or environmental factors are also accounted for in this theory. This diversity becomes fundamental to this study drawing from the research questions that the study seeks to answer. Burnout theory will greatly influence the study by providing the basis upon which the causes and the different levels of stress can be ascertained. The cause of stress the resultant impacts are also based on some defined environment, whether internal or external. The working environment is important in understanding the aspects, context and concepts of this study in regard to the achievement of the desired results.

The burnout theory in the context of Maslach Burnout Inventory will provide three major constructs upon which the desired results can be obtained (Gordon 148). The first construct is the emotional exhaustion. This construct will consider the emotional side of school administrators based on the relevant to stress, thereby outlining the characteristic relationship between the two. The second one will highlight depersonalization of the school heads in their duties and responsibilities. Finally, the third will be a construct on the personal accomplishment diminishing or increasing trend in relation to stress. All the three constructs assesses the stress and burnout levels of individuals on a continuum. Integration of this theory into the study is therefore of core use to the research being undertaken. The continuity of variables in this study takes the form of low, moderate or high rate based on experience of the school administrators, making it a strong ground for the analysis of the variables of this study.


This study will focus on determining the level of stress faced by school administrators directly due to AYP grades and NCLB compliance. Data will be collected in two formats. Firstly by designing and delivering a multiple choice questionnaire that will help the school administrators to accurately express their own experience within the school environment they operate in. The second data collection will include PASS test, HSAP, EOC, and graduation rates of students in the 2011 school year. This will allow the researchers to determine if there is any correlation between poorly performing schools, high performing schools, administrator stress and the AYP levels within those schools.


School administrators will be approached and asked to participate in a survey based on stress and AYP performance. The schools survey will involve all administrators at the elementary, middle and high school level. Contact information and details concerning the administrators’ participation will be kept confidential as well as the schools being identified by the study. The reason for this confidentiality is to hopefully encourage those schools not performing well, will not be dissuaded from participating by the thought of any negative publicity. Twelve schools have been selected to participate in the study. The schools include: five elementary schools of which one is a magnet school; three middle schools; three high schools; and one charter school.


There are a wide range of instruments that can be used to measure stress. For example, The Schedule of Recent Life Experiences by Holmes and Rahe (1967). However finding one that will provide the specific variables that we want to isolate in this study has proven difficult. After considering Dick’s (2000) expatriate stressors scale a decision was made to adapt that idea to fit this situation. Dick (2000) uses a Likert style measure that ranged from responses such as “strongly dissatisfied” to “strongly satisfied” (p. 5). Other instruments such as the Hemphill Viscidity Index (1956); Index of Job Satisfaction (Brayfield and Rothe 1951) and Index of Job-related tensions in Organisations from Kahn (1964) will be analyzed as possible sources of questions and variables that can be used.

The second set of data (PASS tests, Graduation Rates, EOC survey and others) will be variable related and used for analysis to determine correlation and significance. It is anticipated that scores from the stress tests will also be able to adapt to statistical data so that a correlation (or not) can be established.


There are a couple of limitations that will need to be adjusted for if possible. First, the concept of self-reporting has had mixed reviews as a data collection method. The Likert scale has some strong support as an accurate measure but the multiple choice option might make a better choice when it comes to statistical analysis (Bartlett, Bartlett, and Reio 2008). Bearing this in mind, special consideration will be taken when selecting variables for comparison and contrast analysis.

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