Dave Wheeler

Date of Award

January 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Jared Schlenker


The purpose of this study was to examine how school leaders in the state of North Dakota define success in their schools or districts without using test scores as a measurement. The information shared by these school leaders will be shared with other school leaders in North Dakota with the intent that test data becomes less of a driving force in schools and student engagement, while positive climate and culture become more emphasized for school and district leadership.

This study’s purpose was to diminish the emphasis on state assessment as a singular resource that defines success in schools. Communities, staff members, and students should see their schools defined as successful because of what happens in the building daily rather than just the two weeks in the spring where assessment becomes the focus. While the federal legislation Every Student Succeeds Act mandates annual state assessment (U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015, p. 1826), this research focused on the daily work of school leaders and staff to prepare students for their future in society, including an emphasis on student engagement activities in K-12 schools in North Dakota. This study explored ways that school and district leaders strive to create a climate and culture that focuses on three aspects: (a) emotional safety and well-being for students and staff, (b) teaching and learning that create opportunities for collaboration among students, staff, and administration, and (c) the opportunity for students to consider and

This study consisted of three focus groups composed of elementary principals, high school principals, and superintendents from schools across the state of North Dakota. The focus groups included leaders from school districts of various sizes of enrollment and various geographical locations.

The results of this study presented multiple examples from school and district leaders of different enrollments and geographic locations in North Dakota. These examples emphasized that student engagement is clearly a focus of instruction and formation in elementary and secondary schools. The results of this study also showed how a positive climate and culture among students and staff significantly impacts the day-to-day operations of schools and school districts within the state of North Dakota.