Leadership Standards Development


National Educational Leadership Preparation (NELP) Standards

Changing school conditions, shifting school populations, increased expectations for student learning, and expanding knowledge on effective leadership have created new challenges and expectations for educational leaders. Clear and consistent leadership standards can assist all educational stakeholders in understanding these expectations. Over the last three years the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA) have led a significant effort to revise standards that guide preparation and practice for educational leaders in the United States.  The standards, named the National Educational Leadership Preparation (NELP) standards, provide guidance around education leader preparation – particularly program design, accreditation review and state program approval.


These standards were developed by a committee comprised of educators from across the country. (See committee members below) The NELP standards are aligned to the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders that detail the skills expected of school leaders; however the NELP standards provide greater guidance to novice and developing leaders.

Two sets of standards were created to provide more specific guidance based upon whether individuals are preparing for a principalship or a superintendency.  Unlike the previous standards, the NELP standards were expanded to include a standard for ethics and professional norms, equity and cultural leadership and community leadership and engagement.  In writing the NELP standards, the committee consulted research on preparation and practice, as well as school and district leaders, state education officials, researchers, higher-education leaders and faculty and other policy-oriented constituents.

What are the NELP Standards?

In November of 2015 the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) were approved by the NPBEA.  The PSEL Standards will be adopted or adapted by many states to guide policies concerning the practice and improvement of educational leaders (e.g., licensure, evaluation and professional learning policies). In December of 2015, a committee comprised of essential stakeholder communities from across the country was convened to develop a set of leadership preparation standards that align to the PSEL. (See committee members below) These preparation standards, formerly known as the Educational Leadership Constituent Council or ELCC standards, have been renamed the National Educational Leadership Preparation (NELP) standards and will be used to guide program design, accreditation review, and state program approval.

While aligned to the PSEL standards, the NELP standards serve a different purpose and provide greater specificity around performance expectations for beginning level building and district leaders. Whereas the PSEL standards define educational leadership broadly, the NELP standards specify what novice leaders and program graduates should know and be able to do as a result of their completion of a high quality educational leadership preparation program. Like the ELCC standards that preceded them, the NELP standards were developed specifically with the principalship and the superintendency in mind and will be used to review educational leadership programs through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) advanced program review process. There is one set of NELP standards for candidates preparing to become principals and a second set of standards for candidates seeking to become superintendents.

Developing the NELP Standards

The NELP standards address changes in the educational leadership field and respond to input from practitioners and policy leaders. In developing the NELP standards, the committee reviewed research on the preparation and practice of educational leaders and consulted with NPBEA member organizations, practicing school and district leaders, state education officials, researchers, higher-education leaders and faculty, and other policy-oriented constituents. Two other sources were highly influential in the development of the NELP standards: the 2015 Professional Standards for Educational Leadership (PSEL), and 2) CAEP requirements for Specialty Professional Association (SPA) standards.

Due to the important role that the new PSEL and CAEP SPA requirements played in the development of the NELP Standards, the committee’s work involved a number of significant design challenges.

  1. The committee worked to identify the appropriate developmental level at which to articulate preparation standards. Because the NELP standards are designed for preparation programs, they needed to reflect expectations for novice leaders, individuals who just completed a leadership preparation program.
  2. The committee needed to articulate a set of standards specifically for the work of novice building level leaders and another set of standards for novice district level leaders.
  3. Because the NELP Standards will be used for accreditation by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), the number of standards was limited to seven. To align the NELP standards to PSEL, the committee needed to transform the 10 PSEL standards into seven NELP standards. Similarly, limitations on the number of elements that can appear in CAEP SPA standards required that the 83 PSEL elements be reduced to 28 elements.

Several other CAEP requirements for the review of specialty areas presented additional design challenges. For example, the NELP standards needed to be written so that each concept in an element appeared in the language of the standard. Additionally, each standard and element had to be both measurable and based on research. While the PSEL standards were developed using three sources of information (field knowledge, research and core educational values), the NELP standards are firmly rooted in empirical research. Finally, CAEP allows an eighth standard for specialty areas that is focused on the clinical experiences. As a result, both the NELP building and district level standards include an eighth standard that articulates expectations concerning a substantive and high quality educational leadership internship.

What’s New?

When compared to the 2011 ELCC standards there are several important differences.

  1. The number of standards. The six content standards found in the 2011 ELCC standards have been expanded to seven in the draft NELP standards. The expansion enabled the NELP committee to develop standards that more closely reflect current understandings of school leadership, and to more clearly delineate several core leadership functions. For example, the 2011 ELCC standards addressed core values, professional norms, ethics, and equity within one standard. The new NELP standards include a standard for both ethics and professional norms (standard 2) and equity and cultural leadership (standards 3), which addresses capabilities for ensuring equitable protocols, access, and practices not present in the previous standards. Furthermore, the NELP standards address community and external leadership (standards 5) in a way that more clearly address the need for communicating, engaging, and partnering with families and the community.
  2. The NELP standards more strongly distinguish between the unique knowledge and skills needed for the principalship and the superintendency. For example, the NELP building level standards include a specific standard on human resource leadership, while human resource leadership is included as one of several managerial functions in the district standard. Similarly, the district level standards place increased emphasis on the role of the district-level educational leader in instructional leadership and include a specific standard on policy, governance and advocacy. These changes reflect both the research base and the changing demands of school and district level leadership.

Next Steps

Following the revision of the draft standards, the committee will present the standards to the NPBEA for their review and approval. If approved, a number of other activities will commence.

  1. A set of candidate learning progressions and program review rubrics will be developed to guide the accreditation review of educational leadership preparation programs.
  2. The research supporting each of the standards and elements will be compiled and made available to the field.
  3. The committee will identify a set of sample powerful learning experiences and candidate performance assessments aligned the standards and designed to meet the performance assessment requirements of CAEP. These resources will be made available on the NPBEA and CAEP websites.
  4. A committee will review and, if needed, suggest more effective processes for the review of educational leadership preparation programs by CAEP and those states that adopt the NELP standards. The final NELP standards should be available for use beginning in early 2017.

NELP Committee

The committee convened to develop the NELP standards includes practicing leaders, professional association representatives, educational leadership faculty, educational leadership preparation program leaders and college leadership. Committee members were selected based on the stakeholders they represented as well as the expertise they brought to the committee. Members included: Joan Auchter, NASSP; Rosemarie Young, NAESP; Tom Bellamy, University of Washington; Monica Byrne Jimenez, Hostra University; David Chard, Southern Methodist University; David DeMathews, University of Texas-El Paso; Paul Katnik, Missouri State Education Agency; Susan Korach, University of Denver; Glenn Pethel, Gwinnet County Public Schools; L. Oliver Robinson, AASA; Pamela Tucker, University of Virginia; and NELP Committee Chair Michelle Young, UCEA. Also Saroja Barnes, CCSSO; James Berry, NCPEA; and Joseph Murphy, Vanderbilt University served on the committee in an ex officio capacity. Project consultants included Irv Richardson, CCSSO and Honor Fede, NAESP.