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Guidelines for
Grading Principals
Stress Multiple Benchmarks

Concerned that administrators might not have enough input into NCLB-inspired criteria for assessing principals, a national principal association has offered criteria that include more than test scores. Included: NASSPs recommendations, comments from NAESP.

After getting signals that Congress might be trying define highly-effective principals as part of the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorization process, a major principals group decided it needed to make its voice heard before it was drowned out by other parties.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) released a position paper late last year on Highly Effective Principals. Wary of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Acts emphasis on test scores in evaluating schools, the NASSP stressed in its document that students performance on state tests and whether or not a school attains adequate yearly progress (AYP) should not be the only factors used to grade principals.

We want to be proactive rather than reactive, said NASSP executive director Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi. Im afraid Congress in its myopic view will only use AYP as criteria, and that is just one test on one day. Its grossly unfair to take one test, administered one time, and use that to judge principals.


Congress and the U.S. Department of Education devoted much time in 2007 discussing with each other, education groups, and the public potential revisions to the five-year-old NCLB law. NCLB was scheduled to be reauthorized by the end of 2007, but the process stalled.

What caught NASSPs attention was a discussion draft that came from the House Education and Labor Committee in fall 2007 that included a proposal, among other things, to fund principal training in the use of data. The draft also called for paying exemplary, highly qualified principals annual bonuses of up to $15,000 for each of four years that they worked in a high-need school. Principals also could receive up to $4,000 in annual bonuses based on the performance of their schools, with particular attention to tests that demonstrated student improvements over time, according to a commentary to which Dr. Tirozzi contributed.

Congress is looking at ways to put money in the budget to reward principals, Dr. Tirozzi told Education World. We think Congress should take the money and put it in a development fund to develop national standards for principals.

Its grossly unfair to take one test, administered one time, and use that to judge principals.

The All Students Can Achieve Act, which was based on the recommendations made by the Aspen Institutes Commission on NCLB, proposed that states implement a highly effective principal system by determining the requirements necessary to become a highly effective principal in each state. The assessment would be based primarily on the increased student academic achievement of each student subgroup under NCLB in the principal's school, as compared to the achievement growth of other schools with similar student populations, according to the act.

While NCLB includes standards for highly qualified teachers, according to the NASSPs document, Highly qualified principals are mentioned throughout NCLB, but there is not a similar definition of what constitutes a highly qualified principal, nor any assurance that the principal be effective in his or her position.

There is language in the reauthorization [draft] about highly qualified principals. But if the states do it, there will be 50 specific terms, Dr. Tirozzi told Education World. We [NASSP] should be in the forefront of defining what is a highly effective principal. Ive been annoyed that weve continued to see education reform developed at the federal level without input from educators, as has been the case with NCLB.


The NASSP guidelines were developed with input from its board, which includes 24 active principals, he added.

Besides listing six characteristics of highly effective principals, the NASSP calls for using multiple types of student performance data to review principals work, including:

  • Portfolios, performance tasks, and other examples of a students accomplishments
  • Traditional quizzes and tests
  • Interviews, questionnaires, and conferences
  • End-of-course exams
  • Comprehensive personal academic or graduation plans Assessments aligned with high school and college entrance requirements (ACT, PSAT, SAT)
  • Senior projects

In addition to weighing different aspects of students performances, NASSP also suggests that evaluators consider other factors in evaluating principals:

  • Self-assessments
  • Supervisor site visits
  • School documentation of classroom observations, faculty agendas, etc.
  • Climate surveys
  • Teacher, other school staff, parent, and student evaluations
  • Teacher retention/transfer rates
  • Opportunities for student engagement through co-curricular and extracurricular activities and rates of participation


Its up to school districts to decide who conducts the assessments, Dr. Tirozzi said. There are a multitude of other factors that should go in to gauging principals -- the superintendent has to have a system that is fair and equitable.

I have never been in a great school that didnt have a great principal.

This is important because principals bear a lot of responsibility for school improvement, according to Dr. Tirozzi. With NCLB, principals are targeted, he noted. They can always fire a principal. Superintendents have long-term contracts.

Fred Brown, associate executive director for the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), said NAESP supports NASSPs guidelines.

We agree with using more than one high-stakes test [to evaluate principals], Brown told Education World. We dont evaluate students with just one test. To do something as simplistic as assess principals with one test doesnt make sense.

The language in an NCLB reauthorization proposal used to describe characteristics of effective principals is similar to what is in the NAESP report, Leading Learning Communities: Standards for What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do, published in 2001, Brown added.

At the same time, NAESP also wants to ensure that it is a contributor to any discussions about effective principals. This is our area of expertise; wed certainly like a voice in those decisions, Brown told Education World. We would like to be engaged in the conversation, as well as [get] some of the states [involved].


Also included in NASSPs recommendations is a call for Congress to provide $100 million to prepare, train, and recruit highly effective principals.

I have never been in a great school that didnt have a great principal, according to Dr. Tirozzi. In the past, Congress has talked about the importance of training quality principals, but nothing has been done. About $5 million has gone toward school leadership, but most of the professional development money goes to teachers.

Both NAESP and NASSP would like to see the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards work with principals to develop a rigorous and uniform national certification process for principals that would be similar to the National Board Certification for teachers.

Brown said that he is cautiously optimistic that national standards for principals could be a reality in four or five years.

Principals are school leaders, he continued. We want them to be in classrooms, use data, and get the community involved beyond bake sales.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 01/02/2008
Last updated 11/28/2008