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Anne O’Brien is Deputy Director for Learning First Alliance. She previously worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana, where she managed first school-based mentoring and then...
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Rethinking Principal Evaluation

Leadership matters. Principals set the tone of a school and can inspire students and teachers alike to reach new heights. They are second only to teachers among the in-school influences on student success.

Yet we dont hear much about how to measure a principals performance. And the little research that exists on principal evaluation suggests that current systems do not accurately judge performance, do not provide information that is useful for professional growth, and often arent even used.

The federal government has begun to take note, making changes to principal evaluations a condition of Race to the Top funds, School Improvement Grants, and waivers to some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, they are often requiring that the evaluations be based in significant part on student performance on standardized assessments. As we all know, test scores represent a very narrow definition of student success.

To help states and districts develop meaningful principal evaluations as they move quickly to meet the requirements of grants and laws, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) have released Rethinking Principal Evaluation: A New Paradigm Informed by Research and Practice, a research-based framework developed by a committee of practicing principals over the past two years.

With this report, the field calls on states and districts to adopt a new paradigm of principal evaluation that includes multiple and meaningful measurement systems of effectiveness. The report identifies six key domains of school leadership that should be incorporated into evaluation systems:

  • Professional growth and learning
  • Student growth and achievement (without an over-reliance on standardized test scores)
  • School planning and progress
  • School culture
  • Professional qualities and instructional leadership
  • Stakeholder support and engagement

Why these six domains? A number of reasons. What stands out to me is, as Principal Janice Koslowski said at a briefing on the reports release, that they all ultimately lead to student achievement, which is something that principals firmly believe they should be held accountable for. But when we look only at student achievement (particularly as measured by standardized test scores), we can't do anything with what we learn. When we look at achievement in concert with measures of school culture, school planning, stakeholder support and more, we begin to see why achievement is where it is and ways to improve it. In other words, we can use evaluation for capacity building.

Historically, and in much of the dialogue today, evaluation is seen mainly as a tool to identify effective practitioners (be they teachers, principals, superintendents or others) as well as target ineffective practitioners for dismissal. However, this view of evaluation misses what could, and should, be a key goal of the practice: To help educators improve.

As was made clear at the reports release, there isnt a line of highly-skilled, highly-qualified people standing behind each principal waiting to take over his or her job. Particularly in rural communities, it can be hard to find new talents to run schools. And there are significant costs associated with principal turnover, both in terms of recruitment and training of new staff and in terms of the human costs that come to students, staff, parents and community with the loss of a principal. So a major goal of evaluations should be building the capacity of existing staff. The system advocated in this report can help do that.

In addition to discussing the six key domains of school leadership, this report also describes the essential features of comprehensive evaluation systems and offers a roadmap for policymakers to follow in the development of these systems. I highly encourage policymakers at all levels to check it out before they rush to create new principal evaluation systems narrowly focused on standardized test scores. As NASSP Executive Director Joann Bartoletti pointed out at the release, imagine what would happen if rather than being judged on the number of crimes he solved or steel beams he bent Superman were evaluated based solely on his reaction to Kryptonite.

This content originally appeared by Anne O'Brien onLearning First Alliance's blogand is posted here with permission.