School & District Management

New Evaluations for Principals, New Equity Issues

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — March 05, 2013 2 min read

As more districts tie principal evaluations to student achievement, some researchers and district leaders are examining how to ensure that the same tools are fair and accurate for all school leaders.

Work on differentiating principal evaluations is in the early stages, but researchers say it could be a useful way to improve methods for using test scores to grade principals.

A working paper released last fall by Mathematica Policy Research of Princeton, N.J., indicates that school-level, value-added—or growth—measures used to determine whether student test scores meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations, may not be accurate for early-career principals. Prompted by that research, Brian Gill, the co-director of Mathematica’s Cambridge, Mass., office, is working with the 25,000-student Pittsburgh district to develop an evaluation tool that may weigh various components differently in order to more fairly capture beginning principals’ effectiveness.

See Also

For more on districts are re-creating principal evaluations, see “Districts Tying Principal Reviews to Test Scores,” March 6, 2013.

Likewise, the Washington-based American Institutes for Research is working with the 18,000-student district in Hazelwood, Mo., to develop a strategy that reflects differences in principals’ tenure, according to Matthew Clifford, a Chicago-based senior research scientist with the AIR.

There is no consensus—and little research—on the best way to use scores to assess principals. “I think most of the policymakers overlooked the fact that it’s analytically a different problem than measuring a teacher’s performance,” said Mathematica’s Mr. Gill. Much of principals’ impact on students is mediated by teachers, he said.

Accounting for Time

Since principals who are early in their career may have had less time to exert influence over teachers and performance in the school, “it wouldn’t be fair to use the same measure for new and established principals,” Mr. Gill said. Wedding scores to evaluations without allowing a principal time to make a difference, he said, could potentially lead principals to be less interested in leading low-performing schools.

“If the principal’s been in the school for a long time, it might make sense to say, OK, they’ve had enough time to influence both the composition of the teaching force and the skills of the teaching force such that maybe it’s fair to judge the principal based on a school’s value-added,” he said. “But nobody really knows how long that takes.”

In Pittsburgh, it is unclear how the evaluations will account for time on the job. “We might want to weight principal practice more heavily [than test scores],” said Jerri Lynn Lippert, the district’s chief academic officer. In Missouri, Mr. Clifford said both student-growth components and the part of the evaluation that focuses on principal behaviors and practices would likely be adjusted to account for experience.

That kind of nuance is still rare, however, said Benjamin Fenton, a co-founder of New Leaders, a leadership-training organization with programs in 12 cities. “It’s a good thing for states to be thoughtful about,” he said. “If their statutes demand that principals be treated exactly the same no matter what, it can cause issues for first-year principals,” who might have lower scores on ratings, Mr. Fenton said. But he said he believes that first-year principals should still be evaluated by the same standards: “Even in the first year, consistently ineffective practice should be an important flag.”

Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org.
A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2013 edition of Education Week as Principal Evaluations: Striving for Fairness

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