School & District Management

Principals’ Associations Report: Evaluations Should Be Multifaceted

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — September 13, 2012 3 min read
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Principal evaluation should be multifaceted and growth-oriented rather than punitive and reliant on standardized test scores, according to a new report put out today by the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The report reflects the work of a committee made up of working principals, and sets out to address the current state of principal evaluation and make recommendations for improvement.

It paints a gloomy picture of current evaluation systems, saying they are generally inconsistent, unaligned with standards for good practice, not relevant to principals’ main goals and responsibilities, and generally not valid or rigorous.

The report suggests that principals should instead be evaluated based on six domains: professional growth and learning; student growth and achievement (which is where student test scores fit in); school planning and progress; school culture; professional qualities and instructional leadership; and stakeholder support and engagement. The report emphasizes that supporting and providing professional development for principals is important in order to reduce turnover.

Developing valid and rigorous evaluation systems is important, as new principal evaluation system that “take into account data on student growth as a significant factor” were required by the federal School Improvement Grants program that many states have taken up, the report says.

The fact that principals are generally considered to be only somewhat responsible for student test scores but that those scores sometimes account for up to 60 percent of a principal’s evaluation was an issue of particular concern at the Capitol Hill briefing where the report was released. Daniel Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Superintendents, said the brief is a step towards “what principal evaluations should be” and a step away from basing evaluation on test scores, which he described as “not reliable or valid.” The NASSP and the NAESP do not recommend that test scores be used as a set percentage of a principal’s evaluation.

Researchers Steven Ross of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education and Matthew Clifford of the American Institutes for Research, who coauthored the report, emphasized that context is important in understanding principal performance. Principals should be held accountable for factors that are in their control, but it shouldn’t be assumed that progress will be obvious or always looks the same, especially in the early years of a principal’s time in a school, the researchers said.

Two principals who were involved in the development of the report gave strong testimonials at the briefing about the need for a new system of evaluation. “Principals want to be accountable,” said Jon Millerhagen, the principal of Washburn Elementary School in Bloomington, Minn. But, he said, principals also want to feel supported.

Janice Koslowski, the principal of Potomac Falls High School, in Potomac Falls, Va., seconded that call and added that new evaluation systems needed to be supported with resources and time for professional development.

In a conversation after today’s briefing, Ross said that the new report should help create a buzz about the need to improve principal evaluations—but that it will be critical for some of these recommendations to take a more concrete form, so that policymakers can see a more holistic approach is realistic—that, for instance, measuring school climate using various inventories can be as doable as measuring student achievement using standardized tests.

The question of how to balance standardization and local control came up several times in today’s discussion, and both of the researchers were wary about creating an overly standardized, nationally enforced system of evaluation. The report itself is not a model of an evaluation, but a set of guidelines, they stressed.

As for what this looks like on the ground, I wrote yesterday about Los Angeles’ new principal evaluation system. It was not based on this report, but, as with the guidelines, there seems to be a push in Los Angeles toward making sure that evaluations actually help principals improve and that principal accountability isn’t too reliant on test scores.

You can see some of my tweets from the event, including some other questions that were raised, by following @jzubrzycki

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.