By Harrison Howe
Responsible for Everything
Teacher performance. Student success. Faculty satisfaction. Educational goal setting. The list of principal responsibilities is long, which is one reason why it might be difficult to measure just how well these school leaders are performing. But WestEd, an education research group based in San Francisco, along with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), is among several organizations that sees the need for, and is stepping up to work toward, a satisfactory principal evaluation process.
Currently, many principals are evaluated simply by meeting annually with a district administrator. Many feel this tends to leave out several aspects of just what a principal does, such as instructional leadership. Little if anything seems to be in place to allow principals to develop plans to increase their job performance or identify areas of potential weakness. And in many cases student success is hardly considered.
Groups like WestEd realize the need for cohesion when it comes to principal evaluations. But that may not be as easy as it sounds. Some, including a senior research scientist at the American Institutes for Research, acknowledge that 'little evidence' exists as far as just how an effective principal evaluation should be modeled.
But it is noted that, as they exist now, principal evaluations lack the very important aspect of measuring student achievement. In an introduction to principal leadership review approaches, the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) writes on its website, www.sai-iowa.org, 'The process of coaching a principal is a very important tool in the entire improvement effort of a school district. It defines expectations, enhances communication, prioritizes district goals and encourages supervisors to focus their attention on the principal's role in improving achievement for all students.'
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Making a Better Principal Evaluation Tool
In July, principal evaluations were the main topic of discussion at NAESP's National Leader Conference. The focus of the discussion was how better evaluations could help principals to improve schools. Leading educational researchers Matthew Clifford and Steven M. Ross note that, as they exist now, principal evaluations tend to lack 'consistency, fairness and value' and currently constrain principals in providing 'continuous improvement.'
Together with NASSP, NAESP is striving to provide guidelines schools can use to develop their own improved principal evaluations. NAESP's executive director, Gail Connelly, told Education Week in July, 'We're responding to a real eagerness on the part of our principals that they be held accountable on all the things that matter.' Right now, studies by NAESP show that principals feel that evaluations as they are conducted now are inconsistent, unenthusiastic and not necessarily meeting national standards.
Those standards, released in 1996 and revised in 2008 by the Council for Chief State School Officers and adopted by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, note areas where principals need to portray proficiency. These include integrity and ethics when developing and implementing a vision of learning emphasizing student success.
Extensive research by WestEd, NASSP and NAESP showed that literature about principal evaluations is hard to dig up. Publications on the subject, they found, were fairly sparse between 1980 and 2010. What papers were found tended to reveal that many evaluation processes were not valid or reliable.
Without national guidelines (though the Obama administration's effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2010 addresses principal effectiveness and how it should be measured), some states and school districts have developed their own evaluation tools.
In Delaware, principals are evaluated in part by how they use analytical data to develop school goals and how effective they are in providing teacher leadership. The system also factors in student growth as a measurement of principal success. The process was put in place in 2008.
The Hillsborough County school district in Florida incorporates teacher feedback and improvements in test scores to evaluate its principals. The district hopes to create a 'career ladder' in which principals who are performing well can advance to a higher proficiency level rather than having to move away from being a principal in order to achieve career advancement.
It is hoped that through the combined efforts of states, educational organizations, research groups and school districts, the cry for a standard principal evaluation system is heard and that improvements can be made in the process so that principals can help themselves, and their schools, be the best they can be.
The Impact program is a controversial initiative evaluating teachers and student test scores as part of Washington, DC's educational reforms.