Funding Survival Toolkit | Feature

What Race to the Top's School Leadership Evaluations Really Look Like

If you thought teacher evaluations were a challenge, welcome to the new federal requirements for evaluating principals and superintendents.

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's November 2012 digital edition.

For many years now, since the authorization of NCLB, this country has been putting a tremendous amount of emphasis on teacher evaluation, recognizing the teacher's critical role in children's learning--seemingly to the exclusion of all other educators who have an impact on school success. Yet we all know that the nation's 95,000 principals have a great influence over the teachers and students in their schools--not to mention the approximately 15,000 superintendents who exert influence over the entire district.

You yourself may have had the experience in your career of working under a great principal or superintendent who mentored staff and supported innovation. But then a new, less competent leader took charge. Teacher morale decreased. Innovative programs disappeared. The entire education climate was negatively impacted even though the staff and students had not changed.

So it's not news that leadership is critical to the success of schools and districts, but it is news that the federal government is including the evaluation of school leaders as a new requirement in their funding programs.

Last month we wrote about how Race to the Top competition for districts (RttT-D) requires that applicants must annually evaluate both principals and superintendents. The proposed legislation for the 2013 budget is set to revise the Teacher Quality funding to include leadership evaluation as well. We can expect to see leadership evaluation continue to be part of any new school improvement legislation.

There is real money attached to these evaluations. In addition to RttT-D, which will grant 20 to 25 awards of $5 million to $40 million over a four-year grant period, the current FY12 budget includes Effective Teachers and Leaders State Grants that will distribute $2.5 billion. The Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund has an additional $500 million to distribute. For the FY13 budget, the Title II Teacher Quality grants are proposing three separate programs, each including principal evaluation. These include:

  • Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education--$90 million
  • Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy--$187 million
  • Effective Teaching and Learning: STEM--$150 million

So, if you want your district to be eligible for any of these federal monies, you must be prepared to add leader evaluation to your systematic review of school progress.

What Does Leadership Evaluation Look Like?
Even though most, if not all, districts evaluate principals, there's no real agreed-upon set of criteria across districts and states for determining school-building leadership quality. As for superintendents, up to this point it's mostly the local school board who has been responsible for the evaluation, the results of which are usually not made public unless they are released as part of the superintendent's dismissal (and sometimes not even then).

As a way to start creating a national consensus on quality school leadership, the US Department of Education (ED) is calling for every district to adopt of a set of policy guidelines and best practices that go beyond student test scores to evaluate school culture, professional growth and learning, and other aspects of the learning environment that school leaders influence.

Under the federal requirements, principal and superintendent evaluations should include multiple measures, each with a three-level (minimum) performance rubric. These measures must be used to make personnel decisions such hiring, salary increases, placement, termination, and so forth. Principals and superintendents should participate in the development of these evaluation systems.

The multiple measures that school leaders are evaluated against should be determined by the districts themselves, but the ED has made recommendations for what these criteria might include.

  • Measures can include principal and superintendent observation--by district personnel and/or school board members--of the leader's daily interactions and activities as they relate to duties and expectations.
  • Teacher evaluation data will provide evidence of how much of an impact the principal's supervision has had on teacher performance. Principal evaluation data will provide the same kind of evidence of a superintendent's impact on school leadership.
  • Teacher, parent, and student surveys about the principal's or superintendent's activities and accomplishments are also an accepted evaluation measure.
  • For both principals and superintendents student growth data, which usually means high-stakes test scores, is probably the most well-publicized of the recommended measurements.

The student-growth criterion is, not surprisingly, the most controversial. We have a national debate going about the validity of test data as a measurement of teacher effectiveness, and now we can expect that conversation to spill over to educational leadership. How much impact does the principal or superintendent have on test scores? What is a realistic estimate of that impact? For teacher evaluations, the amount of reliance on test scores can range from 30 to 60 percent of the overall performance. We can expect there to be a similarly wide range of percentages as districts struggle to define what exactly is the "significant factor" test scores will have on leadership evaluation.

Guidance From Professional Organizations
Districts should also look to principal and superintendent professional organizations for guidance in designing leadership evaluations. Already, some of these professional organizations have gone beyond the federal requirements to develop important criteria for leadership evaluation. Because they are made up of professionals in the field, they have a greater stake in identifying best practices for their members and establishing fair and pertinent measures of success.

Although the American Association of School Administrators has not (to our knowledge) released any official recommendations or guidelines on the evaluation of superintendents, its website contains multiple resources on the topic, from using a portfolio-based approach to a client-based system for such evaluations.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Johns Hopkins University, and the American Institutes for Research released in 2011 a collaborative framework and guide for policymakers and practitioners on effective principal evaluation titled "Rethinking Principal Evaluation." Their criteria include professional growth and learning, student growth and achievement, school planning and progress, school culture, instructional leadership, and stakeholder support and engagement.

This framework also recommends procedures for an effective evaluation system, which include the school, student, and community contexts; standards that can improve practice; building capacity through evaluation; and focusing on multiple measures.

The more that funding is tied to leadership evaluation, the more we can expect these professional organizations to become involved in defining measures of effective leadership. Your district should look to them for continued clarification of criteria for competence.

Even if you have principal and superintendent evaluations in place, it's important to reexamine your measurements and processes now, as it is likely that there will be more requirements for these evaluations under federal and state funding in the future. Begin with the recommendations of the professional organizations, but customize the criteria to your district's needs and context.

Educational Leadership Standards

The National Policy Board for Educational Administration adopted the 2008 Educational Leadership Policy Standards of the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium, which organizes the functions that define strong school leadership under six standards. These standards, which have also been endorsed by the Council of Chief State School Officers, represent broad, high-priority themes that education leaders of all stripes--from building principals to school board members--should address in order to promote the success of every student.

  • Leaders should be responsible for setting a shared vision of learning and developing a school culture and instructional program that promotes student learning and staff professional growth.
  • Leaders establish the climate of the school and district.
  • They must ensure management of the organization, operation, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment.
  • The effective leader must collaborate with the faculty and community members to respond to their interests and needs.
  • The effective leader acts with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner.
  • Finally the leader must understand, respond to, and influence the political, social, legal, and cultural arenas.