AFSA Submits Recommendations for Principal Evaluation and Principal Training to Senators

On Monday, AFSA submitted a letter to Senators calling for greater input from school leaders in education reform.

While voicing support for many of the initiatives included in the Senate’s answer to reauthorizing ESEA, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013 (SASA), AFSA also expressed concern over the legislation’s lack of input from school leaders.

“We feel strongly that greater input from principals is a must if this law is going to reach its intended goals,” said AFSA President Diann Woodard. “In the past, SASA has relied heavily on teacher and superintendent input, while essentially ignoring the input of principals who are the operational leaders of our schools. If we want to see progress in our public schools, this needs to change.”

Included with the letter were AFSA’s recommendations for effective principal evaluation and training, which are listed below. These recommendations called for an increase in evidence-based assessments and clearly defined rubrics for principal evaluations.

AFSA is the exclusive union for administrators, professionals and supervisors advocating for excellence and equity in all of our schools, workplaces and communities. AFSA believes it is critical to provide input on the nature of evaluative processes being implemented nationally to assess the performance of principals and principal training. These recommendations are grounded in research surrounding performance evaluations and k-12 pedagogical practices, and should also be considered in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Principal Evaluation Systems

Evaluation processes should be intended to measure the performance of individuals as it relates to the primary components of their position responsibilities.  The metrics used must be clearly articulated with established benchmarks to provide opportunities for individuals to measure their progress toward the attainment of the established goals.

1)     Input and Feedback

The evaluation process must include constant and clear feedback, with opportunities for growth and improvement of administrators along the way.  The evaluative processes must also allow for administrators to comfortably self-disclose areas needing improvement.  Professionals working toward excellence will welcome feedback and support in developmental areas.  However too often, evaluation systems are punitive in nature which removes the possibility of self-disclosure of areas of development because the unknown is threatening.  This environment has multiple negative effects and contributes to an environment that is counterproductive toward improving student achievement.

Meaningful input from principals, especially organized groups that represent principals, is critical in the design, development and implementation of principal evaluation systems. This is essential because the input from these aforementioned groups adds perspectives from those in the field who are active practitioners.  Professionals, who are currently serving in these roles or who are recently retired after numerous years of service, are in a unique position to reflect upon how the espoused policies and expectations translate when implemented.  They are best positioned to appropriately comment on the immediate and long-term impact of policies such as evaluation systems on the productivity of the administrators and subsequent impact on the school.

Being active in an organized group representing principals and school leaders adds a level of validity and self-regulation because by nature of the governing constitutions and by-laws of these professional organizations, the recommendations cannot to be made arbitrarily or without proper vetting of the membership.

2)     Student Achievement

Tests of high quality can serve as a useful instrument for gauging student progress and determining where students may be struggling and help inform instruction. However, not all tests serve the same function and are appropriate for the student populations being tested.  In order to maximize on the testing instrument, efforts must be made to determine which instrument is most suitable for the population while also reviewing curricular components that correlate with the testing to insure the testing and teaching complement one another as required for students to be adequately prepared.  Finally, it is critical that the testing instruments used are of high quality and not used for punitive purposes.  Below are recommended considerations regarding testing to measure student achievement:

  1. The percentage that test scores factor into evaluations should be determined at the local level.  Incorporating the flexibility to accommodate the needs of students in a specific geographical area allows for schools to be measured on the resources available in those areas and any extenuating circumstances that could have contributed to a less than optimal year of instruction.  The conditions of schools and the environmental factors that influence student learning are expansive.  Having a standard benchmark without consideration of the variability of student populations will inevitably negatively impact students and schools that are navigating systemic deficiencies which are not pre-determined by the student or the administrator.
  2. To ensure fairness and accuracy, test scores should never be the sole or main factor in measuring student achievement and evaluating educators.  There must be several, high quality assessments and indicators used to measure student achievement and in evaluating educators.  These indicators must be clearly stated with tangible ways to achieve success.  Evaluating the school and district through a variety of lenses is critical to ensure the learning needs of students are being met in all subjects, and that educators are being accurately evaluated on their performance because there are many factors contributing to the overall achievement of students.  There is not disagreement that standardized testing plays a critical role in the assessment of instruction across the nation, and has a valuable place in determining if students are receiving the opportunities to achieve the competencies needed to be successful students and contributing members of the larger society.  However, using testing as a singular metric to determine whether students are receiving quality instruction or whether principals are properly managing their schools is a unilateral way to assess a complex system.  The recommendation is instead to use testing as a component of a multi-dimensional evaluative process for evaluating the effectiveness of school administrators.
  3. Any metric or standard used to determine adequate achievement should also include consideration for student intellectual and personal growth, as well as testing performance.  This consideration is particularly important in low-achieving areas where students are often overcoming a variety of personal challenges.

3)     Evaluations must include various leadership rubrics, including:

  1. A measurement of whether the principal has met the Goals and Objectives that are clearly defined as part of the school’s success metrics.  These goals and objectives should reflect the specific needs of the population of the school.  Principals experiencing difficulty must be given a clear principal improvement plan, just as teachers are given
  2. Specific student achievement metrics that incorporate particular expectations for students in special populations such as  students with disabilities (not just IEPs), the number of years for ELL students, and low income students which can be measured by those using temporary housing and/or free lunch
  3. Learning Environment Surveys
  4. A compliance checklist (a leadership rubric on federal, state, and city compliance) – Creating a checklist would be a useful tool for administrators to determine if they are progressing toward successful acquisition of their school’s stated goals and objectives.  Having individual checklists will also provide opportunities to incorporate compliance items that are specific to the city, state or region. And finally, there must be sufficient resources available to make compliance achievable.
  5. Flexibility should be allowed for emergency or unplanned events. We have all unfortunately recently witnessed emergency events, such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and the hurricanes in Oklahoma City. These events have an obvious traumatic impact on students, and can severely disrupt student learning.  They must be taken into account when deciding to administer high stakes tests, and whether to delay or cancel them.

4)     Job Security

The evaluation process can create a sense of uneasiness for administrators, especially those on annual contracts.  Principals who serve on a year-to-year contract are often hesitant to make the necessary changes and develop new methods to succeed.  Often, changes require multiple years in order to fully realize the results, which could increase hesitancy to implementing anything new that does not have guaranteed results.  This could hinder innovation and creativity.  Allowing for multiple year contracts encourages principals to incorporate new strategies and programs with the understanding that there is time to implement and perfect these new practices.  Multi-year contracts would also provide job security, as does the option of a principal improvement plan offering support toward the achievement of the goals and objectives.

5)     Due Process

There must be systems in place that allow for school leaders to appropriately appeal an evaluation that they do not agree is accurate.  The process for appeal must be clearly articulated and publicly displayed in order to promote transparency to the appeal process.

Principal Preparation and Development

1)     Overview

The daily demands of school leaders have grown dramatically over the last decade. The job functions for principals and staff are many and varied, with the principal being ultimately responsible for multiple aspects of creating a successful school environment.  It is critical that principal preparation programs develop more comprehensive training models that adequately prepare principals to be effective leaders in the current environment.  Principals need assistance throughout their careers, and mentoring from existing leaders.  Ideally, a school leader should also spend time as a teacher and assistant principal before becoming a principal.  There is no substitute for this unique experience.  Having served in these roles, the teachers and other administrative staff can feel more confident with the decisions of the principal being considerate of their needs, and the needs of the students.

2)     Higher Education

Many of the higher education preparation programs are coordinated by individuals who have little or no practical experience serving as a principal or administrator.  This format creates preparation programs that are theoretically oriented, but do not always have practical application.  Higher education programs need stronger relationships with school districts and their unions representing principals to adequately prepare administrators for the current expectations of the political system.  Recently retired administrators could serve as a valuable resource to supplement the existing programs.  These individuals have a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience and should be encouraged to teach and consult at such programs.

3)     Focus

Principals should be allowed to identify and work on areas of growth in a non-threatening environment.  Training must be hands on and practical.  Many principals find that they have not received enough “nuts and bolts” of the actual duties of the position.  Principal preparation programs should be tailored depending on the needs of the individual and should include at least half a year of shadowing an experienced principal.

  1. The focus of training should include:

i.     Instructional Leadership

ii.     Curriculum Development

iii.     Time Management

iv.     Law

v.     Development of Human Resources Skills

vi.     Technology and Universal Design

vii.     Finance and Fundraising

viii.     Organizational Leadership

ix.     Staff and Community Relations

x.     Safety and Compliance

xi.     Goals and Vision

xii.     Understanding, Creating and Implementing an Accountability Plan

4)     Training for Evaluations

There must be proper training provided for any initiative added to the evaluation to provide school leaders with a solid understanding of how they are being evaluated.  A rubric should be shared on the new initiative to clearly articulate how success is measured.  Adequate time to implement evaluation requirements into the daily routine of a school leader is also vital.  These initiatives must be subject to collective bargaining and not imposed by the employer.

5)     Length of Training

AFSA believes that training and support for school leaders should be provided throughout their careers.  For incoming school leaders, we have found that it takes at least 3 years for an assistant principal to gain the tools needed to become a successful principal.

Ongoing professional development for all school leaders must be provided in at least these areas:

  1. Common Core Curriculum/Standards
  2. Assessments
  3. Data Analyses
  4. Technology
  5. Evaluations