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Assistant Superintendent John Price outlined the professional practice portion of District 65’s evaluation plan for principals at a School Board meeting earlier this year. “Our objective is to build the strongest core of principals in Illinois, bar none,” said Mr. Price. The goal is “to recruit, to attract, and to retain the very best principals because we believe principals are key levers for school improvement.

“We would like to build a cycle of continuous improvement and growth for all professionals in the District,” Mr. Price added. To do that he said the District was developing a method of “transparent feedback, which will serve as a model throughout the District.”

Mr. Price told the RoundTable the District also evaluates principals based on growth in student achievement. He said a principal’s rating on professional practice and his or her rating on student growth each count 50% toward his or her summative rating.

Professional Practice Standards

Mr. Price said the District uses the six standards recommended by the Illinois State Board of Education to evaluate each principal’s professional practice. The standards are:

• “The principal works with the staff and community to build a shared mission, and vision of high expectations and ensures all students are on the path to college and career readiness, and holds staff accountable for results.

• “The principal creates and implements systems to ensure a safe, orderly, and productive environment for student and adult learning toward the achievement of school and district improvement practices.

• “The principal works with the school staff and community to develop a research-based framework for effective teaching and learning that is refined continuously to improve instruction for all students.

• “The principal creates a collaborative school community where the school staff, families, and community interact regularly and share ownership for the success of the school.

• “The principal works with the school staff and community to create a positive context for learning by ensuring equity, fulfilling professional responsibilities with honesty and integrity, and serving as a model for the professional behavior of others.

• “The principal works with staff and community to build a culture of high expectations and aspirations for every student by setting clear staff and student expectations for positive learning behaviors and by focusing on students’ social-emotional learning.”

There are between three and six indicators of success for each of the six standards, together with a rubric that recommends what evidence indicates whether a principal’s performance is “distinguished,” “proficient,” “basic” or “unsatisfactory” for each indicator. Added weight is given to the third standard, dealing with effective teaching and learning.

Observations and Feedback

Mr. Price said he held goal-setting conferences with each principal last fall, and then conducted two formal observations of each principal, which focused on gathering information on each principal’s performance with respect to three of the six standards. He said the observations included a discussion with the principal about the standards, a walkthrough of the school, a review of the Response To Intervention (RTI) process in place at the school, and an observation of classrooms selected by the principal to review instructional practices.

After the observations principals were given “extensive and intensive” written feedback that contained eight to ten pieces of evidence linked to the standards, said Mr. Price. “All of the observations were followed up by a face-to-face conversation that focused on strengths and weaknesses.”

Each principal was given opportunities to submit written information with respect to the standards that were not directly observed. Mr. Price provided feedback to each principal on the written submissions.

“Each cycle itself is comprehensive and intensive and intended to gather as much information as possible that provides the principals with feedback they can use,” said Mr. Price. “Principals are receiving layers of feedback on specific aspects of their practice.”

As part of the process, principals were also asked to provide a self-evaluation.

Refining the Process

Going forward, Mr. Price said, “We want to maintain rigor and high expectations for school leaders, continue to provide the targeted support that’s linked to what we’re finding in the observations cycle this year, increase the number of informal observation opportunities, and start to plan collaborative and differentiated professional learning for principals that is tied to their individual learning goals and learning goals for their schools.

“We want to maintain the level of formal, but increase the number informal observations – that’s us being present in classrooms, being present in teachers’ team meetings, what’s going on, getting a sense of the schools, and then providing the principal’s feedback on that.”

“I think this is something to really celebrate,” said Board Vice President Richard Rykhus. “What you’ve done, and all of your colleagues, is really lay out your expectations and rigorous standards.” Quoting an earlier comment by Mr. Price that “You can’t have outstanding schools without outstanding principals,” Mr. Rykhus said, “What we’re putting in place here is really the foundation to making sure we really have outstanding school leaders. It is a huge step in the right direction as we try to improve all students’ success.”

Student Growth is a Factor

Student growth in a principal’s school counts for 50% of the principal’s summative rating. Different tests are used to measure student growth at different grade levels.

For the third- through eighth-grade levels, the District used the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test and ECRA’s value-added growth report for the Spring 2014 MAP test to assess value-added growth in reading and math for all students in a school and also for students from low-income households. The District also collected random samples of writing assessments of two classes of students in each school and took into account the percentage of students making progress in writing.

For students in grades K-2, the District took into account the percentage of students who increased their percentile ranks on the Illinois Snapshots of Early Literacy (ISEL) in the prior year’s fall to spring ISEL scores. The District also took into account their progress on the District’s writing assessments.

The principal appraisal model contains a formula to combine the various student growth scores into an overall student growth rating for each principal.

During a summative conference, a principal’s professional practice rating and his or her growth rating are combined into a final summative rating.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...