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Report Outlines New Paradigm for Principal Evaluation

Setpember 2012, Volume 36, Issue 1

Last week, as Congress returned to Washington after a six week hiatus, NAESP was busy releasing a landmark policy document on principal evaluation during a Capitol Hill briefing. Rethinking Principal Evaluation: A New Paradigm Informed by Research and Practice was developed in collaboration with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) after a year-long effort that teamed leading researchers on evaluation with a committee of practicing principals. The report provides lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels with a set of research-based policy recommendations and practical guidelines designed to help schools and districts meaningfully measure the effectiveness of principal and assistant principals.

The initiative highlights the principal’s voice in the evaluation discussion, a perspective that has largely been missing from the national debate. “This report was created by principals, for principals and takes the best of their expertise and pairs it with the latest research,” said NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly. “It is essential to insert the principals’ voice and the standards in the redevelopment or refinement of evaluation systems to change practice to improve schools.”

NAESP was compelled to take on this initiative because of the national discourse on teacher and principal effectiveness that was defined primarily by student standardized test scores. While the focus on principals as catalysts for school reform and sustained improvement is important, we knew that there were far better ways to measure a principal’s performance. Standardized test scores are one measure of student learning, and only represent a narrow, one-dimensional, snapshot in time. They do not paint the whole picture of student performance, let alone the competency of a principal and the effectiveness of his or her instructional leadership.

The report identifies six key domains of school leadership that should be incorporated into principal evaluation systems:

  • Professional growth and learning;
  • Student growth and achievement;
  • School planning and progress;
  • School culture;
  • Professional qualities and instructional leadership; and
  • Stakeholder support and engagement.

While the focus on principals in their role as the catalyst for school reform and sustained improvement has been critically important over the past several years, the current direction in federal, state, and local policy that ties principal evaluation to student test scores is misguided and inconsistent with the research. NAESP believes that every school leader should receive a fair, valid, comprehensive evaluation that is informed by research, linked to a realistic trajectory of growth and improvement, and supported by high-quality professional development that is designed to improve practice. According to briefing panelist Jon Millerhagen, who is principal of Washburn Elementary School in Bloomington, Minnesota, and served on the Principal Evaluation Committee, principal evaluation systems must be about building principals’ capacity for leadership. “It all comes down to [the question of] how do we build instead of take down,” he said.   

Rethinking Principal Evaluation represents a call to action for federal, state, and local policymakers to rethink the approach to principal evaluation based on a comprehensive set of measures that recognize and support the complex work principals perform as committed leaders of our nation’s schools.

As NAESP works to advance an advocacy agenda that builds the capacity of principals, the advocacy team will continue to use the report as a powerful tool in policymaking for three important reasons:

  1. The report is the only comprehensive body of knowledge that brings forward the research on principal evaluation to synthesize the evidence on effective practice to inform policy. 
  2. The report shows that we must fundamentally change the policy and practice so that principal evaluation becomes a process that will truly build the capacity of principals by linking to high-quality professional development.
  3. The report captures the voice of principals, who were instrumental in developing the report, defining the full range of measures they want to be held accountable for.

Rethinking Principal Evaluation signals the launch of a new paradigm for principal and assistant principal evaluation. It’s time for policymakers and practitioners to focus on measuring, in multiple and meaningful ways, the aspects of students’ learning environments that school leaders most directly influence.

Visit to read the full report.

Kelly Pollitt is NAESP’s associate executive director of advocacy, policy & special projects.


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