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Postscript: Measure Twice; Cut Once

Sept-Oct Principal Magazine Cover - Juggling Act

by Gail Connelly
Principal, September/October 2010

Carpenters and tailors work with different materials, but their work processes are similar in one fundamental way. The most successful understand the wisdom inherent in the adage, “Measure twice; cut once.” There’s no turn­ing back once you’ve made the cut.

NAESP understands this wisdom too, given these times of intense scrutiny and accountability for principals, particu­larly those in persistently low-performing schools who are being reassigned or let go so their schools will be eligible for federal aid through the Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. We contend that this program is missing a critical piece: comprehensive, appro­priate evaluation of the principal and his or her school. Of course, we’re not suggesting two measurement processes for SIG. One will do, so long as it’s careful, accurate, fair, and the first step of the school improvement process.

That said, the missing evaluation piece is increasingly problematic as the clock ticks down to Congress’ reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Educa­tion Act (ESEA). As this issue of Principal was going to press, the congressional committees with education oversight were writing ESEA, but drafts of this bill have not been made public. ESEA is not yet scheduled for a vote.

One open question is whether the four SIG reform models—or any reform mod­els—will be included in ESEA. Should they appear, NAESP will vigorously assert that an objective, peer-engaged principal evaluation component must be integrated into any federally funded reform model.

However, we are not waiting to see what action Con­gress might take. Rather, we are proactively developing guidelines Congress can incorporate into ESEA to inform evaluation systems at the state and local levels. Our basic premise is irrefutable: Careful evaluation of “at-risk” prin­cipals that fairly assesses their capacities to lead school reform efforts when enhanced by unprecedented levels of federally funded resources at the beginning of the school improvement process is a more sound, sensible, and cost-effective route to sustainable reform. Our proposal—should it be required—features three basic provisions:

  1. Each principal in a school identified as needing improvement should be offered the opportunity to get an objective review from at least one highly trained mentor/coach who has a proven track record in advanced school-leadership skills, has been trained in evidence-based leadership standards, understands the culture of struggling schools, and knows how to implement improvements.
  2. The evaluation component should be based in part on the latest research on school leadership, focus on how the principal can affect needed changes, and identify innovative improvement strategies.
  3. Student academic achievement and growth measurements should be used in conjunction with the principal perfor­mance evaluation during the first six to nine months of the school improvement effort. Leadership standards should be clear and observable by at least one principal mentor/coach. Once the principal review and evaluation is com­pleted as part of the overall process, the local school dis­trict should only then determine if dismissal is warranted.

We will keep you apprised as ESEA comes to a vote. Until then, please con­tact your federal elected officials. They need to hear your voice! Visit www.naesp.org, click on Advocacy, and then on NAESP Legislative Action Center.

Our work on your behalf regarding principal evaluation doesn’t end on Cap­itol Hill. We are convening a task force of principals—one per Zone, to be named by NAESP President Barbara Chester—to review, assess, and clarify best practice, latest research, and practical applications of evaluation processes and instruments.

This effort—led by principals for principals—will result in comprehensive guidelines that determine how, when, and why principals should be evaluated. Our goal is to provide a fair, thorough, and multifaceted approach to evalua­tion that states and districts can use to better inform their own processes and, in doing so, to ensure that elementary and middle-level principals are acknowledged as catalysts for creating a lasting foundation for learning, for driving school and student performance, and for shaping school improvement efforts.

The principalship is complex, demanding, and difficult, especially for those leaders who lead high-need schools, but also for every principal who strives to make a differ­ence for all children. Just so, NAESP is committed to advo­cating for members and the vast majority of principals who are accomplished leaders while ensuring that all principals are treated evenhandedly, with the respect they’ve earned and deserve.


Copyright © National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or Web site may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP's reprint policy.

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