Law changed principal assessments
Principal Dave Palzet holds a meeting with teachers on new principal assessments at Highcrest Middle School in Wilmette on Oct. 4. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: New assessment guidelines
WHY: The 2010 Performance Evaluation Reform Act
KICKS IN: This year
For more information on the Performance Evaluation Reform Act visit the Illinois State Board of Education site at www.isbe.net/PERA/ and www.isbe.net/peac/.
For more information on District 39’s principal evaluation plan, visit www.wilmette39.org/boe/publicpacket/default08-27-12.
Updated: November 12, 2012 6:12AM
WILMETTE — In modern education, students aren’t the only ones graded on their work; so do teachers and principals.
This year, Illinois is changing the way it judges principals, mandating that every evaluation be tied, in part, to how well students are progressing.
In Wilmette School District 39, Superintendent Ray Lechner and a team of principals have worked for a year to modify the existing principal assessment process, bringing it into line with new state guidelines.
“It’s been more work for us, but I think ultimately it’s more helpful to us now. I think the product we have today is better than the one we had before,” Lechner said last month.
One of the easily identifiable changes is adding student growth into the evaluation mix.
Doing so might seem common sense, Vicki Phillips said last week, but wasn’t the norm in Illinois or elsewhere. Phillips, who is the Illinois State Board of Education’s division administrator for preparation and evaluation, said that changed in 2010, when Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Performance Evaluation Reform Act into law.
PERA calls for similar changes in teacher evaluations. Those expectations will be phased in between now and 2016. Most districts, including District 39, now are working on or completing those evaluation processes.
Phillips has been intimately involved with the evaluation revamp ever since. She said improving how educators judge a principal depends a great deal on shifting their view of principals from building manager to educational leader.
“Being a good principal just means you can make sure every kid’s on the bus, as important as that is,” she said. “It doesn’t just mean that if someone needs something, you know where it is in the building and can get it for them, although that’s important, or that you can discipline effectively when necessary.
“It means you’re guiding effective teaching. We talk about instructional leadership, and that assumes you have a real strong handle on teaching and learning.”
What does it mean?
The change means that no more than 50 percent of a principal’s evaluation will depend on performance standards of instructional, organization and public leadership, which have been overhauled as part of PERA. All of those are important, Phillips and Lechner agreed, but they are no longer the only measurement.
Evaluators must now make student growth results another 30 percent of the formula. Part of that data must come from high quality standardized tests that students now take: the Illinois State Achievement Tests, for example and, in District 39, the Performance Series test programs that provide continuous progress checks of students in various subjects.
Principals can also set other individual progress goals. For instance, deciding to measure how well she can decrease discipline problems. That data could comprise part of the information that makes up the final 20 percent in the evaluation guidelines – a 20 percent that can be tailored to specific districts and schools.
Where do students fit?
How do districts work student growth into the individual game plans for principals? Lechner and district principals worked last year to set goals for each building.
Dave Palzet, principal at Wilmette Junior High School and Highcrest Middle School, last month used his own two schools as an illustration. He and his assistant principals focused on math progress for fifth- through eighth-grade students who fall below state ISAT standards. The group is large enough to provide meaningful data, but small enough to be manageable in an inaugural year, Palzet said. As students meet growth goals in their test results, principals can turn their eyes to other areas where student growth needs to be strengthened.
Setting standards, and deciding on data isn’t the whole story. Administrators must also know how to evaluate the principals under their command. The state hired consultants to create mandatory online evaluation training. Training modules were ready in less than six months (“a small miracle,” Phillips said,) and roughly 13,500 administrators completed them by the opening day of school.
This year, Lechner will evaluate each of his principals and assistant principals, observing them twice – once formally and once informally, complete with written feedback – and will receive a self-evaluation from each of them by February. Those must include the new performance guidelines and student growth data.
The end result, Lechner said, is a tool where the components “are not a mystery. They’re easily laid out, based on quantifiable standards and tied to how well students do.”
Equally important, Phillips said, evaluators across the state now have a common language with which to judge principals and, eventually, teachers. A principal isn’t in a student’s classroom every day, but that doesn’t make her less important to that boy or girl’s progress, she said.
“There are studies that show there are two things that have the most affect on a student’s education. The first is the teacher in the classroom, but the second is the principal. We are paying attention to that.”