Everybody’s talking about tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. What if student growth, achievement, and/or test scores were tied to superintendent evaluations?
What if, building upon the superintendent’s management skills, community-building skills, fiscal management skills, personnel recruitment and retainment skills, the superintendent was actually held accountable for how well students achieved (or didn’t) in his or her school district? If that superintendent were held accountable for that achievement, wouldn’t that heighten a superintendent’s awareness and urgency of the importance of student achievement?
Isn’t student achievement a primary accountability measure for a superintendent in a school district?
Apparently, Alabama’s superintendents are not expected to impact student achievement. Because they aren’t evaluated on their impact on student achievement.
And that which gets evaluated gets done.
A Recent Superintendent Evaluation
Y’all know my home district is Hoover*. Hoover’s superintendent was recently evaluated using a “new” tool. When it was announced in April, it was touted as a better way to determine a superintendent’s performance, in that it would include feedback from many groups, including parents (PTO presidents, to be clear).
When the results were presented by the Alabama Association of School Boards’ (AASB) Susan Salter at the Hoover Board of Education’s regular June meeting, the superintendent’s overall evaluation results were “outstanding”.
Given the debacle experienced within the Hoover school community when the superintendent led the effort to eliminate, then reinstate buses, then set charges for buses, then delay those charges for a year…the final evaluation of “outstanding” seemed rather incongruous.
Given the multimillion-dollar operating deficit presented by the superintendent year after year….something seemed a little off.
How could a superintendent who presided over the past year’s events be given an “outstanding” rating on his evaluation? Where was the disconnect between what was experienced by so many in the Hoover community and how those folks evaluating the superintendent saw his performance?
Measures Are Everything
The answer to that question lay in the measures used to evaluate a superintendent. (I delved into teacher evaluations a couple of years ago.) The measures a board uses to evaluates the superintendent are those things the board believes the superintendent is supposed to be doing.
While superintendents are required to be evaluated each year by their boards of education, there is no current requirement for a board to use a particular instrument for that evaluation.
The Alabama Professional Education Personnel Evaluation (PEPE) program is the ALSDE’s formal tool for superintendent and other Central Office administrator evaluations, but boards are free to choose their own appropriate evaluation instrument. This questionnaire is one that board members can use to rate their superintendent.
Recognizing that nearly every Alabama school board has a different way to evaluate its superintendent, for purposes of discussion, we will look at the one used for Hoover’s superintendent.
The AASB provided the evaluation tool to Hoover’s BOE.
A numerical rating system was used:
5 – Exemplary – Performance consistently outstanding
4 – Above Standard – Performance is outstanding
3 – Standard – Performance is consistently adequate or acceptable
2 – Below Standard – Performance sometimes inadequate or unacceptable
1 – Unsatisfactory – Performance consistently inadequate or unacceptable
Throughout the presentation, Salter repeatedly pointed out that a rating of “3” was the goal.
The Domains Within Which the Superintendent Is Evaluated
Here are the eleven domains, or categories, within which Hoover’s superintendent was evaluated:
- Chief Executive Officer for the School Board
- Educational Leadership
- Personnel Management
- Facilities Management
- Financial Management
- Community Relations
- Management of Pupil Personnel Services
- Communication and Interpersonal Relations
- Professional Responsibilities
- Professional Development and Leadership
- Technology Management
Florence City appears to utilize a different tool altogether, (possibly the PEPE tool linked above) as the linked article mentions that 81 questionnaires were distributed (though only 26 were returned).
Interestingly, though Hoover’s then-BOE President called this a “new” tool, it doesn’t seem much different from the Mobile superintendent’s evaluation in 2009, except for the added category regarding technology.
Hoover’s BOE opened up the process to selected participants, including the Mayor, Central Office administrators, principals, and PTO Presidents, and in nearly every case, those groups gave the superintendent a higher score than the BOE.
Does the Tool Really Evaluate the Superintendent?
After digging through the few evaluations found online, and carefully examining the Hoover example, the same question kept popping up: who is the evaluation really measuring? The superintendent? Or the people the superintendent hired to perform those functions?
In every category, with the exception of Professional Responsibilities, Hoover has a Central Office administrator who oversees that particular function. In many smaller districts (and most are smaller with fewer available local funds to fund Central Office administrator positions), the superintendent might perform some of those duties, so it is understandable why those may be included. But not in Hoover.
For a whole category (Communications) to revolve around whether the superintendent speaks and write clearly, correctly, and coherently, or has likable personal characteristics…well, that seems a bit low-barring it.
This link takes you to the actual evaluation, complete with the items to which the board and other stakeholders were responding.
Where Does Student Growth and Achievement Fit In?
No evaluation tool is perfect, but shouldn’t an evaluation tool at least measure the things the superintendent can take some credit for actually doing? If the superintendent is being held accountable for his subordinates’ job performance in so many areas, why is student achievement such a small part of the evaluation?
In the Hoover example, there is one lone item under “Educational Leadership” where the superintendent is rated on “establishing goals for student achievement”. But there is no further evaluation on whether the students actually met those goals.
If student learning and growth and achievement are the basic goals of education, shouldn’t the superintendent be evaluated on those outcomes?
OK. So On What Should a Superintendent Be Evaluated?
The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) published a whitepaper in 2010 delineating the challenges of evaluating superintendents in the age of accountability and standards. The AASA’s suggested domains are nearly identical to the AASB’s evaluation tool. The big difference is that the AASA suggests developing performance goals for the superintendent, and the AASB’s tool has no room for goals.
Here are Ohio’s standards for superintendents. This document shows the importance of developing a standards-based job description. They even provide an online-fill-out-able form for board members to utilize. (Ohio will allow districts to utilize student growth and achievement in teacher evaluations beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.)
This evaluation took into account Wisconsin’s superintendent standards, which clearly state a superintendent’s responsibilities include student growth and achievement.
The Oregon School Boards Association published this new superintendent evaluation guide earlier this month. This one’s pretty cool in that it provides for standards of performance along with three superintendent-specific goals (hopefully focused on community?) to be a part of the overall evaluation.
The Community’s Vision for a Superintendent
Given that a superintendent’s salary is completely financed by local tax proceeds, shouldn’t there be some room in the superintendent’s evaluation for the community’s perspective?
Where is the community’s vision for a superintendent included in the evaluation?
What do you think? What do YOU believe your superintendent should be doing?
*NOTE: Lest anyone claim that I’m picking on Hoover, please understand that Hoover is my home base. I have lived here my entire life (nearly half a century). My advocacy began in Hoover more than a decade ago. The institutional knowledge of following along all of these years gives me a bit of license in dissecting actions by local school officials. And don’t forget that my property value is tied to the success of our local school system. I see the promise that Hoover has, and the opportunities for children, and the loads of local money entrusted to school officials by my neighbors, and I care a whole lot about what happens here. Hoover often finds itself at the forefront of change. Which can be a good thing.