For the first time, Chicago principals will be evaluated in part by their students’ test scores, attendance rates and other statistical measures.
Under the school system’s new Principal Performance Evaluation form, approved by the Reform Board in July, principals will be rated in five areas, receiving “grades” of exceeding, meeting or not meeting expectations.
To get an “exceeds” rating in instructional leadership, at least 50 percent of students in the school must score at or above national norms in reading and math on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (elementary schools) or the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (high schools); at least 50 percent must meet or exceed state standards on the state IGAP tests. To obtain a “meets,” at least 15 percent of students must score at or above national norms, and test scores must be on the rise.
“By definition, magnet schools and gifted programs will have an advantage,” observes Larry Chase, principal of Disney Magnet School, which traditionally posts above-average test scores. “If there is to be no handicapping of percentages, the schools with higher socioeconomic levels are going to have a huge advantage over other schools.”
Dave Peterson, who represented the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association on the committee that drafted the new form, adds, “The schools that were removed from probation this year have performed admirably, but they will not attain an ‘exceeds’ rating because their numbers are still low. This was of great concern to the committee.”
Peterson says that the central administration insisted on the test-score floors of 50 percent for exceeding expectations and 15 percent for meeting expectations.
Nobel School Principal Mirna Ortiz, a member of the committee, says the committee sought to balance the test-score measures by including such non-quantitative measures as the safety and cleanliness of the school building and professional development of administrators and teachers.
The new form is to be used by regional education officers and local school councils (LSCs). A negative rating from a regional education officer could block an LSC’s decision to renew its principal’s contract. With principal pay pegged to faculty size, the evaluations have no bearing on salaries.
Tying staff evaluations to student test scores is not new, but neither is it a trend. June Million of the National Association of Elementary School Principals says the idea “comes and goes. It often appears when a school district has a new board or a new superintendent that is under the gun to improve schools.”
She says that previous attempts have not been successful. She offers the example of Fairfax County, Va., which tied teachers’ merit pay to student test scores. “It was too complicated, created too much dissension among teachers, and the plan was abandoned after several years.”
Ortiz says that she is comfortable being evaluated under the document she helped create. “There has to be measurable criteria. We are in the business of education. That is our job. There is no excuse for not showing improvement.”
Chase doesn’t believe the test standards will deter principals from applying at schools with a history of low scores. “If I want a job in the Chicago public school system I am going to apply with the confidence that in a few years I can bring this school up to the national norms. If an applicant does not have that attitude, they should not be a principal.”
Tom Gray, chair of the Local School Council Advisory Board, welcomes the addition of hard data, saying they provide clear standards for judging school improvement. “I think that the percentages are a key part of the new evaluation criteria,” he says.
Don Moore, executive director of the reform group Designs for Change, finds the standards for ratings in other areas lacking. “The standards for rating a principal—exceeds, meets, does not meet—are expressed so vaguely that they lend themselves to arbitrary evaluation. They invite favoritism and retribution,” he maintains.
Moore is also dismayed that the new form gives equal weight to issues critical to the School Improvement Plan for Advancing Academic Achievement (SIPAAA) and to compliance with what he calls “fairly minor administrative roles,” such as the cleanliness of the school building and grounds, and whether principals attend regional meetings.
“We would expect to see criteria on student achievement rated higher than those of attending meetings,” he says. “The low quality of the documents calls into question the decision to allow the central school administration to have this power.”
Recent amendments to the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act gave the system’s chief executive officer veto power over principal retention.
The evaluation process also requires principals to keep a file, called a portfolio, of all activities undertaken to improve their schools. In the area of evaluation of teacher performance, for example, principals will have to collect sample lesson plans, calendars of evaluation conferences and samples of teachers’ written communication with parents. In the area of school improvement plan implementation, principals will have to produce copies of their monthly reports to their LSCs. For budget development, documents include lists of budget meetings and attendance rosters.
Assistant principals next
The document is under review by the board’s law department, after which it will be sent to local school councils, principals and regional education officers. Then a new committee will be named to develop evaluation criteria for assistant principals.
Although no one connected with the principal evaluation process could provide a complete list of committee members, Eva Nickolovich, committee chair and Region 1 education officer, says a variety of groups were invited to participate. “Each region was invited to send a principal; the Chicago Principals and Administrations Association was asked to select a principal and to send an association representative. Carole Perlman, the director of student assessment was there, as was Dr. Charlene Vega, because of her knowledge of special education. We wanted to make sure that all groups were represented.”
The committee also included Jackie Baker, Office of Schools and Regions; Rudy Serna, Office of School and Community Relations; and representatives from the board’s law department, the Local School Council Advisory Board and the PTA. The criteria selection process was overseen by Lynn St. James, former chief education officer, who retired earlier this year.
Evaluation criteria for principals
Development, implementation and monitoring of the instructional program
Evaluation of teacher performance
ITBS and TAP reading and math scores
IGAP test scores
School climate indicators
Dropout rate (high schools)
Graduation rate (high schools)
Safety and security
Professional growth and development
Professional growth and development of staff
Professional growth and development of administrators
Maintenance of professional environment
Compliance with Board rules, polices and procedures; existing laws; and labor agreements
Implementation of School Improvement Plan for Advancing Academic Achievement
School internal accounts
Teacher, parent and community involvement
Development of school budget
Communication of school curriculum and student achievement
Interpersonal relations with parents and community