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Professional Opinion

7 design principles for superintendent evaluations

A framework for constructing fair, high standards for accountability
Jason E. Glass is superintendent and chief learner at Eagle County Schools in Colorado.
Jason E. Glass is superintendent and chief learner at Eagle County Schools in Colorado.

All across the country, discussions around improving educator effectiveness and evaluation have become synonymous. Forces from state houses and federal agencies compel us to engage in the work of redesigning evaluation systems and to devise ways of using student outcomes as a significant part of that effort.

Superintendents and the evaluations they use are coming directly into the crosshairs.

Our working national theory of change is this: If we have evaluation systems that significantly use student outcomes in their calculations and which are hitched to high stakes employment decisions, then the quality of instruction and the effectiveness of the educator being evaluated will increase.

As intuitive as that sounds, there is a dearth of quality evidence to support such a theory. We have launched ourselves into a grand experiment based on the premise that the evaluation process has a causal relationship with instruction and student academic performance.

Educators and school boards all across our country are engaged, headlong, in trying to make these evaluation systems work. As superintendents, we have an opportunity and the responsibility to help shape the effort in a positive way.

Design principles

Listed here are seven design principles that school boards and superintendents should consider in constructing superintendent evaluations. They will provide high standards for accountability and a framework for ongoing discussions about student improvement.

  1. Start with standards: A quality evaluation system needs to be founded on a set of professional standards for educational leaders. If your state has these, that is a good place to start. If not, synthesizing standards from other states or from national organizations can get your evaluation system off to a good start.
  2. Set high expectations: Great superintendents have high expectations for their students, staff and fellow administrators. Boards should set the bar by holding high professional expectations for superintendents through evaluation systems. Evaluation systems should stretch personal potential and push organizational capacity to new levels.
  3. Go for clarity: To improve both the validity and reliability of your evaluation system, use plain language and create clear scoring rubrics for each standard. There should be a range of performance criteria, and board members should be able to accurately judge a superintendent’s performance using those criteria.
  4. Local context: Every community has a unique context and localized goals. Find ways to weave these into the evaluation system so that the superintendent’s goals are deeply relevant to the school organization and the community.
  5. Know the limitations of data: Student results and other measures are important and should be included in the superintendent’s evaluation as benchmarks of progress. However, every measure has issues relating to bias, error, reliability and validity. Mitigate some of these issues by using a variety of measures and by looking at data at the system level.
  6. Democracy begets collective wisdom: School boards represent our communities and should therefore always be treated with reverence and respect. Using all of your board members in an evaluation process allows for broad input across multiple perspectives and segments of the community. A process where all board members have input and which culminates in an overall determination of the superintendent’s performance balances multiple perspectives and produces a better overall evaluation.
  7. Continuous feedback: Evaluation should not be an event. Superintendents should schedule regular times with the school board to review performance, note accomplishments and identify areas for improvement. Culminating evaluations need not be a surprise for anyone if a system of regular feedback, coaching and improvement are built in.

Evaluations are an opportunity to set and articulate high standards, review key performance metrics and establish an ongoing dialogue about improvement. But it’s inner drive and moral purpose that makes superintendents get up in the morning. Genuine love for students, educators and community are embedded in our calling to this profession, and this is what inspires us to greatness.

Jason E. Glass is superintendent and chief learner at Eagle County Schools in Colorado.