Starting this spring, CPS will launch new principal evaluations that are based half on a school’s progress– including students’ improvement on test scores–and half on observations by district administrators.

Principals will be judged based on a new indicator CPS is developing for 3rd through 12th grade students that is meant to show how many students are “on track” to eventually graduate, based on their attendance, grades and number of student misconducts. The new indicator is currently being piloted at a number of schools.

The district aims to have 100 percent of its principals be “high-quality” by the 2014-2015 school year, but has not yet determined how that will be measured or what will happen to principals who score poorly.

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett insisted the new state-mandated evaluation “is not about failure, it’s about support.”

The new evaluations also will factor in the progress made by English language learners and special education students; and a combination of graduation rates, dropout rates and attendance.

Elementary principals will be rated on student growth in math and reading on the NWEA test, as well as 8th-grade EXPLORE test scores. High school principals will be rated on students’ growth on the EXPLORE, PLAN, and ACT tests. (EXPLORE and PLAN are precursor tests to the ACT.)

District officials haven’t decided yet how much weight will be assigned to each factor, but said principals will be rated most heavily on improvement among students who are considered “high-risk” and overall improvement in test scores. Overall, the different measures of student growth will add up to 50 percent of a principal’s evaluation.

The rest of a principal’s score will be based on an assessment of the district’s six “principal competencies”:  family and community engagement; a focus on continuous improvement of teachers and staff; creating professional learning systems; building a culture of college- and career- readiness; self-discipline; and vision.

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, says a draft version of the new system that she saw earlier this week indicated that in elementary schools, special education and English language learner student growth would account for 15 percent of a principal’s rating; student attendance, grades and misconduct for 10 percent; NWEA reading and math gains for 10 percent each; and 8th-grade EXPLORE scores for 5 percent.

“I am pleased in the sense that it is not one single high-stakes test,” Berry says. “I am concerned that [student growth] is such a large percentage of the principal’s evaluation.”

She adds that principals are concerned about the district having time to train network chiefs in the new evaluation system, and with the number of new initiatives CPS is rolling out.

“The principals are telling me they are drowning, just drowning,” Berry says. “It is just too much coming out too fast, with too little training. Everybody is overwhelmed.”

In recent years, CPS has aimed to make its principal eligibility process more selective, including a new component that requires candidates to undergo interactive role-playing to “demonstrate their skills in managing family and community.” The district also wants to improve training for principals through the Chicago Leadership Collaborative, and offer bonuses for performance and to recruit top candidates from outside Chicago.

Several principals contacted by Catalyst Chicago said they did not yet know enough about the evaluation system to form an opinion. One called the email from the district announcing the system “rather vague” and noted that “they are rolling this out late, which is not unusual.”

But Tatia Beckwith, the principal at Ray Elementary, said she was glad to see the district’s announcement.

“I am glad the principal evaluation tool is coming out. I am also happy to see it is paralleling the teacher evaluation tool, so we are all moving in the same direction – looking at similar procedures and similar data,” she said.

Elaine Allensworth, interim executive director of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, said in November that CPS had asked the Consortium to weigh in on it.

 “We sent them some research we have in progress so they could see the relationship, for example, between middle grades attendance, grades and test scores, and high school success,” Allensworth said. “Student grades in middle school are the best way to predict their grades in high school; attendance in middle school is the best way to predict their attendance in high school.”

What’s more, she added, researchers don’t know yet with certainty if schools that improve the Consortium’s much-researched freshman on-track rate will see improved student achievement down the line. “Does it encourage bad practice? Do we see more rampant grade inflation?” she asked.

Researchers at the Consortium are currently tackling those questions.

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