Under a new rating system that takes student test scores into account for the first time,  one in five elementary principals and about one in four high school principals earned scores of “developing”—the second-lowest level of the rating system.

Yet fewer than 1 percent of principals received the lowest rating of “unsatisfactory.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, just 18 percent of elementary principals and fewer than 7 percent of high school principals were rated “excellent.”

Most principals were rated somewhere in the middle, with 60 percent of elementary principals and 66 percent of high school principals earning “proficient” ratings.  

This is the first year that principal ratings include student achievement as a factor, a change mandated by state law. Achievement growth among students from “priority groups”— English learners, special education students, Latinos and African Americans—is a separate factor.

CPS says that the goal of the rating system is to give principals better feedback and help them improve. But it’s still not clear what consequences principals with low ratings may face: CPS is still revising its principal disciplinary process to line up with the new evaluations.

Broadly, the evaluations are based half on network chiefs’ observations of principal practice, and half on student growth, includes “on track” data.

Five percent of high school principals’ ratings are based on the “freshman on-track” measurement, which is the percentage of students who earned at least 5 credits and failed no more than one core course.

Also, 10 percent of elementary principals’ ratings are based on a brand-new on-track metric for 3rd through 8th grade students. Students are considered on track if they have a “C” or higher in math and reading, an attendance rate of at least 92 percent, and fewer than 3 misconducts.

For most elementary schools, the ratings include the following factors under student growth:

●  10% NWEA reading scores

●  10% NWEA math scores

●  15% “priority group” growth

●  5% 8th grade EXPLORE scores

 For most high schools, the student growth component includes the following:

●  20% EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT test growth

●  15% “priority group” growth

●  10% graduation, dropout and attendance rates

Feedback for growth

Judith Sauri, the principal of Edwards Elementary, says that she sees the new principal evaluations as a step forward. “Now I know how I can better myself,” she says.

For the observation part of the rating, Sauri explains, principals get to pick just two competencies to have the evaluation focus on.

“My boss visited me on my literacy night,” Sauri says. “He was taking pictures, he was videotaping, and then he did a thorough evaluation of how are my skills with parents and with the community.”

The deputy chief of schools also observed a local school council meeting, and Sauri says that although she picked her strongest areas to be observed on, she still ended up with useful suggestions.

Areas for improvement were “how to create systems,” Sauri notes. “I want to make (programs) more intentional.” For instance, in addressing students’ social emotional development, she wants to create a clear protocol to follow when children are bullied at school and similar systems to address academic problems and truancy.

However, Sauri says, the inclusion of student growth lowered many principals’ evaluations.

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, says the principal evaluations were marred by logistical problems.

“Everything rolled out extremely late. They didn’t get the information about the evaluation until February of 2013,” Berry says.

Also, Berry says, many of the principals did not receive their schools’ NWEA test score growth targets until long after CPS was supposed to have sent them out.

She is demanding that CPS count principals’ first ratings as a “practice” year, just as it did with tenured teachers.

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