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School Principal Evaluation by Student Growth

Using test scores to measure teacher performance is about as contentious a topic as any in education.  In 2010, when the Illinois legislature passed a law requiring school districts to use data and indicators of student growth to evaluate the performance of principals, there was no surprise that principals were initially hesitant.

Research from MEd Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics and Assessment (MESA) student Jennifer Darling found that districts using growth measures for more than a year were almost universally pleased with the outcomes.  She sampled early adopter schools, meeting with principals in schools to gauge school culture and climate and how principals were using student growth measures to improve their own performance and their schools.

“Some principals were hesitant to say anything, but once they started talking about the cool things they were doing with the data, you could see them relax and get excited about the fact it was impacting student learning,” Darling said.

Working with her advisor, Carol Myford, PhD, associate professor of educational psychology, Darling surveyed principals on their reactions to PERA, how growth measures are used in their schools, professional development associated with growth measures, how growth is used in evaluations, how much student growth is discussed in the school culture and uses for growth measures outside of evaluations.

She said principals were generally pleased that districts were free to choose how they would use growth measures in evaluations.  Most felt that districts were supporting principals by using growth measures as an assessment tool rather than a punitive tool.  School leaders are using the opportunity to measure present student achievement measures against historical norms to identify areas in need of improvement.  Principals also said they benefited from learning what areas their peers were successful in.  The use of growth measures has spurred conversation between principals to build a compendium of best practices across districts.

“There is excitement among principals about being able to talk to kids and spend time on social-emotional learning,” Darling said. “To see a number and have something concrete, it’s helping to get them talking and learning more about their kids in a different way.”

Darling hopes to continue her research at the doctoral level and hopes to continue focusing on student growth.  She is curious how student growth impacts the learning environment, particularly how growth measures can assist in pinpointing students and building individualized instruction.  As the principal evaluation law comes into full effect, Darling hopes to expand her data set to conduct a larger study across a number of districts.