Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 | San Diego Unified is crafting a new, more rigorous way of judging principals that would include whether student test scores, dropout rates and attendance had improved on their watch, a change that could prove controversial with their new union.
Superintendent Terry Grier said the new evaluation has “tremendous potential,” and praised it for linking student success to the fates of the principals who lead their schools. The new evaluation also includes dozens of other criteria beyond testing and would happen more frequently than in the past.
It will be the first major issue for the nascent principals union to hash out in negotiations. Tying test scores to the fates of employees is contentious among educators, some of whom fear that tests can be an incomplete and sometimes misleading measure of school progress, depending on how the data are crunched. The Obama Administration is now locked in a grueling debate with teachers unions over whether schools should evaluate and reward teachers based on test scores.
Evaluating principals using test scores may be an easier step for schools to take, and many have already taken it. Experts say that even when evaluations are mum on the subject of test scores, low scores may implicitly be part of the calculus when principals are let go or transferred to other schools. Principals’ work rules are often looser than teachers’ contracts, making it simpler for school districts to change them without a fight. Even principals who are unionized have signaled that they are open to the idea.
Before San Diego schools can hold their principals to the new standards, the plan must pass muster with the newly formed principals union. That union has yet to formally discuss the proposal, but its leaders are already uneasy with some of the new criteria and the sheer scope of the new evaluation.
“How the heck are you going to be held accountable for all of those things at the same time? And who will want to go to a lower performing school?” asked Jeannie Steeg, executive director of the Administrators Association. Yet she added that compared to the brief and vague evaluation used in the past, “Anything’s an improvement.”