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Matter of Principals: School Administrators Also Getting New Grading System

Revamped evaluations, which don’t apply only to teachers, prompt questions from principals association about criteria

NJ Spotlight
All of the attention paid to the Christie administration’s roll-out of the new teacher-evaluation system has been on how New Jersey teachers will be judged, but equally critical will be how the system judges the judges: school principals.

The new evaluation system – renamed “Achieve NJ” on the eve of a public campaign starting this week – was outlined in new proposed regulations released last week by the state Department of Education.

The teacher component was the subject of most of the immediate discussion, especially about its use of student test scores as a significant factor in at least some teacher ratings.

The component dealing with the state’s 2,500 school principals is a bit more nuanced, with a host of different factors shaping the ratings for them, as well as assistant principal and vice principals.

For instance, principals in schools that take state tests will see as much as 15 percent of their evaluation based on their school’s test scores, but they will also be evaluated on how they evaluate teachers on attaining other achievement objectives, as well as their own goals.

In all, there are five different pieces to the principal’s evaluation, each varying depending on the kind of school they lead.

Principal Evaluation Components

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While it may not rise to the level of debate over the new system for evaluating teachers, the state’s principals association is already weighing in with questions and concerns.

“It all seems to be moving very quickly, that’s my fear,” said Patricia Wright, the executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. “People are feeling overwhelmed right now.”

Part of Wright’s concern is the different systems that will be used for different administrators, which will be based on a system of weights to be determined by the education department each year.

Principals in schools with sufficient years of testing will see as much as 30 percent of their ratings based on their school’s test performance. Those with just one grade tested will see that count for 20 percent. Those without tested students will have another formula altogether that will emphasize other achievement objectives that have yet to be developed.

Meanwhile, the separate administrator goals set by the principal and his or her supervisor will count for anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of the rating, depending on the school.

“Certainly the inequity of that will be raised,” Wright said.

But the bigger issue is that the group’s members face the prospect of putting in place a new evaluation system for teachers while facing their own judgment day.

‘The principal is smack in the idle of this, and I think a difficult place to be in,” Wright said.

Fourteen districts have piloted the new principal-evaluation system this year, reporting varying levels of progress.

The state Department of Education, in its latest update to districts, said that pilot districts like North Brunswick have seen an improvement in the dialogue about leadership and its impact on teaching and learning.

Wright agreed that discussion has indeed improved, but she hopes that her members will be given the chance to grow and learn as well.

“The capacity issues are huge,” she said. “Principal evaluation has taken a back seat in all this, and it’s unfortunate. It’s the principals who will be handling the biggest piece of all this.”

The principal evaluation system, as well as the one proposed for teachers, will be part of a public campaign launched by the education department this week, with its first presentation scheduled Wednesday in Toms River. The session will be held at Toms River High School North from 3:30-5:30 p.m.

The campaign had been called the Excellent Educators for New Jersey (EE4NJ). In addition to its new name, AchieveNJ, it has a new website and a number of new resources.

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