As school districts across the country struggle to raise overall student achievement levels, a new state law will soon require evaluating school leaders’ efficacy in creating a positive learning environment.
A special session of the Minnesota legislature convened in 2011 and drafted statutory language requiring Minnesota schools to conduct annual evaluations of principals beginning in the 2013-2014 school year. Known as the Principal and Teacher Accountability Laws, the mandate not only requires principals to be assessed on eight separate criteria, but 35 percent of their score will be dictated by the level of academic growth in the schools they administer.
Superintendent of Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Scott Hannon and school administrators were recently in Rochester, Minn., discussing the new law. Hannon said while the district already conducts yearly principal evaluations, he feels placing more emphasis on test scores, such as those gathered from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) test, is "unfair."
“The MCA test is just a snapshot in the spring, which is why I don’t think that is the right way to go about it,” Hannon said. “It’s more about what kind of leadership you have in the building and making the effort to improve student achievement. That’s when I think we’ll see the positive scores.”
The Evaluating Minnesota’s School Principals model, created during the special session, says a superintendent must use a performance-based system to evaluate school leaders for the purpose of improving “the principal’s ability to shape the school’s professional environment and support and improve school performance, student achievement, and teacher quality, performance, and effectiveness.”
During the 2011 special session, the Minnesota Education Commissioner and the associations of secondary and elementary school principals developed the performance-based model that superintendents can use as a whole, or as a guideline to create their own site-specific evaluations.
“We actually feel we are very close to what the state is requiring,” Hannon said of the evaluation methods already in place in District 861. “So, to take what we already have and adapt it to what the state wants, I don’t see that being a problem.”
“All the principals [in our district] have set goals and we will work on things that will help us be better,” Hannon added. “We are totally on board with the principal evaluations.”
However, because Congress did not act on the impending expiration of the Bush-era education bill, No Child Left Behind, in 2008, provisions remain enforced. Recently, 34 states, including Minnesota, have met certain requirements—enacting laws requiring evaluations of principals—and received a waiver.
The waiver temporarily exempts these states from the provisions under No Child Left Behind, allowing them to set their own goals to raise student achievement levels.
In Minnesota, the Principal and Teacher Accountability Laws are scheduled to be in place for the upcoming school year. However, if Congress decides to reinstate No Child Left Behind with updated standards, waivers would be obsolete.
The new mandate also allows the district’s school board and a teacher representative to “jointly agree” on both the annual evaluation process and review for probationary and non-probationary teachers. Teacher evaluations will be required in the 2014-15 school year.