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Principals question role of test scores in new evaluation process

When Alle-Kiski Valley school superintendents evaluate their principals' performance this year, student achievement will be half the equation.

This school year, the principals' performance will be evaluated through a set of criteria designed to improve performance and accountability, under the state's Educator Effectiveness Project.

A similar evaluation tool was put into play last year for teachers.

“A lot of it is in line with what we are implementing now,” said Matthew Curci, Apollo-Ridge superintendent. “A lot of it has to do with documentation. Obviously, we'll have to tweak a little bit to fall in line with the state process, but what they're asking for is similar.”

One aspect of the new evaluation process for principals — that educators don't like — is the inclusion of how students perform on standardized tests.

“There is more to teaching and education than the test scores,” said Tom Rocchi, principal at H.D. Berkey Elementary School in the New Kensington-Arnold School District, where he has worked for 54 years, 49 as an administrator.

“It's a step in the right direction,” he said of the new process. “I am highly in favor of accountability.

“But I don't think this is the way to measure it.

“We (principals) are the instructional leaders, so we are a part of this. But there are other ways of assessing that — not by a test score.”Cheryl Griffith, Allegheny Valley superintendent, was asked if the new evaluations process is really that different from previously used methods.

“Yes and no,” she said. “As far as the (criteria), I don't believe that was a whole lot different, truthfully. But looking in totality at student achievement and student success, to that degree, it is a change.

“There is more accountability for what is deemed to be the bottom line,” Griffith said.

Looking at it in totality, up to 50 percent of the principal evaluation could be comprised of standardized test score data, depending on what the district decides.

“I guess the biggest thing I‘m concerned about is the data, the test scores,” said Catherine Russo, principal at Highlands High School. “If they are not good, then it reflects on you; but, at the same time, it makes me accountable.”

“Is there truly a correlation between the education, what the leadership is and what the test scores are?” she said.

She and Rocchi make the point that students from disadvantaged families are faced with more problems and greater challenges when it comes to learning.

Rocchi said that even when such children are improving, growing as students, it may not be reflected in a standardized test score. But reliance on the scores reflects negatively on teachers and principals, they said.

“Really what I am looking for with all this is student growth,” he said. “That doesn't make a teacher a failure if the (student) is growing. Not all kids in our business grow at the same rate mentally, so I think the growth is way more important than the benchmarks.”

Russo said it's unfair to measure districts and schools that have larger numbers of such students with those that have few.

“I am all for accountability,” she said, “but when you hold every school in the state to the same standard, that doesn't reflect the challenges that face some of the schools.”

“You have to take it for what it's worth,” Apollo-Ridge's Curci said. “This is one test maybe taken over a couple of days' time. Does it give you a good picture? Yes, but there is more to it than that.”

“There are intangibles,” he said. “What a student demonstrates on those two days of testing may not display what they have learned.“There is a lot more that goes on within a school, within a community every day than just those test scores,” Curci said.

David Volkman, special assistant to state Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said the new processes began being developed in 2010 because previous evaluations didn't seem to be effective in rating principals.

“We had too many ‘distinguished,' too many ‘satisfactory' (evaluation ratings), and we really needed to leave out people who were not pulling their weight,” he said.When the federal “Race To The Top” education program came into effect later, evaluation processes were part of the requirements.

Yet, Volkman said that Dumaresq has repeatedly said it is not meant to be a “gotcha” tool aimed at teachers or principals.

He said the state had complete freedom in developing its evaluation tool and sought input from teachers, principals and superintendents on what it should be.

Volkman referred to it as a “home-grown instrument,” not some standard national model, and does not have an over-dependence on standardized scores.

“We wanted to make sure that various components went into to make sure that performance improved,” Volkman said.Despite his misgivings, Rocchi thinks that will happen.

“There are some things I don't like about it. I am sure there are some things the teachers don't like about it,” he said. “But one thing I am sure of is: It will improve instruction.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.


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