First of a Two-Part Series: Turning the Tables on Assessment: Assessing and Evaluating School Boards and Superintendents Are Vital to Meeting District Goals

By Namit, Chuck | District Administration, November 2008 | Go to article overview

First of a Two-Part Series: Turning the Tables on Assessment: Assessing and Evaluating School Boards and Superintendents Are Vital to Meeting District Goals


Namit, Chuck, District Administration


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FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS ARE CRUCIAL FOR MANAGING ALL areas of a district--and not just for students but even for the leaders themselves. A school district leadership team is comprised of the school board, forming the governance team, and the superintendent, who is the leader of the management team. But how does the school board track progress toward goals? How does the public know whether the board and superintendent are fulfilling their roles effectively? As a child, my mother would let me throw boiled spaghetti noodles on the refrigerator door to see if they would stick a sign that the noodles were cooked. Unfortunately, school boards and administrators often throw up self-assessment and evaluation instruments in a similar fashion, to see what sticks or what's effective. But there's another way.

One Model

One method of assessing the effectiveness of district leaders is an evaluation process. In 1996, Strategem started its work on one. The approach is unique in that many school board and school administrator associations, such as those in Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado, have developed assessment and evaluation instruments, but few have developed a comprehensive assessment and evaluation process. There has not been an integrated model that guides the leadership team to govern better, while being fully accountable to the public for educating students. A growing number of state association trainers have taken this new model and applied it to their work with school boards and school superintendents. Self-assessment of the board and evaluation of the superintendent's performance is fundamental to the success of a school district. Without self-assessment and evaluation, progress and goal achievement cannot be measured. These tools provide the leadership team with the best opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Through the self-assessment and the evaluation processes, goals are revised and improvement is facilitated. Before putting an evaluation process in place, the board must answer some questions, such as: What are the legal requirements of superintendent evaluation? What is the purpose of the evaluation? Parallel leadership roles in the public school governance structure exist so that the "chief operating officer" is the superintendent, who also serves as leader of the management team, and the "chief governance officer" is board chairman or president, or governance team leader. The parallel leadership of the board and the superintendent is enhanced when the board self-assesses its governance of the school district, monitors the district's performance as measured against established goals, and evaluates the superintendent's performance. These elements are part of the accountability measures that the board must put in place to assure the public that the school district is providing an excellent education for its students.

Evaluation versus Assessment

It is important to differentiate between assessment and evaluation to more precisely define the function of each instrument. Ken O'Connor, author of How to Grade for Learning, has provided some help. Although O'Connor's concepts for the assessment and evaluation come from a grading frame of reference, I've adapted his concepts and applied them to the board self-assessment and superintendent evaluation process. So an assessment is "the process of gathering information" about the school board's performance as it relates to the governance process and board-superintendent relations. It answers the question "How is it going?"

An evaluation is "the process of integrating information from many sources and using it to make judgments" about the performance of the superintendent. It answers the question "How good is it?" In effect, the board self-assesses its governance performance, while evaluating the superintendent's performance in leading the school district. Ultimately, the public holds individual board members accountable for student success at election time. …

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