Climate, Culture and Test Scores
What happens to climate and culture in a school building when principals are evaluated by student test results?
Gail Connelly and JoAnne Bartoletti,, heads of the NAESP and NASSP, respectively, late last year presented a framework for principal evaluation. Thirty-four states now require student test scores to be a part of a principal’s evaluation, a move the two leaders call “absurd.” Instead, they say, student progress should be just one part of a 6-part evaluation. The other five areas for evaluation should be professional growth and learning, school planning and progress, stakeholder support and engagement, professional qualities and practices, and school culture. Principal evaluation, they say, should be based on “valid, fair, and reliable measurements and used as a collaborative improvement tool and not for punishment.”
Of course, leaders of teachers’ associations made the same argument against using test scores as a significant part of teacher evaluation – to no avail. Race to the Top and waivers for No Child Left Behind require that test scores be part of both teachers’ and principals’ evaluations. But many of the new principal evaluations look at school climate surveys as well. So the question is, if a principal’s or teacher’s evaluation (and maybe job) depends on improvement of test scores, will those climate surveys negatively reflect that additional pressure on both principals and teachers?
Clyde A. Cole, the executive director of content and curriculum for New Leaders, a New York City nonprofit, says that school climate and culture are key elements of school success. Still, he admits, a principal who finds herself under pressure to improve test scores may pay less attention to classroom discipline or teacher collaboration.
So now we have a yet another educational initiative: Training principals to develop a positive school climate and culture. (as if it has nothing to do with evaluation). According to various training agencies, universities just haven’t done a good enough job of helping aspiring principals figure out that climate and culture are important.
Frankly, I find that hard to believe.
I can’t shake the
feeling that all of this is a classic case of “the beatings will continue until
morale improves.” School climate and
culture matter. In my experience,
nothing good can happen in a school
unless faculty and administration are on the same page. I have always believed that everyone wants to be a part of a successful school, and as a principal I used to tell my faculty, “I want this school to be so good that other teachers in the area will say, ‘I wish there were an opening there. I would love to work there.’” Teachers who feel valued, appreciated, and protected by their principal are more likely to go the extra mile for kids and to see themselves as professionals. Good test scores are a result of a good school climate and culture; it’s not the other way around. That’s why the idea of positive school climate and culture permeated the entire program in education administration at the State University of New York, where I taught. And I believe climate and culture are an integral component of many other preparation programs as well.
Building a positive school climate and educational culture doesn’t happen overnight. It will be interesting to see if principals will be able to keep test scores in perspective given their big part in their evaluation.