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updated: 9/11/2012 5:28 PM

District 204 principal reviews tied to student achievement

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By Kristy Kennedy
Daily Herald correspondent

Job reviews of principals in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 will be based in part on the achievement of the students in their schools.

The changes, effective this school year, mean 30 percent of principal evaluations are tied to student growth. The lion's share, 60 percent, of the evaluation is based on "professional practice" -- how a principal is meeting his goals as well as feedback and observations from staff. The remaining 10 percent is a self-assessment.

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"I think this is going to drive the district work to the best it ever has been," Superintendent Kathy Birkett said.

The yearly evaluations are new requirements that must be followed by all Illinois schools this year under the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA). By 2016, all schools in the state also will include student academic growth in teacher evaluations.

Using a model provided by the DuPage Regional Office of Education, District 204 went beyond the PERA requirement that calls for 25 percent of principal evaluations to be based on student growth for the first two years. After that, the percentage increases to 30 percent. PERA also mandates 50 percent of evaluations be based on professional practice and the remaining 20-25 percent decided by the district.

The new evaluations are a lot of extra work. Evaluators must go through weeks of training and must take time to tailor professional goals by meeting with principals to determine school needs, to define principal job requirements and to take previous evaluations into account. For instance, one principal might work on communication and another might work on increasing attendance or participation in a program.

Also, district officials have to decide what assessments to use to determine whether students fell short, met goals or exceeded growth benchmarks. District 204 will have to perform an assessment audit of sorts, Assistant Superintendent Kathy Pease said. "What do we have? What do we need? What can we create and how can we best do it so it doesn't interfere with instruction time?" she said. Also, districts can't use teacher-made tests, but can use districtwide, research-based tests or nationwide achievement tests.

Complicating matters, student evaluations must happen within a single school year before March 1, a state law deadline for school evaluations. That means students must be assessed at the beginning of a school year and then again in early February at the latest. But, Illinois Standards Achievement Test results can't be used because they are scored well after the March 1 deadline. "We don't have at the secondary level, the kinds of tests we need," Assistant Superintendent Linda Rakestraw said. "We're going to have to purchase new assessments."

Meanwhile, principals will have to provide evidence to back up their self-assessments, a way principals can show things they are working on that may not be captured in the other evaluations. "In case you didn't see this in me, here's what I'm doing," Rakestraw said. Also, the self-assessment gives principals room to reflect on how they can improve, Pease said.

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