Component 1: Specifying Evaluation System Goals

Component 1a: Specifying Evaluation System Goals

The first step in designing a principal evaluation system is to specify evaluation system goals and a definition of principal effectiveness. Clear, explicit goals and definitions will drive the evaluation design. Specifying the goals of a principal evaluation system is a critical, first step. Explicit, well- articulated goals are the basis for developing and maintaining a comprehensive principal evaluation system because they provide guidance to designers on what the evaluation system should and should not do. In addition, clear system goals help stakeholders gain a clear understanding of the evaluation system and provide researchers a basis for evaluating system performance.

Component 1b: Defining Principal Effectiveness and Establishing Standards

After the goals and purposes of an evaluation system are established, states and districts should align goals to principal professional standards. The task often begins by defining the term effective principal. This definition may differ from the definition of the term principal quality, which tends to focus on training, knowledge, or attitudes held by a principal. Principal effectiveness focuses on principal practices and achieved outcomes.

After the term effective principal has been defined, professional standards can be aligned to that definition. Many states have adopted professional standards for use in principal certification, hiring, and evaluation. Standards are the basis for definitions of desired performance, and the rating scale by which principal performance can be assessed.

For a more detailed discussion of these topics, see the full downloadable Acrobat version of A Practical Guide to Designing Comprehensive Principal Evaluation Systems.

Component 1a: Specifying Evaluation System Goals

System goals and purposes

Guiding Questions

Goal definition

Guiding Questions

Goal alignment

Guiding Questions

Component 1b: Defining Principal Effectiveness and Establishing Standards

Definition of
effective principal

Guiding Questions

Principal standards

Guiding Questions

  • Have the goals and purposes of the evaluation system been determined?
  • What purposes will the evaluation system address (e.g., improved principal practice, competency decisions, articulating state/district goals, support teacher evaluation, establish a coherent vision)?
  • What types of effects will the improved principal evaluation system achieve (e.g., improved leadership practices, school conditions, instructional quality, student achievement)?
  • What do school principals, superintendents, and others within the state believe should be the goals of principal evaluation and how pervasive are these goals?
  • What educational policies, programs, and initiatives may be influenced by principal evaluation design (e.g., school improvement planning, principal certification)?
  • Are the goals explicit, well-defined, and clearly articulated for stakeholders?
  • To what degree are goals stated in measurable terms (e.g., learning improvement, closing achievement gaps)?
  • To what degree are goals written to represent the opinions and perspectives of multiple stakeholder groups in clear, concise language that is accessible by all?
  • To what degree are the relationships between principal evaluation system goals clearly articulated?
  • Are the system goals acceptable to stakeholders?
  • Have the evaluation goals been aligned to the state strategic plan, the principal evaluation system design communication plan, principal preparation or professional development initiatives, and pertinent school improvement initiatives?
  • How can principal evaluation system goals align with other initiatives to create more coherence among human capital support systems for school leaders in this state?
  • How can principal evaluations align with teacher evaluations so that educator evaluation is more coherent and the two systems are mutually supportive?
  • To what degree will districts have flexibility and input in state-level goals and designs?
  • Has the state defined what constitutes an effective principal?
  • Is the state’s definition of an effective principal or a highly effective principal consistent with accepted definitions of principal effectiveness?
  • Does the definition of principal effectiveness include language about the growth of students or student populations that have historically underperformed on national, state, or local tests?
  • How, if at all, will the definition of principal effectiveness reflect differences in organizational level (i.e., elementary, middle, high), school context, or previous school performance?
  • Is the definition of effectiveness observable and measurable?
  • Will the definition of effectiveness account for professional practice, school performance, teacher support and performance, and community perspectives on leadership, in addition to student achievement?
  • How compatible is the definition of principal effectiveness with the state/district definition of teacher, teacher leader, or other educator effectiveness?
  • Has the state established principal standards in law, statute, or rule?
  • Has the state or district adopted principal standards?
  • Are the state standards aligned with the definition of principal effectiveness?
  • Which standards are considered essential and will be adopted into principal evaluation design?
  • Are the adopted standards observable and measurable, or will indicators need to be articulated? To what degree are principal standards accepted by professional associations, principal preparation programs, and other pertinent entities in the state?
  • How, if at all, are principal standards aligned with teacher standards so that they mutually support educator effectiveness?
  • Are the standards free of “high inference” language or jargon that makes them prone to misinterpretation?
  • Have indicators been developed and operationalized into at least four levels of performance, or must the committee do this work?


Evaluating School Principals (Tips & Tools)

This Tips & Tools document from the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality summarizes approaches to principal evaluation design, highlights challenges to evaluation implementation, and identifies state and district examples of strong implementation. Extensive resources and links to programs are provided so that readers can access case examples.

Assessing the Promise of Standards-Based Performance Evaluation for Principals: Results From a Randomized Trial (Subscription Required)

This 2009 research study surveyed and interviewed 76 principals from a school district in the western United States about their attitudes toward their principal evaluation systems. Principals were randomly assigned to be evaluated using a new standards-based evaluation system or their district’s current system and then asked their perceptions about whether they received clearer performance expectations, better feedback, greater fairness and system satisfaction, and spending more effort on priorities emphasized in the new evaluation system.

Key Features of a Comprehensive Principal Evaluation System

Developed by researchers at WestEd and validated through focus groups with principals, superintendents, human resource directors, and other leaders and experts in the field of education, this document identifies the necessary elements needed to establish a comprehensive principal evaluation system.

Evaluating Principals: Balancing Accountability With Professional Growth

This report, developed by New Leaders for New Schools, puts forth four ideas for improving current principal evaluation systems as well as specific recommendations tailored for federal, state, and district policymakers on this issue.

The Evaluation of Principals: What and How Do States and Urban Districts Assess Leadership? (Subscription Required)

This article presents results of a comprehensive review of principal leadership assessment practices in the United States. It provides an in‐depth look at how districts and states evaluate principals and analyzes both the general content and the usage of 65 instruments, 56 at the district level and 9 at the state level.


Component 1a: Specifying Evaluation System Goals


The State of Massachusetts has two major goals for its principal evaluation system: (1) promote student learning, growth, and achievement by providing administrators with feedback for improvement, enhanced opportunities for professional growth, and clear structures for accountability and (2) provide a record of facts and assessments for personnel. The system is designed to promote principal growth and learning through the provision of performance feedback and to ensure that administrators’ strengths are recognized.
The overall vision and goals of the evaluation system and ultimately, the state’s regulations, were informed by stakeholder input resulting from numerous outreach strategies including a newly established 40-member state task force, public discussions at eight board meetings, ongoing public outreach efforts, and a regulatory comment period. Supporters’ interest related to desire for change, support for prioritizing student learning and professional growth, concern about the implementation challenge for school districts and educators, and desire for guidance in determining educator impact on student growth in all grades and subjects as well as specialist fields.
For more details, see the following:

Component 1b: Defining Principal Effectiveness and Establishing Standards

North Carolina

In response to federal requirements, North Carolina has recently adopted definitions of principal effectiveness. These definitions are linked to standards for principal practice established by the state when it formed the framework for the North Carolina School Executive Standards. These standards are borrowed from a Wallace Foundation study, Making Sense of Leading Schools: A Study of the School Principalship (2003). These standards are interrelated and grounded in daily practice. As such, they function as a guide for principals for both self-reflection and improving their effectiveness as leaders across their careers. In addition, the standards provide a focus for principal evaluators on district goals and objectives as they monitor and evaluate principal performance. Further, the standards serve as a guide for professional development for principals as well as a tool for their supervisors to develop coaching and mentoring programs. The seven critical standards are (1) strategic leadership, (2) instructional leadership, (3) cultural leadership, (4) human resource leadership, (5) management leadership, (6) external development leadership, and (7) micropolitical leadership. The eighth standard relates to student growth.

North Carolina defines an effective principal as one who receives a rating of at least “proficient” on each of the Principal Evaluation Standards 1-7 and receives a rating of at least “meets expected growth” on Standard 8 of the Principal Evaluation Instrument. In addition, the state defines a highly effective principal as one who receives a rating of at least “accomplished” on each of the Principal Evaluation Standards 1-7 and receives a rating of “exceeds expected growth” on Standard 8 of the Principal Evaluation Instrument.

For more details, see North Carolina State Board of Education Policy Manual