Most principals earn high marks on annual evaluations

(UPDATED, 11:40 a.m., Thursday, with numbers from one charter school included in the data used for this report.)

Idaho’s latest round of principal evaluations look strikingly similar to the state’s flawed teacher evaluations data that has sparked a firestorm of controversy over recent years.

More than 97 percent of Idaho school district principals evaluated in 2017-18 received one of the highest two possible marks, “proficient” or “distinguished,” according to numbers released by the State Department of Education.

Principals in 22 of 41 school districts received identical overall scores of “proficient.” No principals in these districts received other possible evaluation scores of “basic,” “unsatisfactory” or “distinguished.” No principal in the 41 districts examined for this report received a score of “unsatisfactory.”

Idaho Ed News received 2017-18 principal-evaluation data from the SDE for 109 school districts and 45 charter schools. Due to redactions stemming from districts and charters with fewer than five principals, Ed News analyzed data from 41 school districts — 654 evaluations in all —  for this report. Numbers from one charter school, Idaho Virtual Academy, showed that none of its principals were marked as “unsatisfactory.” Six were marked as “basic,” 22 as “proficient” and 10 as “distinguished.”

In another 10 of these 41 districts, almost every principal received a “proficient” score. For instance, 99 of 100 West Ada School District principals and 14 of 15 Lewiston School District principals earned “proficient” scores.

Unlike teacher evaluations, Idaho’s principal evaluations are not tied to pay. However, some experts and studies identify principal evaluations as an increasingly vital area of accountability.

“Every state should be laser focused on (principal effectiveness),” said Elizabeth Ross, managing director of state policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that recently gave Idaho’s principal evaluations mixed reviews. “Research increasingly demonstrates how important a strong school leader is, particularly in terms of student achievement.”

Idaho students perform at a much lower rate of proficiency. The latest round of student standardized test scores revealed a 53.7 percent proficiency rate in English language arts and a 43.3 percent proficiency rate in math.

What the numbers say

Here’s a snapshot of the latest principal evaluation numbers from across the state:

  • No principals (0 of 654) received a score of  “unsatisfactory.”
  • Just 2 percent (12 of 654) received scores of “basic.”
  • The vast majority of principals, 90.3 percent (591 of 654), received scores of “proficient.”
  • The remaining 7.7 percent (51 of 654), earned overall scores of “distinguished.”

These numbers bear strong resemblance to numbers in Idaho Ed News’ initial 2015 investigation into flawed teacher evaluations, which revealed that 82.9 percent of Idaho teachers scored “proficient” in 2013-14. Just 0.2 percent of the state’s teachers received scores of  “unsatisfactory” this same year, and only 2 percent received scores of “basic.”

Following Ed News’ initial report on flawed teacher evaluation data, the Professional Standards Commission last year reprimanded Superintendent Alan Dunn of the Sugar-Salem School District and now-lawmaker Ryan Kerby, a Republican formerly of the New Plymouth School District, for purposely altering numbers, or failing to follow state laws and guidelines, in their districts in order to protect educators’ privacy.

Leaders react to principal evaluation data

No school leader told Ed News that they falsified principal evaluations before submitting them to the state.

Linda Clark, then superintendent of the West Ada School District, called consistently proficient teacher evaluations “unconscionable” in 2015. But Clark, now president of the State Board of Education, told Ed News through a spokesman that she doesn’t know enough about the latest round of principal evaluations to offer comment.

Boise School District superintendent Dan Coberly said his district’s consistent “proficient” scores stem from a thorough vetting process and an emphasis on instruction dealing with behavioral issues and utilizing data.

“Most employees are proficient after having the benefit of this professional development,” Coberly said.

All of Boise’s 76 principals received a “proficient” score in 2017-18.

Coberly also said Boise’s principal evaluation framework, which does not include a category for “distinguished” principals, contributes to a high number of proficient ratings. Principals marked as “distinguished” in some other districts, Coberly said, are classified as “proficient” in Boise.

Boise’s deputy superintendent Coby Dennis said it’s important to also consider several years of data in order to see if too many principals are receiving proficient ratings.

“Just because a Boise principal received a proficient score this year doesn’t mean they will next year,” Dennis said.

All of Boise’s evaluated principals received proficient scores in 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18, according to SDE numbers.

More than 79 percent of the 657 school district principals whose 2016-17 evaluations were provided to Ed News received “proficient” scores. Less than 1 percent were marked as “unsatisfactory,” while just over 1 percent received scores of “basic” and 19 percent received scores of “distinguished.”

Of all the districts whose 2017-18 data were made available to Ed News, only Mountain Home rated more principals as either “basic” or “distinguished” than “proficient.” Mountain Home superintendent James Gilbert didn’t respond to multiple requests to discuss his district’s numbers.

Districts that marked all principals as “proficient” in 2017-18

  • Blaine County
  • Boise
  • Bonneville
  • Boundary County
  • Cassia County
  • Emmett
  • Filer
  • Fremont County
  • Jerome
  • Lakeland
  • Madison
  • Middleton
  • Minidoka County
  • Nampa
  • Payette
  • Pocatello-Chubbuck
  • Preston
  • Shelley
  • Snake River
  • Teton County
  • Weiser
  • West Bonner County

More about Idaho’s principal evaluations

The SDE’s statewide model for evaluations focus on three main areas: school climate, collaborative leadership and instructional leadership. Districts can instead create their own plans, as long as they align with state evaluation standards and meet state rules.

Click here and scroll to page 43 for administrative rules governing principal evaluations in Idaho.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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