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Four key moves for principals to optimize K-12 evaluation—using the R.I.C.E. method

School principal Del Enders offers school leaders four tips to optimize K-12 evaluation. With these tips, they can measure success at any level.
Four key moves for principals to optimize K-12 evaluation—using the R.I.C.E. method
Four key moves for principals to optimize K-12 evaluation—using the R.I.C.E. method

R.I.C.E. is a guide for principals that breaks our work into four quadrants: relationship, instruction, communication and evaluation. By essentializing what we do, we reach our goals faster and with higher accuracy. Last month, I discussed communication tips for school leaders. This month, we will explore the “E” in the method, touching on key moves for evaluating as a principal.

The dreaded “e-word” elicits a strong response within global education communities—and groups who are still identifying best practices in this controversial area. Personally, I consider the act of evaluation essential. Reflection lies at the center of any evaluative process. Without regular reflection, I can’t ensure continual improvement and equity for students, staff and systems. As my favorite basketball coach, iconic NCAA legend and philosopher John Wooden simply puts it: “without proper…evaluation, failure is inevitable.” With this in mind, I offer school leaders four tips. You’ll be able to optimize K-12 evaluation and your ability to measure success at any level.

1. Help school stakeholders distinguish between evaluation and testing

Many use K-12 evaluation and testing synonymously, but it is important to clarify the two as they are technically different. Testing is a component of an evaluative process. It’s a measure of a particular subpoint: i.e. student Lexile score, strategic goal 2.4 or the summer school budget line.  

K-12 evaluation goes beyond these singular items and considers the whole. For example, a principal should measure teacher performance using a wide range of variables. This could include their ability to establish relationships, communicate with parents and collaborate with colleagues.  

Evaluating their performance based solely on student test scores is not an evaluation at all—it’s a test. Sharing this difference with stakeholders paves the way to reflective thinking that is rooted in a growth mindset.  For more information on this idea, visit the International TESOL Training page.

2. Go digital with K-12 evaluation

Using a digital tool, like Google Classroom, Hāpara Instructional Suite or other learning management systems to organize staff evaluations frees up desk and mind space. This means more time for what counts—authentic conversations about continual improvement.  

One of my favorite examples of going digital comes from Heather Garner, an elementary principal in Washington State. She leverages Google Classroom (GC) to pace a staff of 45 teachers and teacher aides through their respective evaluations. After her school has settled in late September, she invites her employees to enroll in her GC eval classes. 

Once enrolled, her staff can find everything they need to complete their respective evaluation process, including a list of key dates, observation forms and scoring rubrics. Heather uses the assignment feature to collect deliverables like post-observation notes, self-assessments and student work samples. She then uses the grading feature to note completion, provide feedback and return work that is not sufficient. Heather schedules all reminders and announcements and collects staff questions using GC’s stream feature. During teacher meetings, she uses a touchscreen laptop to easily navigate her GC classes, reviewing submitted materials alongside her staff.   

This fall, Heather is taking her digital evaluation process to the next level. Having recently adopted the Hāpara Instructional Suite, Heather plans to amplify her GC usage. She will use Hāpara’s Teacher Dashboard and Classroom Dashboard to seamlessly track teachers’ progress and provide timely feedback. She also plans to use the co-teacher functions to add other administrators to create more visibility. 

When I asked Heather what she likes most about her system, she said, “I really appreciate being able to create the eval course in the summer when things are quiet. And I also love that I can reuse the course each year, which saves me tons of time.”

3. Ensure evaluation equity via UDL guidelines

By default, staff who are being evaluated are vulnerable. It’s uber important for leaders to ensure equity and fairness when measuring performance in the workplace. When principals infuse UDL practices into their K-12 evaluation systems, the rate of improvement increases. It also preserves authenticity and academic freedom. 

Here’s a list of UDL moves, adapted from CAST Professional Learning, that will help:

  • Begin with the end in mind by aligning staff goals with school/district goals.  
  • Invite multiple voices via PLCs focused on the continual improvement process.  
  • Reflect on the process with leadership teams throughout the year.
  • Use and share rubrics to clarify expectations.  
  • Provide staff with flexibility when showcasing progress. 
  • Eliminate unnecessary barriers the process may generate.  
  • Opt for multiple, shorter observations or drop-ins versus one or two formal observations.
  • Take time to see both the whole and key components of staff performance.
  • Courageously yet compassionately offer authentic and timely feedback tied to evidence.

4. Re-educate parents and students about K-12 evaluation

Despite large advances in how we evaluate student performance, anti-measurement culture is alive and well. Parents do not want their children over or under-evaluated. Plus, learners see “evaluations,” a.k.a. tests, as boring, intimidating or confusing. 

To create more support in this area, I recommend the following high leverage moves.

Parent information nights

Parent information nights are ideal settings to explain the who, what, when, how and why regarding student evaluations. These include report cards, portfolios, student work samples, state testing, SEL screening and more. 

Be sure to hold parent info nights at least two times per year. I recommend holding them on campus, offering food, games and raffles to attract reluctant attendees. Broadcast your presentation using a service like YouTube Live for parents wanting to attend virtually. You can also record the broadcast to share out later. Focus on the benefits of K-12 evaluation and assessment.  

Case studies

In a bi-monthly Smore newsletter, a fellow administrator of mine sends out short but powerful case studies and personal accounts. Included are K-12 learners that have benefited from an evaluative process.    

At-a-glance info sheets

I use these quick-hitters to share details about particular assessment systems before, during and after key assessment seasons. I started using them after adopting a top-shelf digital assessment system three years ago only to run into heavy parent pushback. That was because I did a poor job of sharing the details that made the new system so great. After a couple of after-school round table sessions to troubleshoot the issue, most parents loved the new method.  Now, before running into such roadblocks, I use at-a-glance info sheets to prime the pump.  

Parent Groups

Two years ago, I was juggling several initiatives at the same time and was tip-toeing serious burnout. Desperately in need of bandwidth, I turned to my school parent/teacher association and asked for help. I met with the president and vice president and shared my list of needs and to-dos. 

They identified three items they could manage with little input from me and ran with them. They did an amazing job, and I learned that I don’t have to do everything by myself. Since that time, my PTA has successfully spearheaded the curriculum review process for an elementary literacy program and an SEL screening.

Explore SEL strategies that will help you create a more positive and equitable school and district culture.

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