Measuring School Climate for Gauging Principal Performance

Matthew A. Clifford
Roshni Menon
Christopher Condon
Katie Hornung

Many states and school districts are working to improve principal performance evaluations as a means of ensuring that effective principals are leading schools. Federal incentive programs (e.g., Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and School Improvement Grants) and state policies support consistent and systematic measurement of principal effectiveness so that school districts can clearly determine which principals are most and least effective and provide appropriate feedback for improvement. Although professional standards are in place to clearly articulate what principals should know and do, states and school districts are often challenged to determine how to measure principal performance in ways that are fair, systematic and useful.

Evaluating Principal Performance

Designing principal performance evaluation is challenging for several reasons, two of which are given here. First, the literature provide little guidance on effective principal performance evaluation models. Few research or evaluation studies have been conducted to test the effectiveness of one evaluation system over another. Second, reliance on current practice is problematic. Researchers have found that district performance evaluation practices are inconsistent and idiosyncratic, and they provide little meaningful feedback to improve leadership practice. This means that performance evaluation designers have few guideposts to inform new designs.

One guidepost offered by research suggests that principals influence teaching and learning by creating a safe and supportive school climate. Some designers of improved school principal evaluation systems are including school climate surveys as one of many measures of principal performance. School climate data are important sources of feedback because principals often have control over school-level conditions, although they have less direct control over classroom instruction or teaching quality. High-quality principal performance evaluations are closely aligned to educators’ daily work and immediate spheres of influence. Such evaluation data offer educators opportunities to reflect on and improve their practices.

This policy brief provides principal evaluation system designers information about the technical soundness and cost (i.e., time requirements) of publicly available school climate surveys.