BOE OKs evaluation system

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education approved a new plan that focuses on student achievement and more effective teaching, while implementing a new principal evaluation system.

During its monthly meeting Tuesday night, the school board unanimously approved a recommendation from Superintendent Gary Mathews that calls for two nonnegotiable goals for the school system -- increased student achievement and more effective teaching.

"We asked the board to join us in a body of research," Mathews said Tuesday, adding that the new initiatives are meant to improve the capacity of every teacher to aim for high-quality results.

Taking the idea from the book "District Leadership That Works" by Robert Marzano and Timothy Waters, who study boards of education, Mathews aims to focus attention and improvement on all levels at NCSS, citing students performance that is below state levels and standards on recent results of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, Georgia High School Graduation Tests and college entrance exams, among others.

Accompanying the focus is a new principal evaluation form developed by county office staff and the principals based on the nonnegotiables. Mathews said research shows that more effective principals bring on more effective faculty, thus producing better learning results for students.

"What the principal does and doesn't do has a big impact on the overall academic health of a school," Mathews said last week.

Principals earn points when they and their schools achieve certain goals. They could attain more than 40 points when their schools have demonstrated increased student achievement, another 40 points or more for more effective teaching and more points in other areas, according to the forms.

Under increased student achievement, principals could earn 17 points for attaining the primary goal for all schools: earning Adequate Yearly Progress at the end of the year. Additionally, high school principals could earn more points for significant gains on college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT, as well as Advanced Placement and End of Course Tests.

All principals can earn 13 points for their schools achieving a secondary goal: demonstrating an increase of 3 percent in student proficiency in each subgroup over the prior school year in reading, English, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science. Additionally, principals whose students make significant gains in those areas will receive more points.

The third focused goal of achieving a minimum safe harbor -- or reducing the failure rate from the previous year -- for the Students With Disabilities subgroup will earn a principal 10 points under the increased student achievement section.

The 40 points that principals can earn under more effective teaching come from paralleling learning taking place in monthly leadership meetings and providing a portfolio demonstrating accomplishments.

Principals also earn points for their teaching and learning environments, up to seven points; staff performance and capacity, 15 points; administrative practices, seven points; community relations, six points; and personal development, 10 points.

According to a rating scale, principals who earn between 90 and 100 points -- and more is technically possible -- are said to be exemplary, exceed goals or have made substantial progress. Those who achieve between 80 and 89 points are proficient and have met goal or made meaningful progress. Between 70 and 79 points is minimally acceptable with some progress being made -- scoring below 75 points necessitates a professional development plan unless the principal's school has earned Adequate Yearly Progress the prior year or two out of the last three years. And those who score below 70 points are performing unsatisfactory and making no progress.

Last week, Mathews said that there is no plan or intent to begin merit pay for NCSS principals based on these evaluations until at least more research is conducted on the effectiveness of such. He said the primary purpose of the new evaluation process is to improve leadership for learning in each of the schools.

The new goals and principal evaluation form are part of the NCSS improvement initiatives, which Mathews said won't change testing results and other results overnight and could take up to three to five years for a better outcome overall.

"It's going to take some time," he said Tuesday.