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Burden Rests On Principals

June 1, 2013
The Intelligencer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Good school principals have been coaching teachers for many years.

Now, such coaching is official policy in West Virginia public schools. A new system of evaluating teachers is based heavily on principals' views of them.

A few dozen schools throughout the state have tested the new system, and apparently it works well enough to be adopted throughout the state.

Teachers will be rated on a four-level scale, from "unsatisfactory" to "distinguished." But as much as 80 percent of the grade is based on interaction between teachers and principals, including classroom observations, along with unspecified evidence of performance and "self-reflection."

In other words, principals are going to be expected to recognize good teachers when they see them - and know how to help struggling educators when they encounter them.

That places an enormous new burden on many principals. Those who have viewed themselves in the past as coaches will have no trouble adapting. Those who cannot probably should not be principals in the first place.

But the system raises questions: First, how can principals, school superintendents and boards of education know if students in a particular classroom or school are doing well?

While standardized tests used previously have indicated acceptable achievement in public schools, other yardsticks, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, showed West Virginia students lagging behind their peers elsewhere.

That may be changing. State officials say the WESTEST 2, now in use, is better aligned with NAEP standards. That could produce a more accurate picture of school performance.

Another question raised by the new evaluation system is that it puts in place a system to coach teachers. What about principals?

County school superintendents are responsible for the quality of principals. Boards of education, in turn, bear the burden of selecting top-notch superintendents - and not tolerating those who don't make the grade.

And, of course, voters choose school board members - but that often amounts more to politics than to awareness of how well schools are performing. In the end, if voters have not demanded accountability, the state Board of Education will have to step in - as it has done in several counties - to insist on improvement.

More than a decade was wasted in the vain hope that the federal No Child Left Behind law would result in real school reform. It has helped, but not enough. West Virginians cannot wait another decade to decide whether the current strategy is proving fruitful.

So, within no more than one or two years, legislators should look at the new blueprint, including how teachers and principals are evaluated, to see whether progress has been made. If not, something else will need to be tried.

 
 

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