District leadership, school leadership, and teacher actions are all working parts in a complex system of interacting influences that positively affect student achievement—if they function in harmony. In a misaligned system, even if individual initiatives within schools, districts, and classrooms are well executed, they tend to cancel one another out.
One powerful way to ensure that the components of the entire system are aligned is to use hierarchical evaluation: District leaders are evaluated on the extent to which they produce specific results in the actions of school leaders, school leaders are evaluated on the extent to which they produce specific results in the actions of teachers, and teachers are evaluated on the extent to which they produce specific results in student achievement.
A hierarchical evaluation system has two defining characteristics: cascading domains of influence and common rubric structures.
Cascading Domains of Influence
In a hierarchical evaluation system, major categories of evaluation at higher levels directly influence categories at lower levels. In this model, district leadership occupies the highest level, followed by school leadership, then teacher activity, and finally, the achievement of individual students.
The district leader model includes six categories, or domains of influence, that the leader will be evaluated on: (1) a data-driven focus on district achievement, (2) continual improvement of instruction, (3) a guaranteed and viable curriculum, (4) cooperation and collaboration, (5) district climate, and (6) resource allocation. The first five domains relate directly to similar domains in the next level down—the school leadership level. (The sixth domain is only relevant at the district level.)
Consider Domain 1 of the district leader evaluation model: a data-driven focus on district achievement. This directly relates to Domain 1 of the school leader evaluation model: a data-driven focus on school achievement. The two domains are clearly aligned.
For example, in Domain 1, the district leader must ensure that the district has clear and measurable goals that focus on student achievement and growth, that schools regularly use data to monitor student progress, and that programs and practices are in place to help all students meet individual achievement goals when data indicate that interventions are needed. A district leader might set a goal that the average scores in the district for student growth will increase by a specific amount in the next year. Throughout the year, the district leader would monitor not only the district's progress on this goal, but also the progress of individual schools, paying particular attention to schools with greater populations of struggling students. For these schools, the district leader would examine their use of resources, providing extra assistance if necessary.
The corresponding domain for the school leader evaluation model highlights similar responsibilities relating to data use and school achievement, but at the school level. For example, school leaders are expected to have clear and measureable goals for the achievement of the school as a whole, as well as for individual students, and they're expected to monitor data regarding the achievement of these goals. In addition, school leaders must ensure that programs are in place—such as tutoring in basic vocabulary and language development for struggling English language learners—to help students who aren't making adequate progress toward their goals.
Common Rubric Structures
In a hierarchical system, the district leader, school leader, and teacher evaluation rubrics should use the same scale levels. I propose the following ones: not using, beginning, developing, applying, and innovating.
A score of not using indicates that a specific behavior isn't employed. The score of beginning indicates that a desired behavior is attempted but is not completed or contains errors and omissions. An administrator who attempts to set yearly goals but does not systematically check progress on those goals would be operating at the beginning level.
The score of developing indicates that the desired behavior is executed without significant error. The administrator who sets growth goals and analyzes data relative to those goals throughout the year would be operating at the developing level.
The score of applying indicates that the district leader, school leader, or teacher not only executes a specific desired behavior without error, but also monitors the effect of the behavior, making corrections as needed. The administrator who sets growth goals, systematically analyzes data, and then monitors the actions and behavior of those charged with producing student growth would be operating at the applying level.
Finally, the score of innovating indicates that the district leader, school leader, or teacher is making adaptations to ensure that all constituents are receiving positive benefits from the desired behavior. The administrator operating at the innovating level provides extra, targeted support for those who are not currently having success producing sufficient student growth.
Doing the Right Work
has noted that the core of effective leadership is knowing the "right thing" to do. In a fully aligned, hierarchical system, district leaders, school leaders, and teachers define the right work in precisely the same way. Ultimately, district leaders stand atop the pyramid of responsibility and are evaluated on the extent to which they provide necessary support for their school leaders, who are, in turn, evaluated on the extent to which they provide the necessary support for teachers, who are, in turn, evaluated on the extent to which they positively influence student learning.
No one works in isolation; all adults in the system share responsibility. Empowerment to improve must cascade down from district administrators, to principals, to teachers, and in the final analysis, to students.
Elmore, R. (2003). Knowing the right thing to do: School improvement and performance-based accountability. Washington, DC: NGA Center for Best Practices.
Robert J. Marzano is cofounder and CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in Denver, Colorado, and executive director of the Learning Sciences Marzano Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He is coauthor, with Michael Toth, of Teacher Evaluation That Makes a Difference: A New Model for Teacher Growth and Student Achievement (ASCD, 2013).
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