Helping principals, teachers the next wave of performance management

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This Friday, CEO Ron Huberman will address school leaders
at the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association’s annual conference.
His topic: performance management, one of the hallmarks of his year-long tenure
as head of Chicago Public Schools.

This Friday, CEO Ron Huberman will address school leaders
at the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association’s annual conference.
His topic: performance management, one of the hallmarks of his year-long tenure
as head of Chicago Public Schools.

In spring 2009, department heads in central office
began to take part in what some participants described as “grueling” sessions
with Huberman’s performance-management team
. The goal was to come up with a set
of indicators to measure how departmental work impacts student learning. 

For principals, much of the work on performance
management takes place in weekly or monthly sessions with chief area officers.
The CAOs meet with principals alone or in groups.

“It’s focused on helping principals refine their strategy
for helping their schools,” says Jennifer Cheatham, the chief area officer for
Area 9. “We try to look at data that is relevant to the particular time of
year.”

In group meetings, Cheatham often zeroes in on a
particular school’s data, in order to demonstrate the questions principals
should be learning to ask themselves.

“We ask questions at different levels of the school
system,” Cheatham says. “What does the data tell us about strategies
school-wide (to improve) teaching and learning? How do we support particular
grade levels? We try to look for teachers that are performing really well (and
see) what is that teacher doing that we can spread across the school?”

The district is encouraging chief area officers and
principals to experiment with different ways of doing performance management,
says Sarah Kremsner, the district’s chief performance officer, who served as
vice president for performance management at the CTA.

“We want everybody doing it differently, especially right
now,” she says. “We don’t know what the best practices are (for CPS). We’re
planning on making some mistakes.”

But so far, Clarice Berry, head of the principals’
association, is skeptical about results.

“It’s simply a concept without definition, at this
point,” Berry
says. “People have been meeting about it, but how do you put it into action?
Once you do it, what’s the next step?

Yet one expert notes that the performance management
process could enhance collaboration in a school so that everyone works together
on a few critical areas, rather than making scattered efforts to address every
problem at once.

“You can build a stronger community,” says Elaine
Allensworth of the Consortium on Chicago School Research. “All of our research
shows that when you get adults working cooperatively in the schools, building
trust and collective responsibility, that’s when you see sustained
improvement.”

Just after Huberman took office in early 2009, the district
received a $45,000 grant from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
“to help accelerate the development of CPS’ strategic plan under the new
CEO and to support building a performance management network for his
Performance Management Team.” In short order, more money followed: $1.6 million
in November to support “top-to-bottom performance management and district
redesign.”

But performance management didn’t start with Huberman.
Since 2005, the district has received about $9.5 million in Dell Family Foundation
funding for the project. The New York City Department of Education and school
districts in Austin, Dallas,
Oakland and Denver have also received substantial funds.

For principals, a key performance-management tool is the
data system known as the “dashboard,” which had its genesis during former CEO
Arne Duncan’s tenure.  Principals can use
the dashboard to monitor data that are related to student learning, such as
attendance, grades, assessment scores, and behavior—for instance, suspensions.

Lori Fey, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation’s
portfolio director of policy initiatives, says the interface (supported by Dell Family
Foundation funds) provides principals with easily-accessible data so they can
“focus on teaching, rather than data scavenger-hunts.”

Currently, Fey says, CPS is training administrators on
the system and developing the processes they will use to interpret the data and
create action plans. Teachers may get access to the dashboard down the road, a
Dell Family Foundation spokesman notes.

Stephanie Moore, the principal of Uplift Community High School in Uptown,
says the dashboard helped her pinpoint a major attendance problem: a dip right
after winter break “when it gets really cold.”

This year, she is offering a free Valentine’s Day school
dance ticket to anyone who has perfect attendance in January. When a particular
student starts to skip class, Moore
says, she can quickly alert teachers, parents, and athletic coaches.

She also uses feedback from interim assessments. If
students performance shows they haven’t pick up a particular skill, teachers
can re-emphasize it in future lessons and provide after-school tutoring.

Many of the principals in three areas, plus 15 additional
schools, are using the assessments, which have been part of the New Leaders for
New Schools data-driven instruction project for several years. Allison Wagner,
the managing director of Chicago’s
New Leaders program, says the assessment aligns with ACT standards and is used
in three subject areas. Schools can get information back within 48 hours, “so
that real-time, live data can be given to teachers,” Wagner says.

With encouragement from central office, similar
assessments are making their way around the district. The Scantron Performance
Series assessment, designed to provide similarly quick, usable feedback, was
piloted this fall by 1,000 high school students and 132 elementary schools.

Every elementary school will get the option by the end of
the year, once the district phases in the thousands of new computers that are
required to use it.

Uplift, along with a number of other schools, is also
using a data wall—a bulletin board, updated every week, to track attendance and
performance on the interim assessments. CPS is encouraging schools to use the
data walls in a way that will maintain individual students’ privacy.

Districtwide, Kremsner says another goal is to use the
data to help provide professional development and coaching that is better tailored
to teachers’ needs.

“The more we know about how students are and are not
growing, the more we can target coaching and training dollars… to those schools
and teachers that want it and need it,” she says. “Any minute that we’re taking
a teacher out of a classroom should add inordinate value.”

In Huberman’s first address to principals in June, he
announced that they would be expected to hold regular performance management
meetings with teachers.

“The vision is, they press a button and a PowerPoint presentation
spits out with that month or that quarter’s key trends, graphs and charts,”
Kremsner says. “Then, the real work begins.”

Her office is working to provide templates for principals
to use when they talk to teachers about data, Kremsner notes, “so we can begin
to at least standardize the process of these conversations.”

The district hasn’t determined which indicators will
become the core components of performance management, Kremsner says. One task
will be to find more timely and useful assessment data than the ISAT (Illinois
Standards Assessment Test).

“A once-a-year, high-stakes test isn’t an actionable
piece of data,” Kremsner says. “Over the course of the year, you won’t be able
to have that kind of weighty, meaty, statistically significant data that
education has relied on for a long time.”

Zoila Garcia, the principal of Whittier Elementary School
in Lower West Side, says the district’s emphasis on value-added ISAT scores (a
schoolwide measure of growth on the test) has been confusing.

“(It’s) difficult to see how it’s really tied to
students,” Garcia says. What’s more, Garcia adds, principals have always used
data in their work, even though it may have played a less prominent role.

“The only difference is that now, we are being told what
data to look at,” Garcia says. “It’s helpful… but it is also important to do
something. Looking at data, just for the sake of data, is not going to change
anything.”