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Setting Superintendent Performance Goals to Improve Student Achievement

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What your school board members believe—and how those beliefs translate into governance—makes a difference for students. When school board members believe all students can succeed, they act to reinforce that. And the research shows that student achievement goes up.

One powerful action your school board can take to support student achievement is to hold the superintendent accountable for student performance. Research backs it up, and TASB's Board Development Services can help you refine effective superintendent performance goals.

What the Research Says About Superintendents Improving Student Achievement

Effectively holding your superintendent accountable for student achievement starts with these three basics. The goals must be:

  • In your annual superintendent evaluation
  • Made public
  • Set collaboratively

Goals Are in Your Annual Superintendent Evaluation

Trustee and school board researcher Ivan Lorentzen discovered that when school boards have “improve student performance” incorporated into the superintendent’s goals for evaluation, it really does move the needle. Students learn more.

Goals Are Made Public

Lorentzen also found that communicating the superintendent’s performance goals to the community makes a noticeable difference in student achievement. Making the goals public increases accountability, leading to improved student performance.

When the goals are visible and high profile on the district website and in its publications, the entire district can support these goals. That support is important. The alignment of administrator goals with teachers and students in the classroom, the community, and students’ families at home is what brings this all together to improve the likelihood of success for every student.

Goals Are Set Collaboratively

Research from Bob Marzano and Tim Waters indicates the board and superintendent should collaborate to set goals, including setting specific targets and deadlines for improving student learning. Ideally, the goals should also include input from others in the school system.

Marzano and Waters emphasized aligning superintendent goals with the goals of the board. They also stressed the importance of focusing on improving student performance. Student achievement improves when the overall district goals align with superintendent performance goals, campus improvement plans, and student learning targets.

Superintendent Evaluations Are a Governance Tool

The board must include specific learning targets in the goals that are clear, focused, and included in the superintendent’s performance evaluation.

The goals must be measurable; otherwise, the superintendent can’t be held accountable.

It’s critical that the board establish SMART goals:

  • Specific: Goals are clearly defined with precise detail and intention.
  • Measurable: What’s measured gets done, so goals need to be easily assessed.
  • Achievable: Make sure goals are realistic. This doesn’t mean they are easily reached but that it is possible to get there. For example, it was not easy for humankind to reach the moon, but it was possible.
  • Relevant: Establish goals that are appropriate to the current time, conditions, and needs. Calculating the number of horses needed to carry a buggy across Texas was relevant 150 years ago, but not today.
  • Time-bound: Finally, effective goals are time-bound. There is a set time in which to achieve the goal.

Each of these characteristics helps drive improvement in student learning in a school district. Without this type of intentionality, the goals are in name only.

The superintendent evaluation process itself is an opportunity to discuss expectations and priorities, collaboratively set SMART goals, monitor progress, and evaluate achievement:

  • Priorities: Discuss and affirm your board’s priorities for the district and the superintendent’s role in fulfilling them.
  • Goals: Discuss and articulate essential goals and expected outcomes, like increasing student performance, planning the instructional program, and managing facilities and finances.
  • Progress: An evaluation is an ongoing process. Make sure progress is monitored and reported to the board — not just at an annual evaluation but on a regular, ongoing basis.
  • Evaluation: Review and revise priorities and goals annually, based on achievement, needs, and changing circumstances.

School boards that don’t build strong relationships with their superintendent and administrative teams won’t be able to effectively innovate or boost student achievement. That kind of governance requires collaboration, mutual support, and an understanding of the strategic and tactical responsibilities of each group.

TASB is supporting strong, highly capable district governance teams with our board development training programs. Boards that govern effectively inspire exceptional administration that improves instruction. When superintendents believe they’re empowered by the board to make a difference for student learning, working with the board to set goals for improving student performance is a natural extension of that team dynamic.

Embracing the Process

Improving student performance is an unceasing process. There is no destination to reach, and no final outcome — just continuous improvement. The goals are simply a guide. Author Jim Collins suggested that it can take a few years to refine and establish purposeful, well-written goals. The point is to start somewhere. Good governance is less concerned with what adults think and more focused on student achievement. After all, everyone’s goal should be lifelong student success.

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