Using Multi-Raters in Superintendent Evaluation

by Richard P. Santeusanio

In my school district, school board members evaluate me yearly. Because they value the opinions of other stakeholders, such as teachers, administrators, and parents, the board endorses the use of 360-degree feedback process to component my evaluation.

The 360-degree process usually involves from three to seven rater groups. In my case, I receive feedback from my school board, teachers, administrators, parents, and support staff. I also complete a self-evaluation.

Typically, one's self-evaluation closely agrees with the feedback submitted by stakeholder groups. In fact, according to Mark R. Edwards, a professor of agribusiness and resource management at Arizona State University and a leader in 360-degree feedback, high agreement exists in 95 percent of the cases. Thus the feedback has credibility to both superintendents and their school boards.

How It Works

My 360-degree evaluation has five basic steps.

  • Step 1: Identify and define the competencies related to the job.
    One source I used was AASA's "Professional Standards for the Superintendency." Once the competencies were selected, they were formatted into a survey.
  • Step 2: Select the evaluation team.
    I selected the evaluation team. Of course, this will lead to snickering by those unfamiliar with 360-degree feedback that the individual being evaluated is apt to "pick his friends." While this could and does happen, research shows that friendship does not bias evaluations. And even if such bias should occur, safeguards designed into the process, such as Olympic scoring and anonymity, minimize the impact of all types of bias, including friendship biases.
  • Step 3: Conduct the survey.
    I distributed the survey to my team of 21 evaluators, including all five board members, several principals, curriculum specialists, and teachers, and a few parents. They returned their responses within a week to be scored.
  • Step 4: Score, create and analyze the report.
    A report was generated by Teams Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., that allowed me to analyze my relative strengths and weaknesses. The data was compiled into a bar graph showing how each stakeholder group rated me on five competency areas. (The survey consisted of 20 items.) My highest rating was "Willing to Take Risks," and my lowest was "Is visible and accessible in the schools." On most items there was close agreement.
  • Step 5: Develop an action plan.
    This is the whole point of the process—to take action to improve as a superintendent. Over the past two years, my action plan, which was developed with the school board chair, focused on becoming more visible in the schools and providing more leadership in technology.


Wide Advantages

Given the limited opportunities school board members have to observe me directly on the job, the use of multiple raters produced a more valid assessment of my performance. Work associates and subordinates also provided reliable assessment information.

In our school district, principals, curriculum directors, and teachers also use the 360-degree feedback process as a component of their evaluations. We have found that the collective opinions of several stakeholders makes the performance appraisal conference much more meaningful. The process has created a shared vision of performance standards. Additionally, the process has:

  • more precisely identified and measured standards for the superintendent, administrators, and teachers;
  • stimulated collegiality and trust between administrators and teachers;
  • shifted administrators' roles away from judge and jury to that of coach and mentor;
  • incorporated the Massachusetts Professional Performance Standards as mandated by the state’s recent educational reform act; and
  • led to specific behavior change for professional improvement.


Collective Wisdom

The use of multi-raters captures the collective wisdom of those directly involved with the superintendent—teachers, administrators, parents, colleagues and, of course, the school board. It gives many stakeholders a chance to say how they think their community’s top educational leader is performing.

The approach solves some problems associated with single source evaluations, including lack of fairness, accuracy, credibility and usefulness to the evaluatee. Furthermore, it motivates changes in behavior and serves as a balanced, reliable, and time-efficient approach to evaluation.

The 360-degree feedback should not be the only tool used in evaluating superintendents. It should augment other tools like management by objectives, general school board judgment, and student outcome measures. It is an especially useful process to help districts that are not being served well by their current approach to superintendent evaluation.

Richard Santeusanio is Superintendent, Danvers Public Schools, Danvers, Massachusetts