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Is a Self-Evaluation Good Enough?

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Nov. 29, 2017

Recently, a question was posed regarding whether or not a district could “sign off” on their superintendent’s self-evaluation; that is, can a school board simply adopt the findings and rating the superintendent gave himself/herself and treat those findings as the annual evaluation as required by Section 1249 of the Revised School Code? Quite honestly, the question probably should not center on whether a district can take such action, but whether they should.

MCL 380.1249 and 1249b were enacted to compel school districts to carry out comprehensive evaluations of their administrators, including the superintendent. It was created specifically to address concerns regarding unqualified district personnel being allowed to continue to keep their positions out of a failure to properly review their performances and identify individuals who chronically underperform. One of the problems that was identified during the process of developing the statute, particularly with administrators, was that their evaluations were often cursory, and incorporated far too much “self-evaluation” data rather than independent evaluation metrics that could be verified by the board and would remain consistent from year to year.

The statute refers to the evaluation tool as something that must be “transparent and fair,” as well as something that is to be “used by the district.” Were someone to question the district regarding how “transparent and fair” their evaluations of the superintendent have been, with the district unable to reference anything other than a series of self-evaluations that were then merely adopted (some might say “rubber stamped”) by the board, the district will likely find itself being accused of laziness at best and collusion with the superintendent at worst.

The Revised School Code clearly expects that a separate, independent body (the board) will evaluate the superintendent using a specific set of criteria. In order to merely adopt a self-evaluation as the board’s official evaluation, the board would, conceivably, need to demonstrate that it reviewed the self-evaluation in order to make sure that it not only complied with the law in terms of student growth metrics, teacher evaluation proficiency, community feedback and so forth, but that all of the numbers cited in the self-evaluation are accurate and reliable and that the conclusions drawn are supported by those numbers. The amount of work that would be required to essentially “validate” a self-evaluation would be nearly equal to the amount of work it would take to have the board members simply perform the evaluation themselves.

As such, it is not recommended that a district rely upon a superintendent self-evaluation as the board’s “official” evaluation. Again, such is clearly contrary to the spirit and intent of the law, and likewise invites unnecessary scrutiny upon both the board and the superintendent. Self-evaluations can provide useful information and can be taken into account as part of an overall evaluation process, but a self-evaluation clearly isn’t a substitute for an independent evaluation conducted by the board as a whole. 

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