As educators across Washington state continue to implement an ambitious new teacher and principal and evaluation system, a new study from the University of Washington outlines practical examples for how school leaders can productively support the professional growth of teachers.

The new report, prepared by the UW Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, offers support for principals and assistant principals in successfully taking on their role as instructional leaders.

The sheer number of evaluations school leaders must conduct annually — a median of 31 total evaluations for both certificated and classified staff — is a heavy load amidst their many other responsibilities. Yet the teacher evaluation process can be one of the most significant opportunities for principals and assistant principals to work with teachers to grow their professional skillset said the co-authors of the report, Research Associate Professor Ana Elfers and Professor of Education Marge Plecki.

They noted five essential elements influence the extent to which school leaders are able to productively engage with the teacher evaluation process:

  1. sufficient staffing,
  2. leveraging the capacity of school leadership teams,
  3. opportunities for professional growth and collaboration with other leaders,
  4. the integration and alignment of initiatives within the school and district, and
  5. efforts to streamline the process.

“A majority of school leaders agree that TPEP is useful, that they have better interactions with teachers, and that it has positively impacted instructional quality, student learning outcomes and teacher professional collaboration,” Elfers said, “but without adequate support, balancing the sheer workload may make the process less meaningful and more compliance-oriented.”

The number of full-time equivalent assistant principals has continued to rise over the last eight years relative to student enrollment in Washington, Plecki said, but the distribution of assistant principals may be inequitable.

“Evidence suggests that district fiscal capacity is a factor influencing whether or not schools are staffed with an assistant principal when building enrollments are between 400 and 500 students,” she noted.

The report also highlights the special circumstances faced by principals who are the sole evaluator in their school. Approximately half (51 percent) of elementary schools are staffed with a solo principal. Given the scope of their leadership responsibilities, Elfers and Plecki said, these solo principals often do not have the same level of support for their evaluation work.

Another noteworthy equity issue raised in the report is the concern that while TPEP is generally perceived as having a positive impact on the quality of instruction, the evaluation process does not seem to have the same impact on teachers’ capacity to meet the instructional needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds. While this has been a focus in the state’s recent framework trainings, Elfers said, greater intentionality may be needed on the part of school leaders in working with teachers to develop appropriate instructional practices supporting diverse student learners.


Ana Elfers, Research Associate Professor of Education

Margaret Plecki, Professor of Education

Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications