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Three and a half years ago, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MO DESE) launched the Missouri Leadership Development System (MLDS) to address issues of inequity and school improvement in its schools. Now, MO DESE is partnering with REL Central through the Missouri Equity Research Partnership to develop an evaluation model to describe the system’s results and potential impacts.

Seen as a leverage point to improve teacher and student outcomes as well as issues of equity in their schools, school principals were chosen by MO DESE and district superintendents as their best bet to move the needle on school equity and student improvement. To do this, they used ESSA funding to design and implement the MLDS to support principals through a sequence of leadership-training programs that use a common curriculum focused on principals’ needs at each stage of their career.

“The number one factor [in driving student improvement] is teacher quality. And administrators are right behind teachers because the most important lever in changing teacher quality is the administrator,” said Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner of the MO DESE. “Every entity in the state is working on this one big plan together because it is a strategic investment in an area that research very clearly says is the strongest lever for school reform and improvement.”

Currently, 45 percent of the state’s principals actively participate in the MLDS programs, either as a result of state mandated mentoring for first- and second-year administrators or by self-selection for others. MO DESE officials intend to expand the training program to all principals, noting that while it is too early to ascribe any causal relationship, they are pointing to early data showing a 93 percent retention rate for first- and second-year principals participating in the MLDS, compared to 82 percent not in the program.

MO DESE officials want to better understand the MLDS performance as they move towards that expansion. As a result, they decided to partner with REL Central to determine the methods, indicators, data, and procedures to develop and implement an evaluation model that describes the MLDS and answers MO DESE’s most important questions. Does it work? And is MO DESE on the right track toward improving student outcomes, or does it need adjustments?

“Ultimately, we want to be able to show student improvement as a result of the MLDS. However, we know that you don’t do something today and see that type of change tomorrow,” said Katnik. “So, for now, we are focusing on telling stories through the indicators that help show whether we are on the right track, with the expectation of showing broader impact later down the road.”

The Evaluation Logic Model for Understanding Effects of the Missouri Leadership Development System will provide the compass for MO DESE evaluators to identify key indicators and create questions that help it determine the effectiveness of the MLDS leadership trainings.

Drafted by MO DESE in collaboration with REL Central, the evaluation model allows MO DESE evaluators to better understand and describe the MLDS and its processes. It does this by describing how the systems resources, trainings, and delivery methods should result in expected outcomes and improvements—first noting principal outcomes and then expected subsequent outcomes for teachers, schools, and students. For example, the MLDS looks to improve equitable access to high-quality education as part of its preK–12 student outcomes. An evaluator using the evaluation will see that MO DESE expects to measure this area of improvement through achievement gap reduction or an analysis of the proportional student enrollment in advanced courses. By looking closely at the changes in these indicators, the evaluator will be able to determine the influence of the MLDS on principal, teachers, and student outcomes. MO DESE believes this data will help it ensure it is making progress toward achieving its equitable access goals.

MO DESE’s first use of the evaluation model is in the works. Once finalized, MO DESE evaluators, supported by REL Central, plan to use the model to focus on two indicators—principal feedback and teacher retention. Using the model, MO DESE and REL Central will determine the correct data and questions needed to evaluate the relationship between the MLDS and the indicators and then will conduct an analysis of the data to determine what changes have occurred.

Jim Masters, director of educator evaluation and training for MO DESE, explained principal feedback would be one of the first indicators evaluated largely because of conversations MO DESE leadership and his team of leadership trainers are having with principals across the state.

“We’re hearing a lot of meaningful conversations around observation and providing meaningful feedback,” said Masters. “It’s awfully exciting to hear principals ask the question, how do I become more effective at providing meaningful feedback to my faculty and staff?”

While Katnik said that he and his team are looking to show the state board, district leaders, and other educators the value of the MLDS investment, he noted that the people he would like to impress most are the students. “In three or four years down the road, we want a kid to take a look around and say, things are different,” said Katnik.