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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

March 2020


What research is available on superintendent accountability and evaluation practices?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and policy overviews on superintendent accountability and evaluation practices. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Arsen, D., & Mason, M. L. (2013). Seeking accountability through state-appointed emergency district management. Educational Policy, 27(2), 248–278. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Michigan’s Local Government and School District Accountability Act of 2011 empowers the governor to appoint emergency managers (EMs) in financially troubled school districts. EMs assume all powers of the superintendent and school board. They can reshape academic programs, nullify labor contracts, and open and close schools. This article analyzes the law’s political origins and early implementation. Relative to prevailing accountability mechanisms applicable to all school districts, in what respects are EM districts more accountable, and in what respects are they less accountable? Our analysis reveals that although the law concentrates control over school operations, it weakens most standard dimensions of district accountability.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Davidson, F. D., Schwanenberger, M., & Wiggall, R. (2019). What matters most in superintendent evaluation. Education Leadership Review, 20(1), 217–233. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In the fall of 2018, all school superintendents in a state in the southwest were invited to take part in a survey which included a section related to superintendent perceptions of the board’s evaluation process for superintendents. The present article addresses the factors perceived to be important in evaluations of superintendents by governing board members. The survey revealed the most important factors in governing board evaluations of the superintendent, as perceived by superintendents. The survey also revealed that superintendents perceive high levels of trust in their relationships with board members. The results indicate that the most important factors in board evaluations of the superintendent include management of the financial affairs of the district, maintaining the quality of the education program, relationships with employees, developing and implementing long term plans for the district, student performance measured by state-mandated assessments, and maintaining a safe environment for students.”

Hendricks, S. (2013). Evaluating the superintendent: The role of the school board. Education Leadership Review, 14(3), 62–72. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A collaborative superintendent/board relationship is essential to the successful and efficient oversight of a school district. The relationship between the superintendent and the school board lies at the heart of school governance (Callan & Levinson, 2011; Eadie, 2003; McCurdy & Hymes, 1992). To illustrate the importance of a collaborative superintendent/board relationship, Carter and Cunningham (1997) found that the primary reason for superintendents leaving their districts was due to the lack of support from and conflicting relationships with school board members. Further, Ray (2003) stated, ‘a superintendent can possess all the necessary competencies to be an effective leader, but it is the school board’s perception of success that really matters’ (p. 5).”

Henrikson, R. (2018). Superintendent evaluation frameworks for continuous improvement: Using evidence-based processes to promote the stance of improvement. AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, 15(1), 22–29. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The researcher seeks to address the needed changes to superintendent evaluation by suggesting an integrated formative evaluation process that balances both the need for accountability and ongoing professional growth and support (Hallinger, Heck, & Murphy, 2014; Duke, 1990). The nuances of the superintendent and school board relationship present unique challenges that create additional obstacles and opportunities for establishing and maintaining a cyclical formative process for evaluation. A brief overview of research that includes a rationale and overview of current challenges to the superintendent evaluation process are also discussed. Practical tips for improving the evaluation process including adoption of a standards-based framework, utilizing stakeholder input, providing board director professional learning and ongoing support are offered.”

Henrikson, R. (2019). A summary of the current landscape of superintendent evaluation practices and preferences. Education Leadership Review, 20(1), 1–22. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Increasing emphasis on evidence-based evaluation processes in districts across the United States challenges school board directors to call into question their current evaluation practices of superintendents. Existing methods tend to be inconsistent and not aligned to specific criteria (Hendricks, 2013). This study investigates the current landscape of superintendent evaluation across a variety of districts in Washington State and to determine any differences between current practices and superintendent preference. Survey data were collected from 57 superintendents. Descriptive statistics and paired samples t-tests were used to analyze results. The findings from this research confirmed that current practices for evaluation of superintendents are inconsistent across the state and often subjective. Typically, feedback is moderately helpful and not supported with measurable data. In many cases, there was a statistically significant difference between evaluation practice and superintendent preference.”

Hornung, K., & Yoder, N. (2014). What do effective district leaders do? Strategies for evaluating district leadership (Policy Snapshot). Washington, DC: Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In the wake of the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation reform, school leaders increasingly look to district leaders for support, coaching, and leadership. District leaders—superintendents, assistant or area superintendents, specialists, principal supervisors, and school business administrators—can hold varying and multiple roles in the district. Reform of district leader evaluations has lagged behind that of teachers and principals, but creating evaluations that accurately reflect district leader responsibilities is of critical importance. Reform of district leader evaluations is an emerging issue, and the research and policy base needed to inform this effort is limited. That said, more organizations, including the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators, are increasingly investing resources to think more deeply about district evaluation, and new resources and research may be forthcoming. In addition, the strategies used and the lessons learned from states and districts that have already begun this work, as well as teacher and principal evaluation reform, can help inform states and districts that are just beginning to engage in this area of reform. This Policy Snapshot explores district leadership evaluation in the context of state policy and provide information that governors, state legislatures, state boards of education, and state education agencies may wish to consider when designing and implementing evaluation systems for superintendents and other district leaders. This brief is divided into two sections: (1) Defining effective district leadership: What do effective district leaders do?; and (2) Setting evaluation policies for district leaders: What strategies can states use? This brief highlights existing evaluation policies as examples to illustrate the strategies in practice. the authors offer these examples to inform state’s policy and legislative deliberation, but they do not endorse any of the programs featured.”

Kogan, V., Lavertu, S., & Peskowitz, Z. (2016). Do school report cards produce accountability through the ballot box? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 35(3), 639–661. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Public education has been transformed by the widespread adoption of accountability systems that involve the dissemination of school district performance information. Using data from Ohio, we examine if elections serve as one channel through which these accountability systems might lead to improvements in educational quality. We find little evidence that poor performance on widely disseminated state and federal indicators has an impact on school board turnover, the vote share of sitting school board members, or superintendent tenure, suggesting that the dissemination of district performance information puts little (if any) electoral pressure on elected officials to improve student achievement.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Board administrator relationship” superintendents

  • Superintendents accountability

  • Superintendents “administrator evaluation”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.