In January, the San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education will formally evaluate Superintendent Cindy Marten’s performance for the first time.

Their report will include a summary of the data they’ve reviewed on student achievement and Marten’s management of the district, as well as their views on whether Marten “reasonably interpreted” the district’s goals.

Grading Cindy Marten

As we’ve found so far in our Grading Cindy Marten project, the district has yet to define how Marten’s success toward those goals will be measured. We’ve been asking the community to help us interpret the district goals to develop criteria of our own.

Last week, community members said that they would like us to focus on Marten’s oversight of teacher evaluations, the professional development funds she puts in the budget and the kinds of classes the district offers to disadvantaged students.

Now, we’re asking experts how we should go about grading Marten.

Here’s what three education experts told us to take into consideration.

Veronica Rivera, executive director of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents

Rivera said it would be difficult to measure Marten’s success toward her key goals without more information from the district on the metrics it’ll use to implement her goals.

But she said the process of ushering in changes associated with Common Core, a new set of education standards being implemented in most states nationwide, could provide tools to evaluate Marten.

Educators will need to attend training sessions to beef up their skills in key areas that will be emphasized under the new standards and schools will also need to broaden their curriculum to comply with it – both goals that align with the broad ones Marten has identified for herself.

Rivera suggested a close look at the professional development programs the district emphasizes, and examining whether those align with the areas the district must bolster to comply with the new standards and key areas of need such as special education.

“Everybody has access to professional development but how is it going to be relevant and effective?” Rivera said. “Is everybody going to be required to take a specific course, or a specific number of hours on say, dealing with the changing student demographics or English Language Learners (ELL) or students with special needs?”

Marten’s early personnel decisions could also be used to help gauge her performance.

For example, priorities at the district, including ELL programs, should be reflected in Marten’s hiring decisions. The district will also want to make sure it hires staffers with the necessary experience and certifications to help achieve Marten’s goals.

When it comes to ELL programs, Rivera said, it will be worth checking to see whether Marten hires teachers, principals and other administrators who can lead such programs or who reflect the district’s significant Latino population. (As of the 2010-2011 school year, nearly 46 percent of students enrolled in the district were Latino, but only 24 percent of district staffers were from the same population, according to a 2012 University of San Diego report.)

Dr. Jim Wilson, author of “Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration?”

Wilson said the biggest problem the district faces in evaluating Marten is the lack of long-term data on student success.

He said the district should look not just at who makes it to college, but where students are a few years after graduating high school.

“The reason they don’t want to tell the public is because after three or four years, many of them aren’t in school,” Wilson said. “But that’s the reality.”

Wilson, who spent 30 years managing vocational education programs in urban schools in California, said the district should track how many students end up in trade school or in the military after college.

“They are people and they deserve a life, too,” he said.

Without that data, he said, the best criteria the district can use are student rates of attendance and graduation, with an emphasis on students who will not go on to college.

Scott Himelstein, director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Education Policy and Law

Himelstein thinks it’s “way too early to grade Cindy Marten on anything,” but he said that all of the district’s goals should be aimed at improving student achievement in school and after high school graduation.

On average, 25 percent of students earn a four-year college degree, Himelstein said, and the district needs to make sure it prepares those students who will not attend college to succeed, too.

“We need to be much more creative and much more deliberate in planning for college and for careers for folks,” he said.

Test scores are a valuable measure of student achievement, Himelstein said, but the district needs to pinpoint what other measures it will use.

Himelstein also said Marten and the district need to have a “thoughtful conversation about what makes sense” for evaluating teachers, but this will take time.

“I think we owe her an opportunity to present a concrete plan,” Himelstein said.

Joel Hoffmann was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego, focusing on county government, the San Diego Unified School District and the...

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