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Superintendent Evaluations | The Evaluation Process

The Pitfalls of 360 Evaluations in the Superintendent Evaluation Process

August 9th, 2023


In educational leadership, the superintendent evaluation is a fundamental responsibility of a school board and a crucial task that significantly impacts the quality of education provided to students. Over the years, various evaluation methods have been employed, one of which is the 360-degree evaluation. Prevalent in the private sector, this approach gathers feedback from multiple stakeholders; for the superintendent’s evaluation process, stakeholders include school staff, board members, parents, and sometimes even students. While obtaining diverse perspectives may seem appealing, a closer examination reveals numerous inherent flaws and challenges in implementing 360 evaluations in the superintendent evaluation process. This article argues that 360 evaluations should never be used in superintendent assessments due to issues of subjectivity, bias, potential manipulation, and inefficacy.

Subjectivity and Bias

The primary concern with 360 evaluations lies in the potential for subjectivity and bias in the feedback provided. Stakeholders, particularly school staff and community members, might harbor professional or personal biases, leading to evaluations that reflect their own experiences and opinions rather than the superintendent’s actual performance. Subconscious prejudices or favoritism can taint the feedback, compromising the evaluation’s credibility and fairness. Such biases can be even more pronounced in situations where there are interpersonal conflicts or ideological differences between the superintendent and stakeholders.  

Individual motivation for participating as a stakeholder in a superintendent’s evaluation increases the potential for personal vendettas and political maneuvering to influence the evaluation process. In such cases, the feedback becomes less about the superintendent’s performance and more about settling individual scores or promoting personal agendas, leading to an unreliable assessment.

Furthermore, some stakeholders might not be directly involved in the superintendent’s day-to-day activities and decision-making processes, making their evaluations less informed and relevant. This undermines the accuracy and effectiveness of the evaluation, ultimately hindering the growth and development of the superintendent and their relationship with the school board.

Potential Manipulation

Another major flaw with 360 evaluations is the possibility of manipulation. Superintendents could attempt to influence specific stakeholders or build alliances to ensure positive feedback, even if it doesn’t accurately reflect their performance. Superintendents must act empowered to make decisions that solely benefit students in the district, and some decisions may not be popular or benefit adults in the system. Therefore, it’s even more critical that these decisions, made for the right reasons in the interest of students, do not adversely affect the evaluation process if they don’t align with adult interests.  

In contrast, adversaries or disaffected individuals may mobilize others to provide negative feedback, regardless of the superintendent’s accomplishments. These manipulative practices can significantly distort the evaluation results and undermine the credibility of the process. Moreover, stakeholders might be motivated by factors other than the superintendent’s performance. For example, board members may be swayed by political considerations or the superintendent’s alignment with their personal ideologies rather than objective assessment criteria. These emotional feelings can lead to evaluations that are influenced more by the stakeholders’ interests and biases than the superintendent’s actual achievements. 

In some cases, the superintendent’s administration may perceive 360 evaluations as a two-way street, where the superintendent’s power and authority might influence their own evaluations. The fear of potential repercussions or favoritism may lead administrators to provide inflated or inaccurate evaluations to maintain a positive relationship with the superintendent. This reciprocation bias compromises the authenticity of the feedback and renders the evaluation process less meaningful.

The responsibility of the superintendent’s evaluation lies solely with the school board. Manipulation in the superintendent evaluation process erodes the accountability that evaluations should ensure. When evaluations are compromised by manipulation, it becomes challenging for school boards to make informed decisions about contract renewals, professional development plans, and potential consequences for poor performance. As a result, the overall quality of education and the school community’s well-being may suffer.

Efficacy and Cost-Effectiveness

360 evaluations are inherently complex and time-consuming to administer. Gathering feedback from multiple stakeholders, collating the data, and analyzing the results demand significant resources in terms of time and finances. This makes 360 evaluations less cost-effective than other assessment methods that provide more targeted and precise feedback.

Moreover, the efficacy of 360 evaluations in improving superintendent performance needs to be investigated. Research suggests that more focused and targeted assessments, such as those based on specific leadership competencies or performance metrics, are more effective in identifying areas of improvement and supporting professional growth. 360 evaluations’ broad nature can dilute actionable feedback and make it challenging for superintendents to understand specific areas that require attention.

The time and resources devoted to implementing 360 evaluations come at the expense of other important initiatives. Educational leaders must weigh the benefits of using 360 evaluations against the potential opportunity cost of not investing those resources in more targeted professional development programs, student-focused activities, or strategic planning for the school system.

Complexity of Data Interpretation

The extensive data collected through 360 evaluations can be overwhelming and challenging to interpret accurately. Different stakeholders may provide conflicting feedback, making it difficult for superintendents and evaluators to discern patterns or themes from the data. More clarity and specificity in feedback can help create meaningful action plans for improvement.

Emotional and Psychological Impact

The emotionally charged nature of 360 evaluations can also adversely affect the superintendent’s well-being and morale. Receiving feedback from various stakeholders, some of which may be negative or unfounded, can be emotionally taxing and demoralizing. The stress and anxiety resulting from the evaluation process may impede a superintendent’s ability to perform effectively, leading to a counterproductive outcome.


While the concept of 360 evaluations may seem appealing in theory and is prevalent in the private sector, their implementation in superintendent evaluation processes presents significant challenges and inherent flaws. The potential for subjectivity, bias, manipulation, and the complexity of data interpretation make 360 evaluations an unreliable and inefficient means of assessing superintendent performance. Instead, educational institutions should focus on implementing more targeted, confidential, and objective evaluation methods that provide actionable feedback to support superintendent growth and ultimately benefit the students and the school community.

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