School Board Self Assessment: Principles and Processes
by Patrick J. Renihan

SSTA Research Centre Report #91-13: 69 pages, $14.

Part I - Introduction Principles and processes for school board self assessment are presented in this report. The author advocates a corporate commitment to school board development. The purpose of institutionalizing a cycle for school board self assessment is to improve the effectiveness of the school board in carrying out its duties.

In this report you will find sections on the purposes of self assessment, what should be assessed, and a framework for the assessment process. Activities and self assessment instruments are presented in a ready-to-use format.

Part II - Purpose: The What and the Why of Self Assessment
Part III - Focus: What Do We Need To Assess?
Part IV - The Context of Assessment
Part V - Process: Major Questions
Part VI - A Walk Through the Six Steps
Part VII - Self Assessment Activities

Back to: Governance

The SSTA Research Centre grants permission to reproduce up to three copies of each report for personal use. Each copy must acknowledge the author and the SSTA Research Centre as the source. A complete and authorized copy of each report is available from the SSTA Research Centre.
The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.



"While the local school board enjoys the confidence of the people it represents, it is still a human institution and thus, there is room for improvement." (Institute for Educational Leadership,1986).

Trusteeship in educational governance is a concept which has become a significant and vital characteristic of Canadian education. It has developed as one effective means of ensuring that the needs and interests of the community are reflected in the schools. In most provinces the trusteeship is filled predominantly by means of election. Consequently, election time has become the test of community acceptance of the school board and, for a great many boards, it continues to be the sole source of school board assessment. The Polls, of course, represent a very general reading of community acceptance, and are severely limited as a measure of board effectiveness.

There must be a better alternative. Self assessment, whether formal or informal, externally guided or internally conducted, annual or biannual, represents one such alternative, an alternative which has come to be urgently needed. Aside from the shortcomings of "traditional" methods of assessment, several forces have increased the demand for self-assessment by boards of education. School reform, drastic changes in curriculum and instructional strategies, and the increased sophistication of communities in regard to educational matters, have heightened the demand that boards be accountable for their trusteeship and that they continually strive for new and better ways of fulfilling their mandate.

Self-assessment brings with it some substantial payoffs. A well thought-out policy and set of procedures for self-assessment can assist the board in fulfilling its responsibilities by improving communication among board members, fostering reflection, making the board more sensitive to ideas and suggestions. It can serve as a useful orientation for new trustees; increasing role-understanding and enhancing appreciation for the directions taken by the board in the long and short term. However, the ultimate advantage of school-board self-assessment can be simply stated in terms of the student: if it provides for increased efficiency, improved communication, greater understanding of board strengths and improvement needs, it cannot help but be reflected in the improved quality of learning opportunities provided for students in the system it serves.

"School boards operate in a milieu in which the demands of the urgent can easily prevent the group from addressing the important. Commitment to a structured self-evaluation process, including a follow-up session, may help to ensure that the trustees address issues which --- may not otherwise be examined in a manner which is likely to lead to action" (Storey and Holt,1986).

How To Use This Manual

This self-assessment manual has been designed to accommodate school board needs on a variety of levels. For those wishing to know more about the nature and process of self-assessment, it presents information regarding current practice. For those wishing to select a model or approach appropriate to their own context, it presents a choice and identifies possibilities for adaptation. It addresses the following questions commonly posed by boards in considering self assessment:

PURPOSE: What is self assessment?

Why do we need to undertake self assessment?

FOCUS: What do we need to assess?

CONTEXT: What are the circumstances under which we will be

conducting self assessment?

PROCESS: Who should be involved?

When should we conduct self assessment?

Where do we start?

How often should we conduct self assessment?

OUTCOME: What do we do with the results?

As you examine this manual, think of your own board, your own context, and select the activities and processes which will most adequately address your needs at this particular time. This manual is not intended to represent an inflexible, "canned" approach to self-assessment; on the contrary, its processes, instruments, and activities are presented to you as assessment alternatives which may indeed be utilized in different ways and in different combinations each time you meet to consider your performance as a school board.

Board Self Assessment: A Study of Practices

"We found citizens do NOT believe school boards are dinosaurs

left over from our agrarian past. . ." We did; however, find

consensus, even among many school board leaders, that

school boards need to be strengthened and must carefully

look at their weaknesses if they are to exercise effective

positive leadership. . ." (I.E.L.,1986).

What is the current status of school board self-assessment in Saskatchewan? How do these practices compare with those of boards in Western Canada and the United States? In order to provide a perspective on current practice , we conducted a questionnaire survey of school boards in Saskatchewan, and a telephone survey of larger boards in western Canada. In Saskatchewan, responses received from 63 boards (44 rural and 19 urban) revealed the following:

-90% of the boards did not have policy statements regarding board self assessment.

-95% of the boards indicated that school boards should formally assess their own performance.

-62% of the boards had not conducted self assessment during the tenure of the present board.

-of those boards that had conducted self assessment:

-4% conducted it more than twice per year;

-4% conducted it twice per year;

-44% conducted it once per year;

-8% conducted it once every two years;

-12% conducted it once every three years;

-4% conducted it once in seven years;

-4% conducted it once in eleven years;

-4% regarded election time as the determination of board assessment;

-16% conducted it "when needed or required"

-74% of the responding boards felt that boards should conduct board self assessment at least once per year.

-In describing the types of self assessment used:

-36% of the boards utilized formal assessments;

-44% of the boards utilized informal assessments;

-20% utilized a combination of both formal and informal approaches.

-64% of the boards restricted involvement in the process to the board and director. A further 12% included school administrators, 6% involved teachers, 4% involved parents, and 3%included students in the process.

-Concerning the use of an external facilitator, 73% of the responding boards considered the use of an external facilitator to be of value, particularly in the early stages, while 27% of the boards perceived it to be unnecessary.

Having considered broad questions related to the provision for self assessment among Saskatchewan school boards, a telephone survey was conducted among major urban school boards in the provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. While many of the boards reported informal means of board self assessment, only 20% of the boards surveyed had policies in place for school board self assessment.

By comparison, a recent U.S. study has reported that only one third of the boards, in a survey of 450 school boards, had any structured self assessment in place (I. E. L., 1986).

School boards are not very visible, in a general sense, nor in

many communities is their basic function well understood.

Boards seem to be taken for granted. No one wants to do away

with them, but at the same time few people, even community

leaders, know much about them, nor do they have many

suggestions about how to improve them" (I.E.L., 1986).

Table of Contents





"In an era when accountability seems to be the byword,

boards must not labour under the erroneous assumption

that the word exists only for those who deal with children

on a day-to-day basis--that accountability stops at

the superintendent's office. It does not! As the body most

directly responsible for the governance of the school system, the

board is not, and cannot be, absolved from a critical look

at its operation" (Rosamilia,1988).

What is School Board Self Assessment?

School board self assessment is a carefully considered, regularly conducted process of reviewing the board's performance with the goal of determining (a) what is being done well, and (b) what aspects of board activity require improvement. It implies a corporate commitment to board development.

Board assessment, at its most effective, is a continuous process of information collection, analysis, board discussion and revision concerning its own performance. This process is represented in

Figure 1.

The process of board self assessment as illustrated in Figure 1 does provide a logic for formal action related to the performance of the board, but it is also a relevant perspective on informal and semi formal approaches. Boards should not feel that the only time to share information and to discuss performance is at regularly scheduled "assessment" times.

Board assessment is proactive rather than reactive. It is at its most effective when it is a board activity valued by the board as an integral part of its operation. It is at its least effective when it is periodically adopted as a response to problems which arise form time to time.

Board assessment is a team effort and takes on a corporate rather than an individual focus. Consequently, its major theme is board assessment of the board, not board assessment of individual members of the group, or the opportunity for "reining-in" and perhaps rehabilitating the mavericks in the ranks.

Board self assessment is a constructive rather than a pathological process. While it must look at opportunities for improvement, it does not dwell on weaknesses; rather it provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate and build upon what is done well in the system. Board self assessment is internal rather than dependent upon individuals and groups external to the board. Consequently, the assessment is conducted by the board itself, and by those closest to it, not by outsiders.

Finally, a note regarding formal and informal approaches:

Formal self assessment is structured in terms of the timelines, processes, and roles of various participants. It is policy driven.

Informal self assessment is less structured and allows for more casual sharing of perspectives among board members regarding board performance.

Why Do We Need To Undertake School Board Self Assessment?

"The primary reason for school board evaluation is to improve the

operation of the school board as the board carries out its legal

and ethical duties. What could be of more value to the school system?" (Furtwengler,1988).

It is important that boards consider the motives guiding their involvement in programs of self assessment. Clearly thought out reasons for self assessment can assist boards in utilizing information and in putting improvement plans in place. The following items constitute some of the more common self assessment "motivations."

-To make the board more sensitive to its roles and priorities;

-To provide insight and orientation to new members;

-To assist the board in clarifying its direction;

-To enable the board to model its policy of system-wide

evaluation (i.e. to hold itself to a standard as it holds others

to a standard);

-To address, and possibly resolve, conflict among members;

-To allow members to reflect upon their own performance within the context of the board as a whole;

-To facilitate communication and teamwork among board


-To provide an opportunity to celebrate effective aspects of

board performance;

-To more effectively plan, and provide for, the learning opportunities for children in the system.

"Consider your own evaluation program, it may be helpful

to keep in mind that evaluation should be a constructive

process with positive approaches. That doesn't mean

weaknesses should be ignored and strengths emphasized.

Evaluation should be objective and part of an overall process

that has a firm commitment from all parties involved.

If politicking and personality characteristics are the overriding

factors influencing your evaluation process now, then it's time

to begin developing evaluation systems that both your board and

superintendent can live with happily" (Leadership Reports,


Table of Contents





"The assessment ... gives a picture of the current state of affairs -- it presents what is. But if the exercise is to be worthwhile, it must be the starting point for a plan to guide the (board) toward an improved state -- What Ought To Be" (Herman,1987).

In order to identify which aspects of board operation need to be

assessed, three basic understandings are required. These are:

a) an understanding as to what constitutes board effectiveness;

b) an understanding of the board's predominant decision making


c) an understanding of the tasks and processes which define the

role of the board.

Indicators of Board Effectiveness

A description of the attributes of effective boards was provided by the IEL (1986) Study of School Boards in the United States. The following representation of that list, adapted in places to the Canadian context, is useful in that these items are expressed in action terms (i.e. what boards purposefully do to better meet the needs of students in their jurisdictions).

-An effective board provides leadership for public education and is an advocate for the educational needs and interests of children and youth.

-An effective board works to influence policies of provincial and local government bodies and other organizations whose decisions affect children and youth.

-An effective board seeks and responds to many forms of parent and community participation in the school system.

-An effective board has a comprehensive program of communications with its various constituencies including policies and procedures for working with the media.

-An effective board encourages and respects diversity, deals openly and straightforwardly with controversy within the board and the community and follows democratic decision making processes.

-An effective board uses strategic planning to set educational goals and determines the means of accomplishing them.

-An effective board works to ensure an adequate flow of resources and achieves equity in their distribution.

-An effective board establishes and follows policy to govern its own policy making responsibilities.

-An effective board exercises continuing policy oversight of education programs and their management, drawing information for this purpose from many sources and knowing enough to ask the right questions.

-An effective board establishes and implements procedures for selecting and evaluating the chief executive officer.

-An effective board recognizes the dilemma of distinguishing policy from administration and periodically clarifies these separate areas of responsibility in consultation with the chief executive officer.

-An effective board promotes constructive relations with its employees and works to create conditions that enhance productivity.

-An effective board establishes clear expectations for the conduct of its members.

-An effective board establishes and follows policies and procedures to manage its own operations.

-An effective board has procedures for self assessment and invests in its own development, using diverse approaches that address the needs of the board as a whole, as well as those of individual board members.

Adapted from


"... you ran for election, you won, and you're on the school

board. Now what? In spite of all the negatives about the job,

it still offers a tremendous opportunity to perform a very

important task: you and your fellow board members are

charged with the responsibility of providing the best possible

education for your community's young people. Your job as a board

member is still one of the best examples of representative

local government" (Donoian,1986).

School Board Style

Katz (1985) differentiated school board styles on the basis of two broad categories: corporate and familial. The "corporate" board is seen as more structured, more reflective of the board which sits in the impressive boardroom surrounded by flip-charts and graphs. The "familial" board; on the other hand, is more informal and is seen more as a group of family elders making decisions for a large loosely connected clan. Their respective characteristics are represented in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Characteristics of Corporate and Familial Boards



Another important distinction in board style can be made along the lines of governance styles, that is in the manner in which they approach the policy making function. The decision making style of the board has been the subject of some research, and the categorization of boards developed by the American Association of School Administrators (1984) reflects the distinction between policy making, administrative and rubber-stamping styles found elsewhere. The major characteristics of these styles are described below in Figure 3.

Figure 3: School Board Decision-Making Styles.

Consensus-building (Policy -making) Boards

Most boards use this method, whereby they discuss issues in depth and regard their CEO as a source of information and advice.

Votes may be split, but according to conscience and not long-running board-member disputes, and everyone supports the majority decision. The board tries to live the ideal of the policy-making board and the administering superintendent.

Faction-weary (Administrative) Boards

These boards like to administer, and often involve themselves through board committees for overseeing school and system operation. The administration is not particularly well-trusted, and the lines of responsibility are unclear. Board discussions are often heated, and votes are frequently split.

Rubber-stamping (Caretaking) Boards

These boards view themselves more as benign corporate boards than as active legislative bodies. They defer to their professional administrator and allow the control of the system, its vision, its planning functions almost totally to the administration.

(Adapted from AASA, 1984, p. 49).

Research seems to indicate that the majority of school boards tend to operate as consensus-building boards. However, the general style of the board is a matter for occasional assessment by the board and chief executive officer, if only to sustain an awareness as to what is regarded as more effective and less effective styles of operation. Boards may wish to use this as a "gauge" for the assessment and discussion of their own styles.

"But why that dichotomy? Why that strict distinction

between policy and administration? Because the other

way the desultory approach so many school systems

take simply doesn't work. It doesn't work, first because

board members don't have time to administer the schools . . .

and it doesn't work because board members who try their

hand at administration too often are easy prey to special interest

groups or individuals with an axe to grind. When that happens,

the evenness and impartiality with which policy is applied

becomes suspect. The emasculated superintendent no longer

has the respect of teachers, students, and parents. And, as the

superintendent loses control, the board, too, loses its capacity

to be certain the schools are run well." (Relic,1986).

Board Tasks and Processes

One final distinction which should be made is that between what boards do (or are expected to do) and how they do it. The first consideration is usually established in the legislation governing the mandatory and discretionary duties of boards of education, but there are several major "areas of operation" which have typically delineated the responsibilities of the board. These are:

1. Board operation and meetings

2. Financial management and facilities

3. Personnel

4. Program

5. Community relations

6. Board-CEO relations

7. Communications

8. Policy development

One consideration in board self assessment, therefore, is the extent to which these functions are performed and the extent to which each function receives the board attention is deserves. For each of these functions; however, there remains the question of how the board conducts this business. Four major processes provide a basis for self assessment in each area:

1. Evaluating

2. Planning

3. Influencing

4. Communicating

These four themes run through each function of the board and help to shed light on the effectiveness of the board in meeting its legislated mandate.

Summary: What to Assess?

In short, then, the focus for school board self assessment can take a variety of forms, the choice from which will depend upon the circumstances and needs of the board which, of course, may well vary significantly from one round of self assessment to another. Two points need to be made, therefore, in relation to the focus of assessment. First, boards should avoid the comfortable niche of reviewing the same aspect(s) of their performance each time self assessment is due. Repetition is a pedantic response which pays lip-service to the true meaning of board self assessment. Second, boards should avoid the tendency to assume too broad an assessment task. Within each of the categories identified in the previous pages, there is considerable room for deliberation. Given the time constraints experienced by most boards, time would be much better spent on an in-depth review of selected aspects of board operation rather than on a superficial view of everything.

Table of Contents




"If anything significant is to be accomplished, leaders

must understand the social institutions and processes

through which action is carried out . . .A leader . . .

knows the organization, understands what makes it move,

comprehends its limitations. Every social system or institution

has a logic and dynamic of its own that cannot be ignored." (Simon,1985).

School board self assessment, when it is done well, is not conducted in a vacuum. It would be inconceivable for any self assessment to be undertaken in complete ignorance of the context within which the school board performs its mandate. However, because circumstances change, and because these circumstances have a significant impact upon the performance of the board, the review of context is a vital activity which should precede discussion of performance assessment. For purposes of discussion, context may be reviewed on the basis of a) external and b) internal considerations.

The External Context

In the general environment, several changes in the political, social and economic climate make themselves felt from time to time in very tangible ways, and translate into board concerns through such questions as these:

-What are the priorities of the present government regarding education?

-What demands are these priorities placing upon our program?

-What is the current trend regarding educational funding?

-Is the economic climate conducive to maintaining or increasing funding in the public sector?

-What is the economic climate in the immediate province? community?

-What is the image of the school system among the general public?

-Is the community supportive of what the schools are doing?

-What do "stakeholders" want from the schools?

-What are the current issues being tackled by the educational community?

-What is the nature of the relationship between boards and teacher associations provincially and locally?

-What is the current status of teacher supply and demand?

These and others are important questions to discuss, not only because they help us to better understand the circumstances within which we work, but because such an understanding assists us in responding more effectively to the needs of our students and in more accurately identifying priorities for planning and board assessment.

The Internal Context

In addition to external factors, there are numerous influences within the board and system that play a significant role in influencing board action. Some of these may be the attitudes and motives of individual board members, the nature of cooperation and teamwork within the board, the levels of experience of board members, the priorities established for the system, the attitudes and experience of the chief executive officer, the quality of the relationship between board and chief executive officer, the initiatives currently underway in the system, and the quality of existing policies and policy making.

An important additional consideration among internal factors is the "context of evaluation" within the system as a whole. This consideration gives the board the opportunity to place its own self assessment within the framework of assessment/evaluation in all aspects of school system operation. This line of thinking is illustrated in Figure 3, which ties evaluation at all levels to CEO and board assessment and in turn to the board's consideration of its planning activities and its evaluation policy.

In summary, two points need to be reinforced:

1. School board self assessment should be considered as part of the overall framework for evaluation in the school system;

2. School board self assessment is more effective when considered as a component of the ongoing process of planning and priority setting.

Assessing Board Context: A Force Field Analysis

One useful technique for surfacing and discussing issues related to the context of any system is that of "force field analysis", a technique developed by Kurt Lewin (1951) to assist individuals in social systems to understand and deal with the problems and issues which confront them in meeting their objectives. In the context of school board self assessment, force field analysis is a means of clarifying elements (both external and internal) which help or hinder the board in its efforts to perform its tasks effectively. Identification and discussion of these "forces," particularly those over which the board has some control, serves as a guide to the future actions and strategies employed by the board. This of course also serves to establish priorities for the focus of board self assessment.

The stages involved in the process of force field analysis applied to board self assessment are as follows:

1. State the objective to be worked on. In this case it would be "the enhancement of school board effectiveness."

2. List those external and internal forces which help the board in its work toward the above objective.

3. List those external and internal forces which hinder the board in its work toward the objective.

4. Rank the forces which have been recorded, keeping in mind their significance for the system and for board effectiveness.

5. For the four or five items ranked at the top of the list, identify strategies, people, resources, sources of support etc. for reducing the hindering forces and for strengthening the helping forces.

The arrangement whereby these points may be itemized and ranked for discussion is illustrated in Figure 5.

Table of Contents




"Self evaluation takes courage. It takes the ability

to stand back, evaluate your own actions, and make a

reasonable and accurate appraisal of them. It implies a

willingness on the part of the board to be open"

(Curcio and Manning,1985).

So far we have examined, in this manual, the purpose, focus, and context of school board self assessment. Several activities preliminary to the assessment itself have already been presented. These activities are, of course, part of the larger picture of self assessment and as such, are significant "process" considerations. In this section, the preliminary issues and prerequisites are still kept in mind, but the major focus of attention turns to questions which are basic to the actual conduct of the self assessment, specifically:

. who should be involved?

. when should self assessment be conducted?

. where do we start?

. how do we proceed?

Associated with process is the issue of instrumentation, which necessitates decisions related to what shall be assessed within each area of operation, and what format shall be used in order to obtain that measure of assessment. Consequently, formats for assessment are suggested for each of the operational areas identified earlier.

First, however, it is important to review the requirements which are essential to the success of the process. From the individuals involved, the process requires commitment, honesty, and an objective outlook; from the group, the process requires good working relationships, cooperation, and trust; and, operationally, the process requires planning, system goals, clarification of the responsibilities of board members, and a clear statement of the steps involved in the self assessment process. Without these prerequisites the value of the process is weakened severely.

Who Should Be Involved?

Of course the major participants in self assessment, by its very title are the board members themselves. Usually such an activity has the active commitment of every member of the board, but it would be naive to assume that all board members will agree to participate in the activities related to the self assessment process. Where a member refuses to participate, it is up to other members of the board to convince him/her of a) the value of their input and b) the importance of the process to the system. Writers on board self assessment would agree that, failing this, the board should proceed without the non-participating member (Simon, 1985).

Most self assessments are conducted by the board and chief executive officer, with minimal involvement of externals. However, the use of external facilitators and consultants has value, particularly for boards undertaking self assessment for the first time, for those undertaking a new form of self assessment or for those who decide that the occasional involvement of a facilitator provides a new dimension for a more effective assessment. Regardless of the motives for involving external facilitators, the theme of self assessment should be maintained. Consequently, the external "facilitator" role should not be allowed to become that of an external "evaluator". Where externals are involved, it is crucial that the needs of the board and the nature of the entire self assessment process be discussed thoroughly with the facilitator prior to the activity itself.

Other actors in the process should be involved occasionally as sources of information. The decision as to what sources of information will be tapped is for the board itself to make, but it is useful to gather feedback from stakeholders such as staff, parents and community members as periodic sources of information for self assessment.

Finally, the development of a process which suits the needs of the board is probably best accomplished for most boards by means of a sub-committee consisting of at least two trustees and the chief executive officer. It would be the responsibility of this committee to coordinate the process, summarize information, clarify actions suggested by the process, and assess the self assessment experience itself.

When Should Self Assessment be Conducted?

For informal self assessment, which is less structured and which allows for the fairly casual sharing of ideas among board members regarding board performance, the process of self assessment is a continuing one, not requiring any specified or prearranged assessment "sessions". For formal self assessment some structured consideration of time, place and frequency is required. Most of the literature on board assessment suggests that it should be an annual event. According to Simon (1985:63) if it does not occur at least that often, the board is not assessing its performance often enough.

The issue of timing is also important. The process is more effectively conducted at those times when the board is not embroiled in a host of serious issues requiring considerable time and attention. On the other hand, the need to have new members familiar with the working of the board before they can respond meaningfully to it, dictates that the formal assessment take place later, rather than earlier, in the year. In any event, time must be diligently set aside to make sure that the process receives the serious attention it deserves.

Where do we Start?

Following an initial commitment to self assessment, preferably established in policy, several decisions require early attention:

1. The decision regarding who shall coordinate the process (e.g. a sub-committee of the board, total board, CEO);

2. The decision as to whether an external facilitator will be utilized;

3. The consensus of the board regarding the process to be followed;

4. The adaptation of the process to the specific needs of the board.

In the case of the fourth item, boards should not make the mistake of slavish adherence to a pre-established process for self assessment, and slavish adherence to instruments for assessment that measure what the board does not need to measure in the first place. Decisions about process must be guided by the needs of the board and not by an existing format. Processes and procedures such as those contained in these pages are at their most valuable when boards can modify them, change steps, remove items, skip stages, depending upon the circumstances and requirements of their own self assessment.

How do we Proceed?

As illustrated above, the entry point into the process and the general nature of that process will vary from school board to school board and from assessment to assessment. For many boards, however, some consideration will be required in the areas of clarifying the purpose of the assessment, reexamining the priorities and long range plans of the system, and taking stock of perceptions regarding board style and board context. But boards may not wish to do all these things each time they sit down to consider their performance.

A useful "template" for boards considering how to proceed, however, is the cycle of board self assessment identified earlier (in Figure 1). The stages in themselves are flexible, yet they allow for a logical approach to the task. To review, the six stages are as follows:

1. Identification of areas for assessment.

2. Collection of information.

3. Analysis and summary of facts and opinions.

4. Board discussion and interpretation.

5. Formulation of directions for improvement.

6. Clarification and finalization of board plans.

These six steps are discussed in more detail in the next section.

Table of Contents




"Self evaluation should not consist of fault finding or pointing fingers, but should be based on a positive approach -- what are we doing well and where do we need to improve?"


1. Identification of Areas for Assessment

As illustrated earlier, several preliminary deliberations provide the basis for an informed decision by the board as to what aspects of its performance should be assessed. They translate into the following activities:

Activity #1: Self Assessment Rationale

To provide an opportunity for the board to examine its major motivations for understanding self assessment.

Activity #2: School Board Effectiveness: Current Areas of Priority

To provide a means by which board members can identify those aspects of board effectiveness which are most characteristic of their board.

Activity #3: Determining Board Style

To provide an opportunity for board members to discuss the operational and decision-making style of their board.

Activity #4: Assessing Context

To give the board the opportunity to assess its external and internal environment, particularly the most significant forces which help and those forces which hinder the board in meeting its mandate.

Activity #5: Selecting a Focus for Assessment

To enable the board to select, from its operational areas of responsibility, those areas to be assessed in a given round of assessment.

The decision as to what to assess should be guided by a careful analysis of the needs of the board, but it should also be influenced strongly by the time available to the board to do an adequate job of assessment in the chosen area(s). The tendency to undertake too much is to be avoided, keeping in mind that areas not covered one time may be given prominence in a future round, or during informal assessments which may be undertaken more frequently. It is suggested that no more than three areas be identified as the focus for assessment in any given round.

2. Collection of Information.

Two initial questions will have been dealt with by the time boards have reached this stage of the process:

a) Who will have responsibility for collecting and summarizing information? (Board committee? CEO?)

b) Who will be the sources of information? (Board members only? Board/Parents? etc.)

A survey instrument of some sort is used by most boards conducting formal self assessment, probably because it is convenient and can easily be adapted to the questions on which the board wishes to focus. Of course the actual completion of the self assessment instrument should be undertaken by all board members as it is an assessment of the board as a corporate body, not as an aggregate of individuals.

The survey instruments (Part VIII of this manual) have been designed, for each of the operational areas, to reflect what has been perceived to be effective board practice. The criteria under each area should provide a literature-based gauge by which boards can assess their performance. It should be pointed out that these instruments have been derived from a review of a wide selection of instruments in use throughout North America. Items have been identified and, in places, adapted on the basis of their applicability to the role of school boards and the context of school boards in Saskatchewan. However, it is anticipated, and expected, that boards adapt the instruments where they see fit, and where they see a need to reflect their own realities more accurately.

3. Analysis and Summary of Facts and Opinions.

Where survey instruments have been used, the sub-committee or person responsible should summarize the assessments provided by individual board members. The summary information should be made available to all members for use during the discussion and interpretation session.

4. Board Discussion and Interpretation.

In additional to the summary data, board members should be encouraged to individually identify:

a) Major strengths of the board within each area of discussion;

b) Priorities for board improvement.

It is important, to avoid a pathological orientation to the process, that consideration of strengths and causes for optimism regarding board performance be the first focus of discussion of the assessment information. From this point, a positive and constructive orientation to the suggested improvements is more likely.

It is also important that all members of the board have plenty of opportunity to participate in the interpretation of the assessment data.

The activity associated with this task is as follows:

Activity #6: Discussion and Interpretation of Assessments

To provide a means by which the summary data from the instruments are presented to the board.

To provide a forum for the discussion and interpretation of the information in terms of board strengths and areas for improvement.

5. Formulation of Suggestions for Improvement.

This is one of the most important stages in the entire self assessment process and the success of the activity will depend upon what the board does with the outcomes. Of course, the strengths which have been identified must continue to be pursued earnestly, but the directions for improvement will involve change in attitude, in orientation, in practice, and there may be more 'improvements' suggested than the board is capable of implementing. Consequently this stage will necessitate priorities. As a guideline, boards may wish to differentiate those items which require immediate attention from those which will require long-term consideration.

6. Clarification and Finalization of Board Plans.

This stage is the board's affirmation that some tangible outcomes have emerged from the process of self assessment. Board plans regarding the priorities for improvement identified above should be reviewed a week or two after they had been suggested, and at that time, long term and short term actions should be confirmed.

The Process at a Glance

The full process of self assessment, with recommended activities and time allotments is summarized in Figure 6. While each of the six steps should be given some attention by the board, it is understood that the board will be selective in its use of the activities and in the time devoted to them. The information in Figure 6 should therefore be regarded as a very general guide around which the assessment process may be planned.




Initial board decisions re: duration, responsibilities, etc. Preliminary



1. Identification of Areas for Assessment #1 Self Assessment Rationale

#2 Priorities

#3 Board Style

#4 Assessing Context

#5 Selecting a Focus

Board/CEO 1 hour

1 hour

1 hour

2.5 hours

30 min. - 1 hour

2. Collection of Information Individual Review of Board Performance Individual Trustees Allow 7 days for completion and return of instruments

3. Analysis and Summary Coordinator/

Board Committee

4.Board Discussion

#6 Discussion and Interpretation

Board/CEO 2.5 hours

5. Directions for Improvement #7 Formulation of Directions

Board/CEO 1.5 hours

6. Finalization of Plans


Table of Contents






OBJECTIVE: To provide an opportunity for the board to examine its own self assessment agenda and to understand its major motivations for undertaking the process

Individually or in pairs: Identify on the list below the items which you feel motivates the board to conduct a self assessment of its performance. Feel free to add to, or modify, the list provided.

As a board: Discuss alternative motives identified by individuals or pairs. Clarify the major intent of the board in undertaking this program of self assessment.



Self Assessment Motivation

To make the board more sensitive to its roles and priorities

To provide insight and orientation to new members

To assist the board in clarifying its direction

To enable the board to model its policy of system-wide evaluation (i.e. to hold itself to a standard as it holds others to a standard)

To address, and possibly resolve, conflict among members

To allow members to reflect upon their own performance within the context of the board as a whole

To facilitate communication and teamwork among board members

To provide an opportunity to celebrate effective aspects of board performance

To more effectively plan, and provide for, the learning opportunities for children in the system



OBJECTIVE: To identify those aspects of board effectiveness which board members identify as most characteristic of their board.

A. Individually: From the attached list of board effectiveness criteria, identify those items which you perceive to be currently most important to your board.

B. As a board: Discuss individual priorities, compare choices, explain reasons for priorities and commonalities.


(Check) School Board Effectiveness: A General Review of Strengths

Provides leadership for public education and is an advocate for the educational needs and interests of children and youth

Works to influence policies of provincial and local government bodies and other organizations whose decisions affect children and youth

Seeks and responds to many forms of parent and community participation in the school system

Has a comprehensive program of communications with its various constituencies including policies and procedures for working with the media

Encourages and respects diversity, deals openly and straightforwardly with controversy within the board and the community and follows democratic decision making processes

Uses strategic planning to set educational goals and determines the means of accomplishing them

Works to ensure an adequate flow of resources and achieves equity in their distribution

Establishes and follows policy to govern its own policy making responsibilities

Exercises continuing policy oversight of education programs and their management, drawing information for this purpose from many sources and knowing enough to ask the right questions

Establishes and implements procedures for selecting and evaluating the chief executive officer

Recognizes the dilemma of distinguishing policy from administration and periodically clarifies these separate areas of responsibility in consultation with the chief executive officer

Promotes constructive relations with its employees and works to create conditions that enhance productivity

Establishes clear expectations for the conduct of its members

Establishes and follows policies and procedures to manage its own operations

Has procedures for self assessment and invests in its own development, using diverse approaches that address the needs of the board as a whole, as well as those of individual board members



OBJECTIVE: To identify characteristics of corporate and familial boards, and to assess the predominant style of this board according to these characteristics,

1. Review the descriptions of corporate and familial boards (Figure 2) . Identify the characteristics of corporate and familial boards demonstrated by your board.

Board Style

Comments for Board Discussion





OBJECTIVE: To identify the decision-making style of the board and to consider its appropriateness in the school system.

Review the descriptions of school board decision-making styles contained in Figure 3. Comment on the manner in which your board reflects these styles.

Board Style Comments for Board Discussion









OBJECTIVE: To identify forces which help and forces which hinder the board in meeting its mandate. To generate ideas and strategies for the improvement of board operation.

Effective School Board Operation:

A Force Field Analysis.

1. OBJECTIVE: The Enhancement of School Board Effectiveness

2,3. On the chart below , identify a) the external and b) the internal forces which help, and those which hinder the board's effectiveness.


---------------------------> FORCES <----------------------------------


---------------------------> TO THE <----------------------------------


---------------------------> <----------------------------------

---------------------------> <----------------------------------

---------------------------> FORCES <----------------------------------


---------------------------> TO THE <----------------------------------


---------------------------> <----------------------------------

4,5. Below rank the forces which have been recorded, keeping in mind their significance for board effectiveness.

Identify appropriate strategies which you can think of for dealing with the more significant forces.








OBJECTIVE: To enable the board to select, from board effectiveness criteria, board styles, board tasks and processes, those aspects of its performance to be assessed.

Individually: Check, from the list below, those items which you feel should be the focus of school board assessment at this time.

As a board: Discuss individual preferences, and select (preferably through consensus) areas for assessment.

Individual Choice Board Choice

1. An examination of how our board rates on school board effectiveness criteria

2. An examination of our board's operational and decision-making styles (see Activities #3(a) and (b)

3. An examination of the performance of our board in:

a) board operation and meetings;

b) financial management and facilities

c) personnel

d) program

e) community relations

f) board-CEO relations

g) communications

h) policy development



OBJECTIVE: To provide an opportunity for review of summary data. To allow for the discussion of board strengths and areas for improvement.

A. Individually: 1. Review the summary of assessments on the selected instrument(s). What is your general assessment of board performance on each instrument?

Area of Assessment General Assessment










2. From each instrument, identify the items which emerge as the boards greatest strengths and areas for improvement and record the items below:


Strengths Areas for














B. As a board: 3. Discuss the general assessment of board performance in each area.

Area 1:

Area 2:

Area 3:

4. Identify and record board consensus on strengths and areas for improvement.

Area Strengths Areas for




Objective: To assist the board in identifying priorities for improvement emerging from the assessment process.

Individually: Review the listing of improvement suggestions resulting from the previous discussion.

Identify what you perceive to be the major immediate and long-term priorities for actions which the board should take.









As a board: Discuss individual priorities and develop a board consensus on immediate and long term priorities for board action.









Table of Contents


American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association. Holding Effective Board Meetings. Arlington, Virginia, 1984.

Anderson, Stuart A. Successful School Board Meetings. Illinois Association of School Boards. Springfield, Illinois. 1983.

Curcio, Joan L. and Edna M. Manning. "Board Self-Evaluation: A Sure Way to Improvement". Update V. 16, No. 2 (February, 1985), p. 1.

Denoian, George. "Recognize and Acquire These Attributes of a Good School Board Member." American School Board Journal, V. 173, No. 9 (September, 1986), p. 34.

Furtwengler, Carol B. "Evaluation of the Board of Education: A Look in the Mirror." Leadership Reports, V.1. NSBA: Washington, 1988.

Herman, Jerry J. "Answer These Questions (Candidly) and Develop a Snapshot of Your Board Skills". The American School Board Journal, V. 174, no. 6 (June, 1987), pp. 38-39.

Holliday, A.E. "Self-evaluation: A Growth Device for Boards". Pennsylvania School Boards Association Bulletin. January/February 1974.

Institute for Educational Leadership. School Boards. Washington, D.C. 1986.

Isherwood, Geoffrey and Norman D. Osgoode. "What Makes Boards Tick? The Chairperson Speaks Out". Education Canada, V. 26, No. 1 (Spring 1986), pp. 4-11.

Katz, Malcolm. "Match Working Styles, and Find Your Way to Board/Superintendent Harmony". The American School Board Journal. V. 172, No. 1 (February, 1985), pp. 33-34.

Lewin, K. Field Theory in Social Science. New York: Harper and Row, 1951.

Relic, Peter D. "Boards That Try to Administer School Policy are Courting Complete Chaos". The American School Board Journal, V. 173, no. 9. (September, 1986), pp. 84-85.

Rosamilia, Peter. "A Major Board Responsibility: Self-Evaluation." Leadership Reports, V. 1. NSBA: Washington, 1988.

Simon, Toby R. Handbook of Effective board Leadership. Trenton,New Jersey: School Boards Association, 1985.

Storey, Vernon J. and John C. Holt. "Evaluating School Board Performance". The Canadian Administrator, V. 25, no. 8. (May, 1986), pp. 1-4.

Storey, V . School Board Self Evaluation (2nd Ed.). Vancouver, B.C.: EduServ., 1988.

Wolfe, Leslie G. School Board Self-Assessment. Washington, D.C.: National School Boards Association, 1982.

Table of Contents

Back to: Governance