Teaching Profession

D.C. Unveils Complex Evaluation System

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 05, 2009 2 min read

I’ve finally had a chance to take a look at Washington, D.C’s new teacher-evaluation system, known as IMPACT, which generated a lot of buzz for being among the first in the nation to incorporate student test scores as part of the teacher rating. (Race to the Top, anyone?)

To be fair, IMPACT is not all about test scores: the evaluation system also includes other pieces, such as scores on a “Teaching and Learning Framework,” an extensive set of observational measures similar to Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, or the rubrics used by the New Teacher Center or the Teacher Advancement Program. Teachers in the district will be observed five times before a final rating is generated, three times by a building administrator and twice by an outside “master evaluator” who is a subject-matter expert and does not report to the building administrator.

There is even a “core professionalism” component to measure whether teachers show up on time and to ensure they don’t go missing without an excuse, no doubt to counteract problems with chronically absent teachers.

The Washington Post has a pretty good write-up on IMPACT here, but one thing the story doesn’t really convey is that IMPACT really is more a composite of 20 different evaluation systems. There are standards for teachers who teach in tested subjects, and those who do not, standards for counselors, for instructional paraprofessionals, for non-instructional paraprofessionals, even for custodians.

So, if you’re teaching in grades 4-8 in reading or math, 50 percent of your rating is based on an “individual” value-added score and 40 percent on observational ratings aligned to the Teaching and Learning Framework. But if you’re in a subject without an accountability test in place, then 80 percent of your rating is based on the TLF and 10 percent is based on a non-value-added assessment chosen by the teacher, such as a unit test from an approved textbook. Special-ed teachers are rated in part according to their ability to turn out well-crafted individualized education plans. You get the idea.

Almost all of the teachers will have at least 5 percent of their evaluation based on schoolwide (not individual) growth.

The American Federation of Teachers and the Washington Teachers’ Unions are already on the record as not liking this new system. It’s probably worth noting that the district was not obligated to consult with the WTU in crafting it. But the AFT has expressed discomfort with using test scores beyond the building level, and research is certainly not unequivocally supportive of individual value-added measures.

Though IMPACT was not collectively bargained, Rhee did meet with a bunch of focus groups of teachers while she was developing it. In the preamble to the IMPACT guidelines, she says that the system is first and foremost supposed to provide a pathway to teacher-effectiveness growth, and not just serve as an accountability measure.

But with hundreds of layoffs going on right now—many of which the union says could have been avoided had the district not hired so many new teachers this summer— I wonder how many teachers are going to believe her.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.