Can D.C. teacher evaluations be too admiring?
I am still receiving emails about my Nov. 23 column on Dan Goldfarb, the first teacher to share with me the results of an evaluation under the new D.C. teacher assessment plan, IMPACT. Goldfarb was not happy with his score, 2.3 out of a possible 4 points. He said the rules forced his evaluator to focus on trivia, like whether he had been--to quote the IMPACT guidelines--“affirming (verbally or in writing) student effort or the connection between hard work and achievement.” He said the evaluator told his principal of his complaints about the program and about D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, violating promised confidentiality.
Goldfarb had legitimate gripes. But his was a tiny sample of this innovative attempt at rating teachers. When I sought evaluations from teachers not so opposed to IMPACT, several said they would send theirs over, but so far only one has done so. That evaluation differed from Goldfarb’s in intriguing ways. The score was almost perfect, 3.92 out of 4. But the analysis seemed to me out of sync with thinking behind this program.
The evaluation was done on Nov. 2. The teacher was John F. Mahoney. He teaches math at the same school where Goldfarb teaches history--Benjamin Banneker Academic High School. The fact that Goldfarb has been at a school that good for several years indicates he is considered a good teacher. Mahoney’s reputation is more obvious. He is one of the most decorated educators in the country, selected to the National Teachers Hall of Fame and holding many awards, including the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award given by this newspaper. The Post reported in 2001 his move from the private Sidwell Friends School to Banneker as an effort ”to help more young people with fewer opportunities.”
It is hard to believe, reading the assessments of Mahoney’s Master Educator evaluator, that the evaluator was not aware of Mahoney’s reputation and influenced by it. “I was a true pleasure observing your class,” the evaluator concluded. “I am inspired by your passion and compassion for teaching and for your students.” But the evaluator asked Mahoney to tell me that she just moved here and had never heard of him before she observed his class.
The evaluator gave him perfect 4s on 12 of the 13 categories covered. The reasons were often clearly stated. Ascertaining his probing for higher understanding with the ninth grade class, the evaluator said “Mr. Mahoney used an effective questioning technique for example: How can you tell this is correct? What would be other points on the line? Students also had to fully explain their process. This is important to bring about meaning to their mathematics and that students are not simply drawing pretty graphs.”
In checking for understanding, Mahoney “asked clarifying questions and had students present their problems to demonstrate understanding. At one point he even reminded a few to sit up straight and re-focus,” the evaluator wrote.
Mahoney’s only flaw was in reinforcing positive behavior, for which he got only 2 points. “This score could be improved if there was reinforcement at strategic times simply by saying ‘thank you (student) for _____.’ The students of ay [sic] age appreciate praise. With these students it would be an effective means to keep them on task and increase engagement,” the evaluator wrote.
That’s fine. Mahoney deserves his high marks. But parts of the evaluation were vague, and I think reflect the view that a teacher this accomplished doesn't need any help. On multiple learning styles, the report said “Mr. Mahoney attempted and effectively targeted three learning styles: visual, kinesthetic and interpersonal,” without giving any examples.
The evaluator told me through Mahoney that she offered more detailed guidance in her post-evaluation conversation with him. If this process is to work, without too many arguments over who said what to whom, I think the evaluators should get the important points down on paper.
I hope more D.C. teachers will share, perhaps as comments to the online version of this column, how their evaluations are going. If the process is designed, as its creators say, to stimulate thoughtful exchanges about pedagogy, it needs to provide as much detail on the best teachers as does on those needing to improve. Just as they do with their students, teachers like Mahoney expect to be evaluated, not admired.
| January 3, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories: Metro Monday | Tags: D.C. IMPACT program, Dan Goldfarb, John F. Mahoney, admiring evaluators, teacher evaluations
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