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D.C. teacher evaluation program leader critiques my column

Jason Kamras, director of teacher human capital strategy for the D.C. schools, is in charge of the IMPACT program for teacher evaluation in the city. He is trying to help me understand his complex system. Here is an e-mail he recently sent me giving his view on my column in today's Metro section. Since this subject is so complicated, I am going to continue to offer space on this blog to Kamras or any teachers who want to provide details of their evaluation experiences so we can all figure it out. This is one of the most interesting, and controversial, assessment efforts in the country. I long for as much useful information about it as possible.

In his e-mail, Kamras quoted parts of my column and then gave his responses. He is quoting from an earlier version of the column I sent him in advance. (I send everything I write to all relevant sources in advance to check for errors.) So the quotes here may be somewhat different than what you see in the column just below this item on the blog:

Mathews: If the process is designed, as its creators say, to stimulate thoughtful exchanges about pedagogy, it needs to provide just as much detail on the best teachers as it does on those needing to improve. Just as they do with their students, teachers like Mahoney expect to be evaluated, not admired.

Kamras: Mr. Mahoney was evaluated – not “admired.” It just so happens that Mr. Mahoney is an excellent teacher. We should celebrate this fact, not question its authenticity. It is also important to recognize that the written comments represent just a fraction of the interaction between the teacher and the Master Educator. Recall that, after each observation, the Master Educator meets with the teacher for at least 30 minutes to explain the scores and to discuss concrete steps for improving instruction and student achievement. Short, concise comments by no means indicate a lack of “thoughtful exchanges about pedagogy” between the teacher and the evaluator during the post-observation conference. Furthermore, many teachers continue to communicate with the Master Educators who observed even after their conferences because they find the dialogue so valuable.

As IMPACT continues to develop, we plan on synthesizing what we see in the best classrooms and sharing this information with teachers across the district. The central office is already putting together an online portal that will provide teachers with numerous professional development resources created by their highest-performing colleagues. It will also provide video exemplars of the most effective DCPS teachers.
[Note from Mathews: This is fine, but if the evaluation leads to someone being fired, it might be a good idea to make sure the written version doesn't leave out anything important.]

Mathews: 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.”

Kamras: Mr. Mahoney’s evaluator moved to DC in August after teaching in New York City, upstate New York, and Washington State. She did not know anything about Mr. Mahoney prior to conducting the observation. One would expect teachers who earn near-perfect evaluation scores to inspire strongly positive comments from the Master Educators who observe them. After all, one of the purposes of IMPACT is to celebrate great teaching.

Mathews: Mahoney deserves his high marks. But parts of the evaluation were vague. On multiple learning styles, the report said “Mr. Mahoney attempted and effectively targeted three learning styles: visual, kinesthetic and interpersonal,” without giving any examples.

Kamras: The exact text from the comment for Teach 4 is: “Mr. Mahoney attempted and effectively targeted three learning styles: visual, kinesthetic and interpersonal. The use of an interpersonal style allowed students to work together in a ‘safe’ environment unafraid to make an error in front of their peers.” The evaluator clearly comments on why one of those learning styles was particularly effective, and Mr. Mahoney and the Master Educator almost certainly discussed these comments in greater detail during the post-observation conference.


For all the Post's Education coverage, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education.

For more from Jay, go to http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle

By Jay Mathews  | January 4, 2010; 12:56 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  D.C. schools, IMPACT teacher evaluation, Jason Kamras, John F. Mahoney, Master Educator  
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Comments

After years of trying, he finally finds a way to write and report about confidential teacher personnel matters.

Posted by: motherseton | January 4, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Word of caution about the solicitation above ... "I am going to continue to offer space on this blog to ... any teachers who want to provide details of their evaluation experiences..." At first glance he may use your confidential job performance evaluations to write about potential flaws and bias in IMPACT; but later he may use your confidential job performance evaluations to write about flaws and bias in teachers.

Posted by: motherseton | January 4, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Could you imagine columnists soliciting Fire Fighters, Police Officers, EMTs, and other Government Employees to give their confidential job performance evaluations to the WashPost for publication? Apparently teachers are fair game. Another low blow to teachers and the teaching profession.

Posted by: motherseton | January 4, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Furthermore, many teachers continue to communicate with the Master Educators who observed even after their conferences because they find the dialogue so valuable.


LOL. Who is he kidding?

Posted by: mamoore1 | January 4, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

For Mr. Kamras and Matthews' information:

Learning Styles: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile.

"Interpersonal" is not a learning style. It is one of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences.

If DCPS is relying on experts to evaluate teachers, these so-called "Master Educators" ought to be meticulous in their use of the accurate terms of the trade, don't you think? I'm surprised that these kinds of sloppy references are tolerated. They reflect a troubling inattention to detail, both by the evaluator and by Ms. Kamras.

Posted by: vscribe | January 4, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Kamras writes "As IMPACT continues to develop, we plan on synthesizing ... and sharing ...putting together ... that will provide ... It will also provide ..."

That's a lot of future tense for a system that is already effecting careers.

By the way, did you hear Dan Pink on NPR today? It is another example where cognitive scientists are pushing back, reminding educators of the long history of scientific reseach showing that the D.C. evaluation process defies well-established principles. Just finding a few evaluations that aren't wrong-headed does not counteract the overwhelming evidence that Kamras is ignoring. I can't believe he really believes what he's saying. I've got to believe he is being a good soldier in the hopes that someday he can undo the original sin of his evaluation process.

Posted by: johnt4853 | January 4, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Is it true that this Kamras is an expert based on the winning the ING investment bank's contest? Did he do anything other than enter. I'd appreciate a response from someone who knows.

Posted by: mamoore1 | January 4, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

mamoore1:
Mr. Kamras' experience is described here:
http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/what-is-the-value-of-having-a-superstar-teacher/

Posted by: edlharris | January 4, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

AS a DC teacher I guess I should comment on this at least a little.

I was generally impressed with my master educator. She observed me, gave me a reasonable score and as Mr. Kamras said, we talked about the results in more depth then what is on the final sheet that is given to us.

My biggest objection to IMPACT isn't that it isn't good, I actually think that it is a pretty good example of what good teaching should be. However, it is unrealistic to ask teachers to do all of the 15-20 things in one 30 minute period of time. AP Bio teachers are getting poor evaluations because they are doing labs, which make it impossible to do most of the things in the IMPACT document.

There does need to be some flexibility, and there is none allowed in the documentation. My master educator was really knowledgable and helpful, but I know that some are not.

Also, the master educators are worked to the bone, I cannot imagine that any of them have time to talk outside of the evaluation process.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | January 5, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Indeed, the issues being bounced around are complex. It is distressing to read, or so it appears to this reader, that the layers and layers of content, pedagogy, management skills, time lines, behaviors and other intervening classroom level factors that play out every minute of any teaching period are being reduced to simplistic check marks. In short, teacher performance and student achievement should be assessed via multiple strategies over long periods of time and not be limited to any one 30 minute mark up by some "master" teacher. No matter how masterful that teacher might have been in the past, this practice is full of faults.

Posted by: gilgarcia1 | January 5, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I agree 100% with Gil Garcia, who sounds like a very wise man.

I just read recently that job satisfaction among teachers in the United States is very high; much higher that that of other professions, including law and medicine. This certainly was true of my own experience as a teacher of 42 years; I enjoyed almost every minute of it and felt privileged to have such a fulfilling and challenging job. I always felt valued by administration, students, colleagues and parents. So here is an evaluation that DC teachers can do for themselves:

Are you satisfied with your position as a teacher in DC?

Do you feel valued and appreciated?

Do you enjoy enough autonomy on the job to make the best possible decisions for your students?

Do you feel safe at work?

Do you work in a healthy environment that is free of harassment?

Are you supplied with the books and materials that you need to do your job?

If the answer to any of the above questions is "No," get your applications out as soon as possible, especially if you are at the beginning of your career. There are better opportunities for teachers in the United States. Take your friends with you and warn people who are considering careers as teachers. As a teacher, you deserve to be treated with fairness and dignity. Good luck!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 5, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

It's important to note for non-DCPS readers that a teacher's effectiveness is not reduced to one 30-minute observation.

Teachers will have 5 observations over the course of the school year: 2 from a master educator and 3 from an administrator within the school. The first observations by each are/were announced. The master educators are still in their first "cycle" of announced observations, which ends this month. The administrators are now in their second, therefore unannounced, cycle of observations.

What is being talked about on the admin side is the effect on scores from unannounced observations. What will happen to that 3.85, or that 2.21? It's human nature to step up your game when you know the boss is coming, but those who are on their game all the time will really shine through. But for those did the dog-and-pony show, will Impact's expectations transition from being a checklist to everyday practice?

I believe that is the hope. Checklist, dog-and-pony show....yeah, I hear and I "get" all these complaints. It does seem a little forced right now as teachers try to figure out what Impact asks of them.

But what is the crime in being expected to plan your practice so that you're making conscious attempts to engage students? To ask thoughtful questions that cue learning? To provide positive feedback? To take your content beyond the classroom and make it relevant to students, who often don't see the relevance in education?

Impact temporarily makes teachers uncomfortable -- we are notoriously resistant to change -- but will benefit children in the long run.

Posted by: goldgirl96 | January 5, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
Why don't you give some of your regular commentators who are actually experienced teachers some monthly lead space in your column? Especially on the topic of the DC Schools evaluation system. We will learn much, much more that way and have, finally, an accurate description of the process and its success, if any, and its limitations. Teachers themselves are best suited by far to evaluate their own teaching. They can do this much more fairly and accurately than any other system when given the right tools.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | January 5, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

for 1bnthrdntht--- a brilliant idea, and not just because i have been trying to do just that. I have asked many teachers, as well as what MEs I could find, to share their thoughts for this blog, at great length, since the column is too short for all of the complexities. I think I have a few takers. Stay tuned.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | January 5, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

goldgirl - certainly good teachers can demonstrate tenets of good teaching any time, but if they have to do a series of tricks, excuse me, interventions, in the 30 minutes that the evaluator is there, then if they have a lab planned, or a video, or a test, the dog-and-pony show is going to lag and they'll be rated down. The ME will have no choice, if they stick to their checksheet.

I foresee teachers having an alternative lesson to pull out when the evaluator shows up unannounced - purely to impress - and that whatever relevant teaching was planned for that day will be lost.

I feel sorry for the naïve teachers who already went ahead and did their planned lab, thinking teaching their kids was more important than impressing the MEs.

The really sad thing is if teachers are actually fired at the end of the year for not getting the minimal score during what should have been a trial year for the evaluation process.

Posted by: efavorite | January 5, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I foresee teachers having an alternative lesson to pull out when the evaluator shows up unannounced - purely to impress .

I've been doing this for 15 years.

Jay, I wanted to make a point about who you accept as a good teacher on background info alone. I'm sure both teachers discussed are just fine, at least in their current assignments. In no way do I want to imply otherwise. But a teacher does well in a private school, or an academic magnet school might get eaten for lunch in a school were the students were of a less academic nature. The job really is that different between the settings. A meaningful teacher assessment would need to take that into account. In the long run students who value school will do better than those who don't, and their teachers will generate better statistics. To me the real superstar teacher is the one you will never hear or write about who draws out the best from reluctant students and puts them, not himself out on stage.

Posted by: mamoore1 | January 5, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

John4853, you say, "I can't believe [Kamras] really believes what he's saying. I've got to believe he is being a good soldier in the hopes that someday he can undo the original sin of his evaluation process."

Considering he made teacher of the year
while in a school where math scores were decreasing, (he taught math) I doubt he's a "good soldier." He sounds more like a master communicator and obfuscator, like his boss, who cares little for teachers or students who might unjustly suffer on his rise to the top.

Jay - here's a story to pursue - how can Kamras penalize teachers using an untested evaluation system when he made teacher of the year despite the bad math scores in his school.

Also, how can Rhee do the same when she's built her reputation on her Baltimore students' incredibly rising reading scores for which she has no documentation?

Posted by: efavorite | January 5, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Efavorite:

Here are some questions for you:

Who administers, collects and grades the National Assessment of Student Progess (NAEP)?

Why do you think almost all journalists accept school test scores when there is so much evidence of fraud and "gaming" (e.g. Baltimore and Texas "Miracles")?

Do you think it would be possible to get the federal government to go into DC to administer state and federal tests? Thanks.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 5, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

I know for a fact that the IMPACT system was not piloted, and that many of the second-rate, market-driven, slogan-loaded principals (and so-called Master Educators) who inequitably evaluate DC teachers are not trained or experienced clinical observers (the primary limitation). The IMPACT system also overlooks a more holistic approach/formula to teacher ingenuity. Mr. Kamras may have good intentions, but his system deliberately circumscribes teachers from pedagogical artistry. If he was as prudent as I thought he was, he would have retorted more “proactively.” You can't completely roll out a new plan without test-driving it first...That's a no-brainer!

Posted by: rasheeedj | January 5, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Linda – my stab at answering your questions:

1. Who administers, collects and grades the National Assessment of Student Progess (NAEP)?
> I think DOE is completely responsible and that local jurisdictions are not involved in choosing the students to be tested or in administering the tests.

2. Why do you think almost all journalists accept school test scores when there is so much evidence of fraud and "gaming" (e.g. Baltimore and Texas "Miracles")?
>because it’s easy

3. Do you think it would be possible to get the federal government to go into DC to administer state and federal tests?
>Interesting idea. I don’t know the answer, but if it could happen anywhere, it would be DC, because of the built in federal oversight.

Jay – what are your responses to Linda’s questions?

Posted by: efavorite | January 5, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Efavorite, thank you for answering my questions. I'm not certain about the NAEP because I read that districts are responsible for administering and handling the test. Let's try to find out.

I'm planning to write to Department of Ed people asking that the federal government take steps to ensure the validity of state and federal testing of schoolchildren. That's the least the government can do before spending billions of dollars on "reforms" that are based on these scores.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 5, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Dear Linda,
Here's some information on test administration from the NAEP website:
http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/natadministered.asp

Posted by: edlharris | January 5, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

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