Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Problems with D.C. teacher evaluation

Marni Barron, an innovative educator, shares my discomfort with many Washington area school districts that rate nearly 100.percent of their teachers as satisfactory. (I’m not kidding: Alexandria says 99.percent, Fairfax County, 99.1.percent, Montgomery County, 95, Loudoun County, 99, Prince George’s County, 95.6, and so on.)

But we disagree over the region’s most daring effort to assess educators honestly, the D.C. schools’ IMPACT program. I think it is a worthy experiment. Barron thinks it needs to do much more than it is designed to do to train teachers in its intricacies and demands.

Barron, 38, has been teaching, or coaching teachers, for 15 years. She works with the IMPACT system daily as the instructional coach assigned to help 15 teachers achieve and maintain excellence at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in Northwest Washington. I (age withheld) have never taught a day of school in my life, and know no more about IMPACT than what I have read and heard from teachers.
Which of us are you going to believe?

I sense that the kind of evaluation the District is attempting will eventually reach other area districts, at least in underperforming schools. So we suburbanites should listen to what IMPACT experts such as Barron have to say.

I will offer some evidence of the program’s good effects soon, but first consider Barron’s critique, rather courageous given that she is working for IMPACT’s creators.
She likes tough, deep assessments that measure student progress in many ways, such as portfolios and behavior. “I am actually kind of a fan of stuff like this,” she said, “but do it right.”

Like any good teacher, she has visual aids for slow students like me. With some strain, she lifted a milk carton filled to the top with books, syllabuses and planning schedules. Beside it she placed a two-inch stack of papers. The milk carton material was what teachers waded through during their three years of training to establish No Child Left Behind measures in Michigan, where Barron once taught. The two-inch stack was what D.C. teachers were required to digest during three days of training for IMPACT and the new Teaching and Learning Framework.

Ready or not, the D.C. program is underway. Most teachers have had at least two of their required five annual observations: three by their principal or other school administrators and two by outside evaluators, called “master educators.”

In that rush forward, Barron said, supervisors are changing the rules. Barron interviewed last year to be a master educator. When she asked whether those evaluators could provide extra advice and support to teachers who needed it, as was done by coaches in Michigan, she was told no. When she was asked at the end of the interview whether she thought she would be a good fit for the job, she said no.

Recently some master educators told Barron those were the old rules. They now encourage teachers to meet with them after hours to discuss their weaknesses.

Barron was told to observe and fill out a classroom visit form for each of her teachers identical to the one used by the official evaluators. This was to get them in tune with the process. But Barron concluded it was a violation of the D.C. teacher contract, which bars teachers from evaluating their peers. (D.C. officials disagree). She declined to do that. Instead, she invites teachers to fill out the form themselves and see her to discuss improvements they want to make in their classroom methods.

Barron said the IMPACT guidebooks are too vague and too subjective. An assessment system will work only if it includes a major effort to show teachers how to improve through evidence-based instructional strategies, she said. There isn’t enough time for that in the five or six days set aside each year for professional development and the spare moments she has to talk to them during the regular school day.

This strikes me as a soluble problem. Barron said her principal, Bill Kerlina, is a fine educator. Whatever IMPACT’s flaws, she said, he does his best to be fair in upholding IMPACT by backing his ratings with evidence.

That says to me that good educators, including Barron and Kerlina, are making the necessary adjustments in this new system.

Barron hears that and gives me the patient look she uses with confused 10-year-olds. It will be a while before we know whether IMPACT works. But Barron thinks D.C. schools are trying to build this ship when it is already at sea, without involving the crew.
mathewsj@washpost.com

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page, http://washingtonpost.com/education.

By Jay Mathews  | February 3, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Local Living  | Tags:  D.C. evaluation problems, D.C. schools, D.C. teacher evaluations, IMPACT system, Marni Barron, Phoebe Hearst Elementary  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: D.C. evaluation chief responds
Next: AP failures up, successes too.

Comments

Shouldn't schools have a near 100% satisfactory rating? If they are assessed, and all the lower-performing teachers given assistance to obtain satisfactory-level status, according to the gudielines, then all teachers should reach or be at that level.

Posted by: ericpollock | February 3, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Within the corporate world, I know a lot of commentators will view this as part of the problem, but there is an assumption that 20% of your workforce is under-performing at any one time. The key question is what is causing that under-performance, is it a result of lack of training, lack of motivation or lack of ability. Usually lack of ability is caught early. It may also vary year to year, one year it may be I am getting a divorce and I can't focus on my job, but the next year when my life is together I am great. I think what is unclear about IMPACT is the remedy. There is no point throwing out a person without the training because if the system put them there, the replacement is also likely to be without the training so you have wasted the recruiting dollars. Motivation is the most problematic one, these are often your more senior people, they may feel a lack of challenge or burned out. We all know teachers that used to be great but are now "burned out." These are our greatest challenge because currently they have the most protections. I hear over and over how unfair the system is but I would love to hear from a teacher about how they should deal with burnout. How many years of lackluster performance should children have to endure for their pension plan etc... I can tell you in the corporate world there is a large percentage of this group and they stay for a long time it is not surprising that teachers stay, however the societal impact is rather high.

Posted by: Brooklander | February 4, 2010 6:21 AM | Report abuse

Brooklander says, “There is no point throwing out a person without the training because if the system put them there, the replacement is also likely to be without the training so you have wasted the recruiting dollars.”

Certainly that’s a logical conclusion, but we’re not dealing with straight logic in DCPS. What you may not be aware of is that the replacement is likely to be a new young, completely inexperienced teacher, via Teach for America or DC Teaching fellows, who has an alternative provisional” certification that did provide them with the training needed to perform according to IMPACT standards. In fact, that’s about all the short, summer training provided them. They haven’t taken education courses while in college and they haven’t done student teaching. Everything they’ve learned about teaching is geared to classroom methods in line with IMPACT and it’s all fresh in their minds.

Most vets, on the other hand have not had intensive training in this methodology, so their years of experience count for nothing unless they already use or pick up some of these methods and display them during their evaluation session.

The only training the vets have had is the three day training described in Mathews’ article above, taught by school administrators who themselves have just learned how to teach this method to their staffs.

Here’s where the logic comes in – if the goal is to fire vet teachers, presumed to be ineffective, and replace them with inexperienced teachers, presumed to be effective, then using an such an evaluation makes perfect sense. It rewards teachers familiar with the method and punishes those who are not (or who don’t use it exclusively while being observed). This is all based on a determination, without benefit of empirical evidence, that the only good teaching is done using this method. Any deviation from this method on the days a teacher is being evaluated will mean a lower score which could mean the end of the teachers’ career. The evaluations are graded on a 4 point scale and if you don't have a 2 point average over five evaluations, you can be fired.

For insight on how this evaluation can be misused, please check out the "filthy teaching" blog. This young teacher got excellent ratings at first:
http://filthyteaching.blogspot.com/2009/11/feeling-much-better.html

But after announcing his plans to resign, his ratings dropped precipitously. (See paragraphs 8-15):
http://filthyteaching.blogspot.com/2010/01/open-letter-to-my-former-staff.html

Posted by: efavorite | February 4, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Efavorite: the open letter to his former collegues was eye-opening. I wish that Jay would read things like that carefully and with an open mind. But I suspect that Mr. Matthews believes only what he wants to believe, and if something like that conflicts with his gleaming vision of Chancellor Rhee and all that she has done, it's meaningless. I believe this article about SWW shows that Jay is way more willing to believe Rhee and a principal who is not able to throw the Chancellor under the bus (because he probably wants to keep his job) in the face of evidence contrary to the PR spin Rhee likes to give.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 4, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

From my experience it is not surprising that many districts rate almost all their teachers as effective. This is probably because the attrition rate for new teachers is extremely high -almost 50% during the first five years. Although many teachers quit of their own volition, many others are counseled out or their contracts are not renewed. Also, suburban districts generally have high standards and do not hire teachers who lack complete certification.

Because of the above, Impact will probably just be adopted by districts so they can get RttT money. It is irrelevant whether it is effective or not. Districts will use this money to retain the teachers they have; to prevent lay-offs. "Impact" will go the way of many other expensive and time-consuming fads.

The real evaluation must be done by prospective teachers. With the baby boomers retiring in droves and women able to get all kinds of jobs, an unprecedented teacher shortage is on the horizon. This will afford young people the opportunity to be very choosy about the teaching jobs they accept. Here's what I recommend:

Look at safety. Never accept a job in a school where teachers and students are frequently assaulted.

Look at test scores. Are they very low? If so, is the progress of the students stressed over the actual test scores? Are there multiple ways of assessing that progress? Never accept a job in a low-scoring school if scores on a single test are used to evaluate teachers.

Look at the school climate. Are the teachers relatively content? Are the parents supportive?

Look at books and materials. Does the school supply essential tools or will you be expected to supply your own?

Look at the curriculum. Is it balanced? Don't accept a job in a district that drills on reading and math and leaves out all else.

Do the teachers stay? Excellent school districts are able to retain their teachers.

Finally, does the school district have a good reputation? Would you send your own children there? If not, stay away.

Teaching can be an exhilarating and highly rewarding job, but only if you choose carefully. Good luck!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 4, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Let us ask ourselves how this topic of teacher evaluation has come to overshadow all other education issues.

Meaningful evaluation designed to weed out ineffective teachers and be legally enforceable will cost more than people realize. Think of the drain on teacher time, not to teach, but to collect the documentation to make the evaluation fair (and easier to administer). Think of the money and personnel devoted to this, because up to now, teacher evaluation has been done perfunctorily and on the cheap. Some people want to blame the unions, but what school board wants to spend the money required to hire (or make available from other tasks), train and support the evaluators?

Posted by: pittypatt | February 4, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

DCCitizen1 – agreed. But call me an optimist – Jay’s attitude could change in the face of mounting evidence.

Brooklander says, “it is not surprising that teachers stay, however the societal impact is rather high.”

Again, that sounds logical, but I’d like to see actual data on that for DCPS or any school system. What evidence is there that young energetic teachers, let’s say using IMPACT to a tee are more effective, in terms of measured student achievement, than teachers, of any age, with “lackluster performance.” Is anyone gathering this data? If not, why not?

I’m not defending such performance, just pointing out that if improved student achievement is the only goal, then it seems that teachers should be deemed successful by that one measure. I disagree with that, by the way, but our current administration makes it clear that student achievement is the only worthy measure of teaching ability and the teacher has sole responsibility for student achievement.

Posted by: efavorite | February 4, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

My daughter recently was a weekly volunteer in a 1st grade classroom in a school east of the Park. The teacher said "aks" for "ask", referred to "a aquarium," and told my daughter to "help this girl over here learn to read because she is a terrible, terrible reader"-- this, in front of the entire class. My daughter is 13 and she was heartbroken by what she saw and heard in that classroom.

All evaluations aside, how on earth do these people get into a classroom to begin with? I seriously doubt you find this kind of teacher behavior or language in Montgomery or Fairfax Counties.

Posted by: trace1 | February 4, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

trace 1

It happens because a few weeks into the school year a principal needs to get a body into the classroom. Believe it or not its better than having a long term sub. As long as no major problems happen the teacher more or less stays put, as the principal is already busy putting out other fires. This is what needs fixed.

Posted by: mamoore1 | February 4, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

As usual, the post is full of sentences in the future tense, as they are now trying to fire teachers, and defending themselves over teachers they've already fired.

Jay, for the life of me I can't understand how you can not demand the resignation of Rhee after you've written the following:

"the kind of evaluation the District is attempting will eventually reach other area districts ..."

"Ready or not, the D.C. program is underway ..."

"In that rush forward, Barron said, supervisors are changing the rules ..."

"... those were the old rules. They now ..."

"... good educators, including Barron and Kerlina, are making the necessary adjustments ..."

"It will be a while before we know whether IMPACT works. But Barron thinks D.C. schools are trying to build this ship when it is already at sea, without involving the crew."

Posted by: johnt4853 | February 4, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

"I think it is a worthy experiment."

Worthy or not, it is certainly an experiment. So why foist it kinks and all onto the entire district? Why not run it as a little pilot first to see how it goes, work out the wrinkles, measure its effectiveness? Now I know you've been out of school for a long time, Jay, but isn't that how the experimental method is supposed to work?

Posted by: dz159 | February 4, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

For one thing, I don't believe that the teacher ratings of those schools(D.C. MoCo,Pg and VA) are no where near those percentages. Secondly I do applaud the system for trying to identify poorly skilled teachers but this evaluation system needs to adjusted. It's no way you can get a full evaluation of a teacher in 1 hour twice a year. It's just not possible. You have some teachers that deal with behavioral students and under grade level children. On some days it might take them 20- 30 minutes just to get these kids back on track. You have the same evaluation scale for Schools like Janney Elementary, Georgetown Day compared to a school like Web/Wheatley or Malcolm X. Some of the best Teachers at the western schools would be eaten alive by the kids at some of these schools. on the eastern side of town. I've seen it first hand, some of these teachers with tears in their eyes and some crying in class. We have to better support our teachers, with more and better training, a better evaluation system, classroom assistants, parental assistants. We need to open behavioral schools and special education schools. If we don't get these things in place soon, there will be a serious teacher shortage. If they're any parents reading this post I challenge you to be more active in your children education. Most of the inner city kids problems come from no support at home. We can't blame it all on the teachers!
One more thing I really like Mayor Adrian Fenty and I hope he's elected to another term but he has to get rid of Ms. Rhee. It was the worst mistake of his administration. In order for you to fix the schools problem you would have had to been a good teacher yourself. I'm not gonna go into that...

Posted by: Gerard3906 | February 5, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

For one thing, I don't believe that the teacher ratings of those schools(D.C. MoCo,Pg and VA) are no where near those percentages. Secondly I do applaud the system for trying to identify poorly skilled teachers but this evaluation system needs to adjusted. It's no way you can get a full evaluation of a teacher in 1 hour twice a year. It's just not possible. You have some teachers that deal with behavioral students and under grade level children. On some days it might take them 20- 30 minutes just to get these kids back on track. You have the same evaluation scale for Schools like Janney Elementary, Georgetown Day compared to a school like Web/Wheatley or Malcolm X. Some of the best Teachers at the western schools would be eaten alive by the kids at some of these schools. on the eastern side of town. I've seen it first hand, some of these teachers with tears in their eyes and some crying in class. We have to better support our teachers, with more and better training, a better evaluation system, classroom assistants, parental assistants. We need to open behavioral schools and special education schools. If we don't get these things in place soon, there will be a serious teacher shortage. If they're any parents reading this post I challenge you to be more active in your children education. Most of the inner city kids problems come from no support at home. We can't blame it all on the teachers!
One more thing I really like Mayor Adrian Fenty and I hope he's elected to another term but he has to get rid of Ms. Rhee. It was the worst mistake of his administration. In order for you to fix the schools problem you would have had to been a good teacher yourself. I'm not gonna go into that...

Posted by: Gerard3906 | February 5, 2010 12:46 AM | Report abuse

I am an advocate of a good teacher evaluation system...I am an even stauncher advocate of good feedback processes so that teachers can improve their skills...it seems to me the second should be a substantive goal of IMPACT...that said, I was bothered by your use of the term EXPERIMENT because an experiment it cannot be when both teacher and student welfare is at stake...that said, proper feedback for teachers and professional development and support is a linchpin of a successful school system so I am very happy with the initiative and hope that the warts are addressed...having spent some time in several different evaluation systems the key is the EVALUATORS...hiring smart people and having them focus on this is critical...I could care less what the ratings are...THEY WILL ALWAYS BE SUBJECTIVE...but its the evaluators who make the system...if you get the right people in their it will be a successful system...the person in the article seems to be just that right kind of person

Posted by: mathteachdc | February 5, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Trace1, I know people with master's, all but dissertaion, and other marks of having a high level of education make errors you describe. I've heard teachers say axe instead of ask, not use an before a noun starting with a vowel sound, say may can instead of may be able to, might could instead of might be able to, he don't suppose to instead of he isn't supposed to, who class instead of whose class, ms. smif class instead of Ms. Smith's class and other petty errors associated with Ebonics. And are good teachers in all other ways.

Posted by: chelita | February 5, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

On IMPACT, there's a part called T2, where teachers are held responsible for delivering clear content. Part of T2 states that a teacher must deliver content that is factually correct. Would a teacher be marked down for errors in English pronunciation or grammar? If a teacher says conversate instead of converse, don't suppose instead of isn't supposed to? What about axe instead of ask? Just a question...

Posted by: chelita | February 5, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Chelita,
Teachers of what? Of carpentry? Farming? Masonry? Because for a teacher of English -- which is what this teacher was charged with doing in that elementary classroom-- these are not "petty errors." I am sick and tired of low standards in DCPS -- and people who blame parents for all the ills in DCPS when teachers like this haunt the classrooms.

Posted by: trace1 | February 6, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Jay said, "I have never taught a day of school in my life, and know no more about IMPACT than what I have read and heard from teachers. Which of us are you going to believe?"

Barron. Duh!

Jay, how many teachers in Group 1 have you talked to?

Some problems with IMPACT:

• rigid, formulaic rubric imposed on all subjects, lessons, grades, etc.

• implemented without being tested for fairness

• implemented before teachers have been trained on the rubric

• unfair to many teachers, especially those teachers in Group 1, teaching grades 4,5,6. Half of their evaluation will be based on DC-CAS scores

• teachers are only observed for 30 minutes but graded on all aspects of the rubric. MEs and administrators typically come in in the middle of one lesson and the beginning of another.

• NVA (this whole aspect is a mess!)

Posted by: Nemessis | February 6, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

Just yesterday I spoke with a colleague who has a master's who said "he might could" instead of "he might be able to". Last week, I heard an administrator who I like and respect say "who book" instead of "whose book" in asking a question. My list goes on and on because I speak standard English and am fascinated by these non-standard forms. Trace1, you are right. They are not petty errors. But I hear them day in and day out, not to mention the he don't and she don't as well as ain't. Most teachers monitor their speech and are careful about 3rd person singular presnt tense s endings. I'm not careful. I just speak standard English natively and these errors aren't a part of my speech. (I make spelling errors, so no one is perfect.)
All this said, many teachers hold to the idea that we are to model standard spoken English when speaking to students and in a professional setting. However, I see that many people don't know about supposed to (he's supposed to, he isn't supposed to, with to be and therefore no don't/doesn't in the negative). And that you don't use two modal verbs together, the second one takes an infinitive: she may can is wrong, it should be she may be able to.
Now should teachers be marked down for such spoken errors when evaluated? I don't think so, but they should be pointed out.

Posted by: chelita | February 6, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

All: Do you think the immediate stimulus to this has not been raised to a level of abstraction that belies the authentic core for Ms. Barron's work? Hearst ES, the school she is assigned to work with exclusively is primarily an early childhood center, grades PK-4 with 80% of the children and instructional staff working with children 7 years old and younger. Half the children are in kindergarten or Pre-K. Half the educators are important aides, not teachers. As there are fewer than 170 children, and perhaps just 8 classrooms, I suspect the principal has minimal background in early childhood development and that his assignment at Hearst is not as an experienced ECE leader, but as a new principal, getting his feet wet as a building administrator. This is strictly a stepping stone assignment. (Yes, that's a perhaps unfair judgement of a man; but I've been to National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conventions....). www.naeyc.org
Now....everything Ms. Barron has reported, through Jay, is sound. But, what kind of system (and reportage) treats an ECE with EXACTLY the same vocabulary as appropriate to a middle school? Really, Mathews, you must get out more!!

Posted by: incredulous | February 6, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

All: Do you think the immediate stimulus to this has not been raised to a level of abstraction that belies the authentic core for Ms. Barron's work? Hearst ES, the school she is assigned to work with exclusively is primarily an early childhood center, grades PK-4 with 80% of the children and instructional staff working with children 7 years old and younger. Half the children are in kindergarten or Pre-K. Half the educators are important aides, not teachers. As there are fewer than 170 children, and perhaps just 8 classrooms, I suspect the principal has minimal background in early childhood development and that his assignment at Hearst is not as an experienced ECE leader, but as a new principal, getting his feet wet as a building administrator. This is likely just a stepping stone assignment, not part of an ECE career. (Yes, that's a perhaps unfair judgement of a man; but I've been to National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conventions....). www.naeyc.org
Now....everything Ms. Barron has reported, through Jay, is sound. But, what kind of system (and reportage) treats an ECE with EXACTLY the same vocabulary as appropriate to a middle or high school?

Posted by: incredulous | February 6, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Hey Jay - how about an article on properly spoken English by teachers in the classroom. I'm all for it and also think teachers not using it now could and should learn how to do it quickly. Call me naïve, but I don't see how anyone could get out of college and pass the praxis without the ability to speak standard, grammatical English.

I’m fully in favor of offering remedial grammar courses for teachers who need it. I think most teachers would pass, but those who continued to model bad grammar to their students should be evaluated down and let go. It would be hard for the union or teachers to defend the right to use bad grammar in the classroom. Unlike the current behaviors measured by IMPACT, proper language could be easily and objectively measured and good language skills are widely accepted as being be necessary for good teaching.

Has this ever been done in any school system? Would Michelle Rhee consider it a worthy reform or does it fall short because it doesn’t allow for rapid firing of teachers.

Posted by: efavorite | February 6, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm reminded of the Jets quarterback busted for DUI and how they got him off for a big game by getting the cop to recant, saying he mistook his Texas accent for a drunken slur. So they put up a sign in the locker room, "I ain't drunk. I'm from Texas."

My spelling keeps getting worst with spell checker and all so the kids have plenty to tease me about. If they push me too far, I respond by singing "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road."

But seriously, walk a while in the shoes of some older educators (usually but not always older than my 56 years) and then complain. Those educators from the school of hard knocks often have a street intelligence that's irreplacable.

Posted by: johnt4853 | February 7, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Street intelligence won't help a kid write a passable college essay.

No more excuses.

Posted by: trace1 | February 7, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company