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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 06/22/2011

A D.C. teacher’s troubled experience with IMPACT

This is a statement that Laura Fuchs, a social studies teacher at H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Washington D.C., recently delivered to D.C. Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s Teachers Cabinet about Fuchs’ experiences with the IMPACT teacher evaluation system.

IMPACT was instituted during the tenure of former chancellor Michelle Rhee. It is now headed by Jason Kamras, chief of Human Capital for the D.C. public schools.

IMPACT is actually a collection of some 20 different evaluation systems for teachers in different capacities and other school personnel. Some teachers are evaluated by the standardized test scores of their students and by observations of their teaching.

. Initially, teachers were to be evaluated five times a year by principals and master teachers who went into the classroom unannounced for 30 minutes and scored the teacher on 22 different teaching elements.

Teachers were, for example, supposed to show that they could tailor instruction to at least three “learning styles,” demonstrate that they were instilling student belief in success through “affirmation chants, poems and cheers,” and a lot more. It became obvious that teachers don’t routinely display all 22 elements in 30 minutes so it was modified to about 10 elements in that time, which is still somewhat unrealistic.

This is Fuchs’ statement:

On Monday, June 13th I had a ‘post-observation conference’ with my Master Educator (M.E.).

[For those not yet hip to DC lingo, the ‘Master Educators’ are hired by the District’s Central Office to observe teachers twice a year in specific content and grade areas to provide an outside and specialists’ view and insight into what is going on in the classroom using the DCPS IMPACT rubric.]

Unfortunately, ‘conference’ is a strong word since M.E.’s rarely if ever factor in what is said by a teacher, and instead treat the conference as more of a chance to tell you everything you did ‘wrong’ in the 30 minutes they observed during your lesson.

In this particular conference I received the 2nd lowest score I have ever received and earned the title “Minimally Effective” overall (out of 10 observations in the past two years I have only received two scores that fell below a 3.0 average and both were by a M.E.). This score has a very negative stigma attached to it, especially in the District’s administrative office, who oftentimes seem to view the M.E.’s scores as being more accurate and important than those done by administrators within the schools (for better or worse).

When I first received the score I was indignant and very cross with my M.E.

I then felt quite dejected and upset that the District had labeled me as Minimally Effective and would think of me in those terms. After I calmed down, I realized the most frustrating aspect about this score is what it leaves out about everything I have accomplished as a teacher this year.

I come to work each day no later than 7:30 a.m. to get planning and work done. I oftentimes stay well past 5 p.m. — unless I have to get to graduate school classes, the Chancellor’s Teachers Cabinet and Professional Development opportunities that I complete in my ‘spare’ time.

I teach three different classes each day and have built very rigorous curriculums in each. I created and run the Debate team and host SAT tutoring after-school.

I almost never rely on textbooks or prepared sources and instead seek out more complex readings and create my own assignments.

I have my students do extensive reading and writing, and am continually reflecting and improving my lessons, never content to simply use the ones I created the year before.

I have also achieved results for my hard work.

Last year in my first year of teaching AP Government, I had one student pass the AP exam and four more receive near-passing scores after only three months of preparation, overcoming numerous obstacles and surpassing most scores for schools serving the same demographics.

In my second year teaching the course I expect to have well over half my students pass the exam.

My students write 5- to 10- page research papers multiple times in a semester, write and perform speeches, go on field trips, hear from speakers from around the nation, collaborate with non-profits and operate on a near-college level no matter what grade I am teaching – since I expect all of my students to go to college and succeed when they get there.

The problem with IMPACT is that it does not take any of this into account. I do not fit into the little boxes in DCPS’s rubric.

And I refuse to bend into the mold that Jason Kamras has decided all good teachers must fit every 30 minutes just because an M.E. shows up in my room.

I know that I’m not perfect, I know that some lessons are far better than others. I also know that there is a “commitment to school community” section of the rubric that is supposed to take all my extra work into account. But that section only makes up 10% of the overall score, whereas the in-class observations make up 75% of the score.

In the end, IMPACT oftentimes awards teachers who don’t think outside the box, who don’t create massive unit projects and plans that then require intricate planning and complex and diverse execution, and who don’t teach in Wards that serve those most in need (like I do in Ward 7).

Instead, if IMPACT had its way, each lesson would mirror a specific pattern each day (or at least do that when the M.E. shows up), and if you do that, you can get yourself bonuses, accolades, and the respect of the DCPS Central Office’s administration.

I know that I am not a perfect teacher. I know that I will always have things to work on and improve.

But I refuse to kowtow to the system that sits before me. I will not be broken and stuffed inside little boxes made of ticky-tacky. These boxes won’t help me become a better teacher. My peers, my students, my instructional coaches and my administrators are the ones who help me reflect and make me a better teacher each and every day going far beyond the limited scope of the IMPACT rubric. 

This is not a difficult problem to fix; all it takes is a change in attitude, basic procedures and training. The most important thing is to allow context to be included in the post-conferences.

If the Master Educator submits their scores and comments to the teacher 2-3 days in advance, the teacher can have time to read them and digest them in private; afterwards they can get to the business of either accepting the scores as valid, or creating their case for why they believe they are an inaccurate representation of what goes on in their classroom.

In the post conference, teachers should be allowed to present the lesson in the context of the unit plan, projects and goals that that lesson fits in to; they should be allowed to show what happens later in the lesson after the M.E. has left; they should be allowed to show the student work that demonstrates their mastery of the content the M.E. saw being taught that day; and they should be allowed to provide specific evidence related to behavior management and engagement issues when necessary such as special education accommodations, attendance rates, and past disciplinary actions.

The M.E. should listen to these comments and either provide solid reasoning and evidence for why the score still shouldn’t change, or should consider adjusting the score.

When it comes to the training of the M.E.’s, they should be trained to view the rubric as slightly flexible instead of extremely rigid, allowing some of the boxes to be fulfilled outside the 30 minute observation if it can be proven with evidence. The focus should be on positive aspects first, reflection on what could be improved second, providing specific ideas in how to improve. M.E.’s should be trained in meeting with teachers tactfully and treating them as equals who also oftentimes have Masters Degrees and considerable experience. 

I know this can be done because I have had one assistant principal who gave me a lower score than I thought I deserved last year. She had given me the scores in advance with detailed comments that supported her position without simply parroting back the language of the rubric. After the conference I understood her position, respected it, and felt that she had heard and respected my positions.

In the end, I left that conference feeling positive about the evaluation and IMPACT even though she hadn’t changed her position save on one area. I knew that IMPACT could have a positive influence on my classroom and make me want to be a better teacher when used correctly. Unfortunately, that was the one and only time I have ever thought that.

If DCPS is serious about listening to teachers and creating a more positive environment that we actually want to work in, then they need to begin to adjust their attitude towards us. Instead of seeing teachers as people who are constantly trying to get away with something in these post observation conferences, treat us as equals who simply want to be fairly evaluated so that we can continue to improve our practice over the coming years.

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By  |  04:00 AM ET, 06/22/2011

 
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