D.C. Teachers to Face Individual and School Evaluations, Rhee Says

"We want to create an instrument that is focused on student achievement" in evaluating teachers, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said. (2008 Photo By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

District teachers will be evaluated on their individual effectiveness and their school's overall success in improving student performance under an assessment system to be unveiled this fall, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday.

In her most detailed public comments to date on planned changes to the evaluation system, Rhee said at a D.C. Council hearing that the approach would combine standardized test scores where practical, intensive classroom observation and "value added" measurements of students' growth during the year.

Teachers would also be allowed to set buildingwide goals for achievement that would be used in evaluating their performance.

Rhee said the Professional Performance Evaluation Program, which the District has used in recent years, is inadequate and does not reflect a teacher's worth or how much he or she has helped students grow. She said the federal No Child Left Behind law, as written, is too narrowly focused on test results and not student progress from year to year.

"Academic progress has to be measured by growth," Rhee said.

District teachers have been leery of an evaluation system that puts excessive emphasis on standardized test scores, and Rhee said that although scores are important, only about 20 percent of the District's teachers work in grades that employ the tests.

She said she recognizes the need for a "much more robust and comprehensive" approach to assessing teachers' effectiveness.

One feature of the new system, she said, would be the use of expert "external peer evaluators" to observe teachers in classrooms. District teachers have complained that their evaluations are often based on cursory observation by overworked administrators who often have little knowledge of the subject matter.

Although the system borrows from "best practices" in other districts, Rhee said, "the model as a whole is not something we've taken off the shelf from another place."

She said the system "could be a model for school districts across the country."

She has been negotiating a new contract with the Washington Teachers' Union, but the District is not required to discuss changes in evaluation systems.

Rhee said she and her staff have been consulting with selected teachers.

"They believe it's fair and transparent and a huge improvement over the current tool," she said.

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