Shouldn't the evaluating get evaluated?

By Jay Mathews
Monday, November 23, 2009

Dan Goldfarb, a 51-year-old history teacher at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, says his first encounter with an evaluator under the District's new IMPACT system for assessing teachers did not go well. Goldfarb does not claim to be an objective observer. He doesn't like the new system or how Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is implementing it.

He was willing to reveal what the evaluator said to him, give me a copy of his evaluation and expose himself to what I expect will be an unhappy reaction from his principal and other D.C. school officials. So here goes. Goldfarb hit some bumps that deserve attention.

The assessment by his evaluator (the official title is "master educator") occurred Sept. 25. The fact that Goldfarb has an AP class at the city's only academic magnet school suggests that his supervisors determined long ago that he is a good teacher. He is also, by his own description, not afraid to speak up. But he said he respects his principal, Anita Berger, who has had a long and successful career at the school, and will go along with the changes demanded by IMPACT because she has asked him to do so.

He was ready to be disappointed with his first 30-minute evaluation, and his expectations were quickly fulfilled. (There will be one more observation by a master educator and three by an assistant principal.) Checking engagement in the lesson on the Jefferson presidency, the evaluator wrote that two students passed a note and that one student was not taking notes. "That young man doesn't take notes in any classes," Goldfarb said. "He is also a straight-A student."

Goldfarb said he thinks the 68-page IMPACT plan that guides teachers and evaluators is written for elementary schools. On page 33, advising teachers on investing their students in the lesson, it suggests "affirming (verbally or in writing) student effort or the connection between hard work and achievement." In the six-page report, in the "Invest in Learning" section, the evaluator gave Goldfarb 2 of 4 points and said "there was little verifiable evidence apparent during the observation that Mr. Goldfarb works to instill the belief that students can succeed if they work hard."

Goldfarb said: "Be a cheerleader and tell them that hard work is the key to success? . . . We are dealing with young adults, not small children."

Overall, the evaluator gave the teacher only 2.3 out of a possible 4 points. Goldfarb received only 1 out of 4 points in one section for failing to post or state the objective of the lesson. He also earned only 1 out of 4 points for not adapting his lesson to multiple learning styles.

Jason Kamras, the former national teacher of the year who oversees the IMPACT program, sent me a detailed response to Goldfarb's complaints. I will post it on http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle. Kamras cited experts who say making lesson objectives clear is very important, as is addressing different learning styles, such as augmenting the spoken lesson with a written text, which Goldfarb did not do.

Kamras did not mention the teacher's last complaint. Goldfarb thinks his evaluator ratted him out to his principal. He mouthed off during his Oct. 6 post-observation conference with the evaluator. Within an hour, he said, he was warned by Berger not to use his evaluation appointments "to discuss Ms. Rhee or the IMPACT program." "I guess confidentiality is out," he said. "How can they help me if I can't express frustration and anger?"

Good question. I await Goldfarb's reports on his next evaluations and those from teachers who like IMPACT. With help, we can improve what seems to me a well-meaning but perilous effort to find out how well our teachers are doing their jobs.

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