D.C. teacher evaluation system has its fans in classrooms

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 1, 2010

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers Union, told me last year that the District's new evaluation program had no "appropriate system of support to improve instruction" and was "bad for kids." He suggested I contact more teachers to learn the many flaws of IMPACT, the program's name.

I have tried to do that. I have written four columns so far pointing out what appear to be weaknesses, including dubious benchmarks of good teaching and inadequate training. But I am also getting a sense that many teachers like the new system. It is far from ideal, but it is also the best evaluation system they have ever participated in, they say.

"This is a much more direct way of targeting what your strengths and weaknesses are in order to develop your best teaching and to enhance your students' learning," Travis Hartberger, a science teacher at McKinley Technology High School, told me. " . . . Sometimes you cannot see what goes wrong until someone else sees that and points it out."

"Overall I think IMPACT is a good thing," said Anacostia High School special education teacher Walter Bond. ". . . If knowing that an observation is coming forces us teachers to think more about incorporating things into our classrooms and lessons that benefit our kids, such as targeting multiple learning styles, checking for understanding, addressing positive and negative behaviors, then I think the program is worth it."

IMPACT requires that each teacher be observed twice each year by an outside evaluator, called a "master educator," and three times by an administrator at the school. Five observations is more than most teachers in this area, or in the District before IMPACT, ever experienced in a year.

Diana Suarez, a first-grade teacher at Powell Elementary School, praised the post-observation conferences required by IMPACT. After evaluating Suarez, master educator Lee Granados and Powell's principal, Janeece Docal, used the conferences to tell her how she might improve.

"These conversations were positive, encouraging and focused on practical solutions for me as a teacher," Suarez said.

I watched a video of a public forum on IMPACT last week. Middle-school teacher Angela McMillan said her master educator, Teresa Morrison, encouraged her to call when their conference went so long it was time to go home. They are still talking.

Some teachers and master educators question Parker's assertion that IMPACT has no appropriate system of support to improve instruction. Alicia Hervey, a master educator in English, said it "provides teachers with timely, specific feedback that they might use to make adjustments to their delivery of instruction." Matt Radigan, a master educator at the forum last week, said he was able to reassure a teacher that she was connecting with her students when she thought she wasn't.

The many parents at the forum seemed happy about IMPACT. One said she was puzzled why any teacher would object to an evaluation system when they evaluate her child every day. Jason Kamras, who runs IMPACT, put up a photo of his infant son, Ezra, during a PowerPoint presentation at the forum to emphasize that children were the point of the evaluations. If they don't learn more under IMPACT, he said, "we will need to go back to the drawing board."

The evaluation system could fail for many reasons. What happens to teachers who don't meet the standards will be crucial. But many smart people like what they see so far. Columnists and union presidents, along with everyone else, ought to wait for results from the classroom before we make up our minds.

For more Jay, go to http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle. For more on schools, go to http://washingtonpost.com/education.

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