Correction to This Article
Some earlier versions of this article contained discrepancies in the number of D.C. teachers who were fired for performance. The correct number is 165. Another 76 were fired for licensure problems. This version has been corrected.
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Rhee dismisses 241 D.C. teachers; union vows to contest firings

Her image is of a tough-talking schools chief who's out to sack every last veteran teacher in D.C.'s failing system. The reality is not so simple.

But poor evaluations are generally not subject to appeal unless the union can demonstrate some procedural error in the appraisal process.

Grading the teachers

Summer months always bring turnover in D.C schools -- and other school systems -- through retirements, resignations and dismissals of teachers who did not survive their probationary period. Seventy-six of the teachers fired Friday were dismissed for not having proper licensing, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

But few tenured educators have faced dismissal for poor performance. Rhee said that according to her staff's research, no teachers were fired for lack of effectiveness in 2006, the year before she was named chancellor. Officials said the previous evaluation process was cumbersome and time-consuming, with responsibility for assessments falling to school principals already stretched by other responsibilities.

The great majority of teachers routinely received evaluations showing that they met or exceeded expectations. At the same time, the District compiled one of the weakest academic records of any urban school system in the United States.

Rhee, and like-minded leaders in other school districts, contends that the best way to overhaul schools is to intensively monitor the performance of every adult, including janitors, and measure it by multiple yardsticks. For teachers, that includes evidence that their students meet or exceed predicted rates of growth on standardized tests, a metric known as "value-added." School districts have experimented with value-added for many years but generally employ it as a diagnostic tool to assess weaknesses or determine bonuses. Rhee's use of the method to make high-stakes personnel decisions breaks new ground, and other school systems are expected to look at the system as a possible model. She has announced plans to significantly expand the use of standardized tests so that value-added data will be available in some form at all grade levels.

This year, only about 20 percent of the District's classroom teachers -- reading and math instructors in grades 4 through 8 -- were evaluated on test-score growth. That's because those were the only grades and subjects for which there is annual test-score data from the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS. Value-added constitutes 50 percent of their evaluation. Twenty-six of the 165 dismissed teachers fell into this category.

'Caught up in this web'

Under IMPACT, teachers were supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year, three by a school administrator and two by an outside "master educator" with a background in the instructor's subject.

The instructors were scored against an elaborate "teaching and learning framework" with 22 measures in nine categories. Among the criteria are classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material.

At the end of the school year, the teachers' overall performance was converted to a 100-to-400-point scale. Teachers with scores below 175 are subject to dismissal. Teachers scoring between 175 and 249 are judged under the system to be "minimally effective." Scores between 250 and 400 are considered "effective" or "highly effective."

Some teachers said Friday that the system has not worked as planned.

Elizabeth Davis, a computer concepts teacher at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Northeast, said teachers were at a disadvantage because they were being evaluated on a new set of criteria -- the teaching framework -- that they were still trying to learn.

"A lot of good teachers have been caught up in this web," said Davis, a veteran teacher and a candidate for president of the Washington Teachers' Union. She said she received a "highly effective" rating, although she did not meet with her master educator until the final week of classes.

Other teachers said IMPACT brings a badly needed clarity to what is expected of teachers in the District. Mathew Nagy, a second-year special education teacher at Ron Brown Middle School in Northeast, said the system provides "a very consistent language for what good teaching looks like." Although he said the new teaching expectations were initially confusing, "once I dug deep, I found it to be very manageable. I felt I had a lot of control over what I was going to be evaluated on."

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