By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 1:24 PM
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has tempered his recent criticism of the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, which he said in January was unfair to educators in high-poverty schools because it judged them by the same standards used to assess educators working with less-disadvantaged students.
He signaled the change of view Wednesday toward the end of a news briefing in which he formally introduced Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson as his nominee to replace Michelle A. Rhee, who resigned in October.
Gray said at a forum on school reform Jan. 15 that there was a significant difference between teaching at Stanton Elementary in Southeast Washington, where 90 percent of the 269 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (a common barometer of household poverty), and Horace Mann Elementary in Northwest Washington, where none of the students meet the guidelines for subsidized lunch.
"That's a very different challenge," he said then. "And frankly, I'm not convinced that we have figured out yet how, with an evaluation system that covers all teachers across the city, that you account for the social challenges that inevitably are to be addressed."
Asked Wednesday whether he had followed up with Henderson, Gray said he had but deferred to her.
She said that under no circumstances would she support changes to IMPACT that would hold teachers to different standards if they worked in schools with high concentrations of children from low-income homes.
"We will never support an evaluation system which allows teachers in challenged areas to teach less than teachers in other areas," said Henderson, who took a leading role in shaping IMPACT as Rhee's deputy for "human capital." "In fact, we owe it to those students to ensure that we maintain a high standard," she said.
Asked whether he was "on board" with Henderson's view, Gray said: "I'm on board with supporting the chancellor."
Gray said he still thinks IMPACT needed to be modified, but his critique was more restrained than the red flag he raised in January. "Any evaluation process we use is a dynamic process that will continue to unfold and that will continue to be refined," Gray said.
IMPACT, the centerpiece of Rhee's reform efforts, uses five, 30-minute classroom observations to rate a teacher across a set of nine standards. Reading and math teachers in grades 4 through 8 are also accountable to students meeting predicted growth targets on standardized tests, a metric known as "value added." Teachers with low overall scores can face dismissal.
The Washington Teachers' Union has been critical of IMPACT, calling it a punitive tool for shedding teachers rather than a means to help strengthen them. The union also questions the validity of value-added methodology used to make high-stakes decisions about teacher effectiveness.
Nathan Saunders, president of the union, expressed disappointment Wednesday with the mayor's recent actions.
"It appears that the mayor has changed quite a bit since he's been elected," Saunders said. "I did not know the mayor would so quickly abandon things that I honestly felt he felt in his heart."
Henderson said she has met with Saunders about IMPACT and invited him to put his concerns in writing. She said she had not heard from him. Saunders said that was nonsense and that Henderson knows about the issues the union has with IMPACT.
Earlier in the news briefing, Gray called Henderson's selection "the worst-kept secret " in the city.
Henderson, 40, the daughter of a high school principal and Rhee's former top deputy, is the only candidate Gray ever seriously considered for the post. She also received endorsements from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the philanthropic community that underwrites many public education initiatives in the city.
"I've seen firsthand that she is a person with compassion, a person with drive, a person with wisdom and a person who focuses on results," Gray said as he introduced Henderson at the briefing.
Henderson's appointment is contingent on confirmation by the D.C. Council. Until then, her title will be "acting" chancellor.