Ferebee said in an interview he does not expect the analysis, which will launch in the coming weeks, to result in a complete overhaul of the evaluation system, known as IMPACT.
“We want teachers to be confident in their performance management system,” Ferebee said. “I want to get a better understanding of how we can continue to enhance the instrument to measure progress and help with the development of teachers.”
The evaluation system — which was one of the first in the nation to tie teacher job security and paychecks to class performance — has been central to the District’s high-profile education efforts over the past decade. It’s one of the more controversial legacies of Michelle Rhee, who gained national recognition as the District’s public schools chancellor from 2007 to 2010.
In 2009, Rhee enacted the evaluation system unilaterally, without engaging the teachers union in negotiations. The implementation of IMPACT led to the firing of hundreds of teachers and produced heightened tensions between the school system and union that persist today.
IMPACT has spurred similar evaluations in other school systems.
When Ferebee started leading the city’s schools in January, he said he sensed from teachers and principals that a culture of fear existed on campuses, where one misstep could lead to their firings.
IMPACT came under fire during the city’s 2018 graduation scandal, when a city-commissioned investigation determined that 1 in 3 graduates in 2017 received their diplomas despite missing too many classes or improperly taking makeup classes. Teachers said they feared their jobs might be at risk if they did not meet lofty graduation goals.
Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said she believes IMPACT relies on too many factors out of the control of educators. Students’ standardized test scores, for example, are included in teacher evaluations.
Davis said she will participate in the analysis.
“It’s a first step, a long overdue step,” Davis said. “I have no idea what is going to result from reviewing IMPACT, but I do know that whatever happens that it needs to include teachers’ [voices] in the final analysis, and that has not happened in the past.”
The union has been pushing to give the teachers union substantial input in the system’s design during collective bargaining. The D.C. Council introduced legislation in June that would give the union a say on IMPACT in contract negotiations, although the measure has not moved forward.
Davis said she would still advocate for including IMPACT in contract negotiations, but Ferebee suggested he would not consider it.
“It hasn’t been that way for 10 years, and I do not see why would go down that path,” Ferebee said.
A report released this month from the National Council on Teacher Quality — a think tank focused on teacher evaluations and training — found that 33 states and the District use students’ standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. That’s a decline from 43 in 2015.
The National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit organization, published a study in 2013 that found teachers who received low scores on their evaluations were more likely to leave their jobs than high-scoring teachers who were close to earning a substantial merit raise.
The study — written by the University of Virginia’s James H. Wyckoff and Stanford University’s Thomas S. Dee — suggests that incentives of the variety that the District used “can substantially improve the measured performance of the teaching workforce.”
Other national studies have shown that teacher evaluation systems have done little to improve teacher quality or student learning.
Critics of the evaluation system have tied it to the District’s teacher attrition rate, which the D.C. State Board of Education determined in 2018 is higher than those of other urban school districts on average.
But Ferebee pointed to an improvement in the trend in recent years. He said the city has experienced an increase of 8 percentage points in the teacher retention rate over the past 10 years.
And he said nearly 84 percent of teachers who were assessed as “effective” and “highly effective” returned to their schools this academic year.
“I have heard teachers say they support IMPACT, that they think it’s a necessary tool,” said Zachary Parker, the Ward 5 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education. “But what I have often heard is that it is sometimes felt that it is a tool to punish teachers instead of to develop and support them.”