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Pass or Fail Grading Applies to Teachers Too

Jul 15, 2011

Former Washington, D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee first took office in 2007, bringing with her a whirlwind of controversial educational reforms meant to whip a troubled district into shape. Among those reforms is Impact, a four-tiered system for evaluating teachers that's expected to fire about ten percent of the district's educators this year. While some embrace the change, others have a few objections.

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By Eric Garneau

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Deep Impact

Under Washington, D.C.'s Impact program, the city's 4,200 educators are judged primarily on two criteria: students' test scores and teacher evaluations. The test scores factor in especially for fourth to eighth grade reading and mathematics teachers, while the evaluations apply more heavily to the rest. Each teacher's assessed five times throughout the school year - three times by their principal, and twice by third-party 'master educators,' many of whom come from outside the district.

In the classroom evaluations, teachers are graded on a four point scale, depending on how well they do things like explain content and ensure student comprehension. Their abilities are placed on a line from 'highly effective' to 'ineffective,' with 'effective' and 'minimally effective' taking up the middle ground. Teachers who are rated 'ineffective' stand to lose their jobs. So far, the system seems to be doing what it's designed for; according to The New York Times, Washington, D.C. has the highest performance-based dismissal rate of educators in the country.

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Support from Some

When it comes to education reform advocates, Impact's been greeted as a step in the right direction. In the wake of President Obama's Race to the Top grant competition, many states have been looking for ways to better evaluate their teachers. Some have taken to sending administrators to study how Impact works with the hopes of adopting a similar program themselves.

Even some of Washington, D.C.'s own teachers support the program, having been given what they consider constructive feedback from the system. In The New York Times, one of the evaluated teachers said of her master educator 'I felt she was on my side.' For some, it seems the chance to reevaluate their technique with the help of a third-party educator can truly be beneficial.

Objections from Others

Other teachers, though, aren't as sold on the process. Some report evaluators who act like 'kind of a robot,' over critically docking points on evaluations for minor mistakes and failing to take into account the context of a given teacher's performance, such as what kind of school they teach in or whether they've just taken over for a long-time substitute. In general, some educators argue, that leads to a system that's keen on criticizing weakness but not on fostering strength.

Still others are upset that when Chancellor Rhee began designing Impact she did so without consulting Washington's teachers' union. That's led to some ill feelings among educators, who possibly feel ignored or even attacked by the controversial Rhee. Still, reformers around the country are looking to Impact to see if it can really improve teachers' performances district-wide. Union support or not, it seems to be a program worth considering.

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