A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 11 2011

An Open Letter to DCPS…

Nearly 2 years on, IMPACT, DCPS’ pioneering teacher evaluation system, still has many kinks. Every day, I hear the draining talk of IMPACT this, IMPACT that: “My master educator just rated me ‘ineffective.’ Should I drink my sorrows away?” “Did I put a SMART objective on the board?” “I hope the master educator doesn’t come in during my test review day.” “IMPACT sucks. Should I quit?”

(My take on IMPACT after year one is here.)

Though I know a minority of teachers that generally approve of (or maybe tolerate) IMPACT, the majority still see it as oppressive and burdensome. For too many, it is still an overly-mechanical, “I gotcha” system meant to be a “stick” to beat teachers with. Sure, for the mighty few who get rated “highly effective,” there is the “carrot” of monetary bonuses. But, overwhelmingly, teachers interpret IMPACT as a heartless algorithm that assigns a single number corresponding to a teacher’s supposedly-measurable teaching abilities. No one likes to be defined by one number.

IMPACT is a dilemma to me. On the one hand, I cringe at how it has (a) distorted the way teachers teach and (b) battered teacher morale. On the other hand, I still believe that teachers need to be evaluated and assessed, not only for the sake of identifying (and removing) under-performing teachers, but also as a means to pinpoint professional development needs. We need to figure out how to reconcile its negatives with its positives. Easier said than done.

What follows today is a guest post from a DCPS educator who has had one too many frustrating experiences with IMPACT. After a demoralizing master educator observation, she has decided to call it quits. This is her open letter to DCPS:

Dear DCPS,

Thank you for your honest and informative feedback provided by your most recently hired “Master Educator” of the current WL teacher at $%HS in Washington DC. According to your rubric, she has been qualified as a Minimally Effective teacher, scoring not so much as one 3 or 4 out of 4 points in any of the Teach 1-9 categories on your IMPACT rubric. According to your score, this is what a “minimally effective” teacher looks like:

  • She has been at the same position for 3 years and has developed positive rapports with 80-90% of the students she’s taught (P.S. She almost just wrote “teached”. Thank you also for the stellar grammatical influence your environment has on college graduates).
  • She has gotten to school hours before and after the required time to A) plan lessons, B) grade quizzes, projects and in-class assignments that clearly show production of a language other than English and C) organize extracurricular activities that you put on her shoulders the DAY BEFORE THEY TAKE PLACE because you failed to take the responsibility on yourself and she didn’t want to let the students down.
  • She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Foreign Language Education and Teaching English as a Second Language Certification to become a better teacher for your students.
  • She was nominated as her Department Chair in her second year of teaching (granted by default) and took an enormous workload including statistical analysis of the (non)growth of student achievement without so much as training her in any of the documentation that is so “official”.
  • She remains a solid presence in her students’ anything-but-stable lives, serving as a mother, best friend, sister, guidance counselor, mentor and teacher while also trying to maintain her own life separate from work.

I could go on about the “detrimental” behaviors and actions that this teacher has engaged in to make you consider her “Minimally Effective” when, miraculously, she has ­never received an overall score of less than a 3.2 out of 4 in her two years teaching under this imperfect IMPACT evaluation system.

Why then did she receive in her most recent “Master Educator” evaluation a 1.66 out of 4 overall?? Tell me, was she drunk in front of the classroom? Did she by chance hit or insult any of the students in your presence? In fact, did any of the students act out AT ALL at any point throughout the tiny, 30-minute window you saw into her class when she teaches 3 classes for 80 minutes a day? (Because really, that’s what her job has become: babysitting.)

The District of Columbia is special. You tell the teachers and students so every day. We are in a unique situation and are pioneers of the future of education, specifically ensuring that every single classroom is stocked with a “Highly Effective” teacher, who apparently engages in none of the behaviors exhibited so erroneously by the WL teacher at $%HS. She understands what it takes to be an effective teacher, and in fact, scored 4. Points. Away from being considered “Highly Effective” last year and receiving a considerable amount of money, the possibility of being observed and filmed as a model classroom for potential new hires to the District. Why then did she receive a score of 1.66 out of 4?

Yes, the “Monster Educator”, Mr. @, championed for the rights of World Languages. He claimed that he was an advocate for them, and that only when we worked together to demand professional development (because it is our right) that we would receive scores that ACCURATELY reflect our teaching abilities. So Mr. @ told this poor WL teacher that her scores were essentially not accurate.

Let’s think for a moment: How can you claim to represent a system that insists upon having Effective and Highly Effective teachers in the classroom when the very rubric you work upon is NOT ACCURATE?? Her job, salary and integrity are at stake because of this imperfect evaluation system. How demeaning to hear from a man who saw 30 minutes of one lesson, on one day, in one week, of one month, in one year of a course that she is “Minimally Effective” in not one, but NINE categories. Who. Do you think. You are?

DCPS, you claim to support teachers and initiatives that retain teachers for longer than a Teach for America or DC Teaching Fellows stint of two years. This teacher CHOSE to come to the District after graduation, maybe not fully understanding what she was getting herself into, but she put her heart, soul, mind, body and LIFE into this job. You didn’t put a single person into her classroom her first year of teaching. NOT ONE. She was put out to sea with swimmies and somehow managed to make it through the Bermuda triangle, shark-infested waters and the annoyance of jellyfish stings, to stay on to a third year at an institution that you claim is “on the mend”.

I’m sorry, DCPS, but you just lost the most Highly “Minimally Effective” WL teacher that you will NEVER find again. I guarantee that not many people have the heart that she has to do what she did for so long for your district. When you continually tell her that is it HER fault that students are not succeeding, she beings to believe it.

However, she has come to realize that she doesn’t have to tread this murky water any longer. There are countless other districts around the world that would throw out life vests, buoys, canoes and jet skis just to get this “Minimally Effective” WL teacher into their programs.

So, if your goal is the retention of Effective to Highly Effective teachers, you’re doing an extremely poor job of giving them the support they need. You can’t come in three years later and assess this teacher who’s been doing a pretty good job on a rubric that you never prepared her or trained her for. You are setting teachers up for failure and you are burning them out by placing ALL of the blame on them.

It’s time for this WL teacher who is so much more than “Minimally Effective” according to your rubric to go test the waters elsewhere, reflect on her time in DCPS with fondness and to selectively remember all of the other positive comments, feedback and scores she has received in her three years of service to your District.

Thank you for your time. I wish you the best of luck. You will need it.


Excuse me, DCPS, but I think we still have a long way to go with IMPACT. Let’s rethink the way we do the evaluating that we still need to do (a recent Aspen Institute report on IMPACT can be found here; commentary on it here and here).

profile counter

4 Responses

  1. CJR

    Thanks for including me in this, W. I appreciate the opportunity to share the frustrations of DCPS teachers in the hopes that serious reform is forthcoming. It is beyond necessary.

    • CJR: the irony is that I, too, was rated “minimally effective” during my most recent master educator observation. To add to this irony, during our debrief, the master educator conceded that I had an extremely strong independent reading and vocab-building system in my classroom (in fact, she recommended that I share my practices with the rest of the school), but that this strength was not and could not be reflected in my score because it did not align with the objective that I had posted on my board that day. I find it hard to apologize for having built a classroom culture where students engage wholeheartedly in independent reading and SAT vocabulary building for the first 15-20 minutes of every class period. I know I have much to improve upon as a teacher, but I find it crazy that I’m labeled “highly effective” one day and then “minimally effective” the next. Again, I still believe we need an accountability system. But I’m not convinced that the current iteration of IMPACT is the right one.

  2. PL

    Hello DCPS Teachers,

    I would like to enlist your help. I am a currently a graduate student and I am conducting a small survey on Washington DC public school teachers’ opinions on merit pay and IMPACT program for my Master’s Thesis. The purpose of the survey is to get feedback on how teacher view merit pay after it has been implemented.

    The survey should only take 10 minutes. Participants’ answers are anonymous and will be kept confidential. Only group results will be presented or documented, not individual answers. I can also present the results of the survey after it is completed.

    The problem I am having is getting Washington DC public school teachers to participate in the survey. I need to at least 100 teachers for my study to be valid and I have only two weeks to collect responses. If possible can you pass my survey along to DC Public School teachers or do you have any advice on where I can find teachers maybe willing to take the survey. Any guidance would be helpful. I have added the link to the survey down below. Thanks again!

  3. Annon

    I’m a couple years late to this post BUT I was rated Highly Effective this past year and was excessed when my school closed and was unable to find another position in my area. So clearly Highly Effective is a pretty useless rating these days as well. BTW This was my 3rd year, and obviously last, with DCPS. I too chose to teach in the District (read NOT Teach for America or DC Fellow, etc.) after receiving my Master’s in Education. I was rated Highly Effective my 1st and 3rd years with DCPS, Effective my 2nd year. I should have run screaming when my mentor, a former high school teacher, was assigned my first month – I was teaching early childhood…

Post a comment

About this Blog

Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

D.C. Region
High School

Subscribe to this blog (feed)