Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Are DCPS Teachers Allowed to Appeal IMPACT Evaluations?

A few weeks ago I noticed Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, in boasting about the new DC labor contract, claimed that the contract did not allow teachers to greive an evaluation.  Teachers, they said, would only be allowed to complain about the process.  For example, a teacher could get somewhere with the appeal process if they didn't get observed when they were supposed to, but they could do nothing if they were unfairly scored (perhaps by administrators with little to no classroom experience in their content area). 

The problem with Klein and Rhee saying this, however, is that when you actually read the contract, it says that the DC Municipal Regulations require that all employees have the right to appeal unsatisfactory ratings.  Rhee, Weingarten, and Parker couldn't get around this; it's DC code.

I was confused.  Were Rhee and Klein lying?  Were they being deceptive?  Or was I just wrong?  I emailed Valerie Strauss and Rick Hess about this.  Both responded and said they would look into it for me.  So yesterday, Rick Hess posted the findings his AEI team came up with here.  Hess says that Rhee and Klein are essentially telling the truth, and I trust his research for the most part.  But I still don't get why Rhee, Klein, Hess, and other ed pundits make this contract provision sound like such a victory. 

Is it really so great that we deprive teachers of their opportunity to appeal an unsatisfactory rating, especially in the District?  Never was I ever really concerned that I would be unfairly evaluated until I worked in DC.  Do people not see that the whole goal of IMPACT is not to provide support for improvement but to make it easier to fire anyone who's not a 'team player?'


  1. Don't know ans. to ur legal quest., but, Refl Ed, altho u want stay in teaching, u seem to hav joined let's-block-mgt&sch-ref-anywaywecan squad. U are so insighttful--giving lie to those who claim u need 8-10 yrs to b effective, but my gosh, u sometimes sound like the real change-blockers whom u met in teachers rms in dcps. The eval sys in dc is hardly perfect but it had to be tried. if you want it perfect, that effectively means it's not ever going to happen. never. and if you hav no eval scheme, u can forget serious prof dev, bec who's gonna invest if you can't measure prog after prof dev activities? DC teachers need to recog they are not goin to get anywhere blocking mgt initiatives. if Mr. V. Gray wins, they might get way for uno momento, but how low can the DCPS go? w V Gray as mayoro, that would be tested. special interests, incl wtu, will run all over him. it will also drive blk middle class out of DC even more rapidly.

  2. Goodness, I hope you're not a teacher with that grammar!! Your comments would be taken much more seriously if you took the time to express them coherently!

  3. Well, if we could appeal our ratings, we couldn't be summarily fired in June on the basis of said ratings. This would thus defeat the whole purpose of IMPACT- NOT to improve teaching, or even to get a measure of teaching practices in DCPS, but simply to fire low-scoring teachers (whether they were scored fairly or not). A central office rep (last name Thomson...first name Scott maybe?) as much as said so at the IMPACT feedback meeting at my school. No leeway for anything because IMPACT wasn't created for good or even great teachers. It was created for bad teachers.

    At least 825 is being honest about its intentions. However, I find it hard to believe that with all the brainpower they have there (former teacher of the year), they could not come up with separate tools to a) document and then fire ineffective teachers, and b) evaluate teacher performance and provide feedback to promote constant improvement.

    But- it's DCPS, and the poor implementation of IMPACT is one of the reasons I left. I'm in a high-need content area and I don't need the stress of being treated like a child and "evaluated" (I use that term loosely) with such a nitpickity and "gotcha" system. There are needy children elsewhere where teachers are treated like professionals.

    (For the record, my IMPACT scores were solidly in the effective range, and I left voluntarily so this post is not just sour grapes.)

  4. From what some of my fellow teachers have experienced, there absolutely needs to be some sort of recourse, especially if there are NO comments as to why a teacher received 1's across the board or other excessively low scores. Or if the reasons are FLAT OUT LIES. If those scores have been 'earned' then there should be excellent documentation to support it. If there isn't, and especially if the score is outright retaliation, there HAS to be some way to challenge it, or this system is 100% gamed from the get-go. It is frustrating because I am new to both teaching and DCPS as of 2007, and I want to be evaluated and I want to improve. But if all I get are more meaningless numbers, then once again the 'big change' from a new system like IMPACT will be absolutely nothing. I can only hope they continue to try to improve it, but I'm not feeling so positive at the moment.

  5. to 855 posting person--

    Goodness, hope ur not teacher with ur lack of substantive thought!! ur comments would be taken much more seriously if u took time to express pt of view, if u hav coherent thoughts!

    (fm blackberry while walking; jeez)

  6. 8:36, on behalf of both the reading and the walking public, please stop using your blackberry.

  7. 1053--try substance, ie, content, not scolding. Ya know--thoughts to contrib? (we re not in class)

  8. As teachers, we are always in class. We are always modeling correct English, standard forms, correct grammar. People are always trying to tear down DC teachers and I never want to give them any ammunition. I even proof read for typos. It comes naturally to me, especially on a blog frequented by teachers about DCPS.

  9. nothing worse than a bunch of snark-ee teachers.... except teachers at the first come, first served buffet....

  10. It'd be great if the comments could focus on the issues.

    Original anon at 836: I agree that the evaluation system in place prior to IMPACT could probably have used improvement. But why do you say the IMPACT system had to be tried? Surely there are other ways to go about improving classroom instruction.

  11. In the past you could file a grievance with the union but there wasn't much recourse to fighting a bad evaluation despite what the union has tried to tell us. IMPACT is not much different, as far as I am concerned, than the last process. It seems to give wider latitude for subjective scores. I know a teacher who received a 3.9 by her principal during snack time while another teacher in the same school received a 3 for a substantive lesson that they considered really well done. The disparity speaks for itself.

  12. Refl. Ed., you were only in DCPS a short time (and we're sorry to see you move on, but it is a good move), but surely you sensed a poisoned labor-mgt environment, with the teachers inclined to tie management in knots wherever possible. And that is just the baseline, before one takes the tension from Rhee's reform initiatives into account. I am afraid the rather uniform history of American labor unions, the good ones and the bad, is to push every button possible to obstruct management. (an exception would be the UAW at GM, where the union was bought off with incredibly rich compensation and retirement benefits, that we the taxpayers must support, which is awful to even think about.) As to "had to be tried," as I understand it (not firsthand by any means), the previous system was a rote affair, not useful to anyone--it did not trigger any or meaningful professional development or remedial actions, and it certainly did not provide any basis for terminating ineffective teachers, of which there were/are too many. For the fans of the standard academic research and surveys on ineffective rate, 5 percent is dreaming. We have had/have a much higher rate in DCPS, be they the over the hill types or the reputed TFA newbies--all kinds. It varies a lot by school/principal, as you know. So, Rhee was attempting to improve on what she found, and needless to say, Impact is no jewel out of the box, but it is not bad in concept. However, the process was uneven, to say the least. And--you tell us, Refl Ed--it was opposed and pushed back almost instantly by some considerable number of teachers who were not used to feedback, feared the worst, or were staunch believers that teachers should not be evaluated. The school system still suffers from that attitude, and none of the reasons for pushing back is entirely baseless. But it takes two to tango. One can easily visualize that if the system were the 8th Wonder of the World, some number of teachers would have been attacking and resisting it just the same.

  13. Anon 6:14-

    I agree that no matter what, someone would criticize the evaluation system. However, a very valid criticism (among many) is that IMPACT conflates a mechanism to transition out ineffective teachers with one that serves effective teachers and gives them meaningful feedback to help them improve. I doubt that any one needed IMPACT to identify ineffective teachers. Anyone working in a school knows who they ineffective teachers (an administrators) are.

    If IMPACT is to be a tool to separate ineffective teachers from the system, then it stands to reason that it should be difficult to appeal. On the other hand, if IMPACT is to be an effective tool to drive professional growth and development, teachers should be able to appeal what they perceive as unfair or uninformed judgments (especially as many administrators have not taught the subject or even the grade level they are evaluating- you may be using appropriate, research-based strategies for your subject area that would receive a higher score from someone experienced in your subject/grade). The inconsistencies between administrators on NVA scores, for example, are also questionable. I received a 4 from one admin and a 2 from another for the same set of documentation for NVA. What gives there?

    If Rhee expects teacher buy-in for IMPACT, she needs to make clear what the goal is, and if it is to be a tool to improve our teaching practice, she needs to allow teachers to be treated like professionals able to discuss and appeal a particular review.

  14. As a former teacher, I don't put much faith in principal evaluations of teachers (especially when they are based on only a few limited observations). Evaluations are inherently subjective, particularly for a complex job like teaching 25-30 students.

    I remember one time when I was teaching in California where a lesson I taught was evaluated simultaneously by two people. Afterwards, reviewing their comments, it was hard to believe they were watching the same class! One evaluator focused mainly on the negatives (if 24 students were on-task, she noted the one student who was daydreaming); The other evaluator focused mostly on the positives (in the same example, he noted that the class as a whole was focused and interested in the lesson). On an IMPACT scale, I probably would have received mostly 2's (if I was lucky) from the first evaluator, but mostly 3's and 4's from the second evaluator. This type of discrepancy is an example of why I view these evaluations with a healthy dose of skepticism and certainly would not want my career to hinge on them.

  15. @1010 -- all good points. But--and I am not an ed evaluation expert, but have a lot of experience evaluating employees and projects for effectiveness and other attributes--I think the real magic would be in having one system that is built for dual-use: both profdev/mgt feedback, and, performance. That way, no one could claim too easily that it is just tailored for firing. The things to be measured are virtually the same or fully consistent.

    Whatever the solution, we can't wait years for this, as that is just a back-door to blocking change and letting the union-centric crowd to get their way; they are getting generous pay, as of now.

    There are too many teachers to develop, or give remedial opportunities to (limited, not forever), and to process for termination. These conclusions are mainly from teachers, in private and some in public. We have an unacceptable number of ineffectives in DCPS from all types. And we still have too many teachers who reject the idea of any evaluation, which is so wrong it is more than sad. I like putting teachers on a pedestal, but if it is to give them the idea that they have a free hand to do whatever the heck they want (or not do things that are needed), they need to be shown the door.
    @ 824 --realistic complaints. The process of evals can be fixed with the right effort. More effort and thought could have been given to implementing Impact. It still can be. But there were/are still too many teachers who are obviously resisting the mere idea of evaluation. You can hear from some of them on TheWashTchr blog.

  16. Anonymous at 9:48: I appreciate your comments and your response to my post above. However, I'm skeptical that the "process of evals can be fixed with the right effort" as you suggested. In my experience as a teacher, most principals are (consciously or unconsciously) biased in some way with regard to their evaluations. If a principal likes the teacher, he emphasizes the positives; if he dislikes the teacher, it is easy to pick out and emphasize the negatives. And this bias generally stems from personality clashes (or lack thereof) and other factors outside the classroom. I've had perhaps ONE objective evaluator in my several years of teaching; the others were all biased (either positively or negatively).

    Teaching is different than other jobs in terms of the employee/supervisor relationship, in that the supervisor (principal) rarely observes the employee at work (staff meetings and football games don't count). Another key difference is that the principal/supervisor cares about things that aren't "teaching" per se: He cares about whether parents complain (annoying for the principal) and whether the class is orderly or if kids are sent to the office (again, annoying to the principal). The principal is not affected personally by whether the kids really learn about the Battle of Gettysburg or if they are inspired to pursue a career as a scientist or if an emotionally disturbed student comes out of his shell and bonds with a teacher.

    This is very different from a typical employee-employer relationship (for instance, between a secretary and her boss). The secretary's job is to type letters, answer the phone, take messages, open the mail, etc. If the secretary does these things well, the boss's job is made easier and he is pleased. If she doesn't, the boss is annoyed. There's often (although not always) a strong connection in the business world between doing your job well and pleasing the boss. But in teaching, the key issues that define a good teacher (interesting lesson plans, inspiring the students to care about learning, etc.) are NOT things that impact the boss/principal directly.

  17. I know that several teachers who have gotten scores that were ridiculously low have started videotaping the classes in which they are observed. While this is very likely to piss off the administrator or master educator, at the least it does have the benefit of having a record of the class that you can comment on.

    Generally speaking, the main problem with IMPACT is that it is way too subjective. There has been no effort to standardize scores across evaluators, which leads to two teachers doing the same thing to get wildly different scores.

  18. I don't know if you talked about this in an earlier post, but what is IMPACT??

  19. @Attorney DC -- w all due respect, you have a truly naive and inexperienced view of the working world in general. The principal-teacher relationship is part and parcel of managers-subordinates in just about any field. For example, anagers, very frequently, do not have visual contact with subordinates in many (the majority?) or organizations, pub and priv, today. (Secretaries are a weird example, btw, because that is one job that is definitely disappearing.)
    The more you, and today's teachers, talk about the uniqueness of the teaching job, the more it sounds defensive and evasive. Again, I'd love to, and do, to a great extent, and indeed did as a student and active parent, try my darndest to put teachers on a pedestal. That refers to their importance. But teaching is one of the most common jobs there is, we all know something about teachers and teaching, and tho we can appreciate the challenge, it is just not all that unique if you analyze its skills and activities. It deserves respect, by all means, but not "protection" from mgt feedback, evaluation, getting fired, etc., because of its unique processes and skills, etc., because they are not unique.

  20. IMPACT is the new evaluation system brought in by Ms. Rhee last year (DCPS teachers are not allowed by law to negotiate how we are evaluated).

    The teaching and learning framework has 9 components, all of which are evaluated in first 30 minutes of the class observed. There are a total of 5 observations, 3 by an administrator at your school, and 2 by a "master educator".

    You may also hear reference to Group I and Group II teachers.

    Group I teachers teach classes and/or grades that have DCCAS testing (our standardized test). These teachers have half of their evaluation based on "Growth" in these scores and half based on their observations.

    Group II teachers don't worry as much about DCCAS testing because they don't directly effect it. Most (80%) of their evaluation comes from the observations.

    THe 2 major complaints are:
    1. DCCAS is a pitiful measure of student achievement. Especially at the high school and middle school level, many students don't take the tests seriously (since they are not punished for a poor score). Because of this, teachers get frustrated being held responsible for students who refuse to work.

    2. The IMPACT scoring rubric is very broad. It is extremely easy for an administrator or master educator to give a low score to teachers they don't like and good scores to teachers that they do.

  21. So Group II teachers will not be in a position (as of right now) to get the performance pay. right?

  22. edlharris: I believe they will be but am not 100% sure.

  23. Anonymous @ 4:59: I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my comments, but I really think you're missing my point with regard to the unusual nature of the supervisor-teacher relationship in education.

    Having worked in a variety of fields over my career, I truly believe that teaching is an outlier with regard to the supervisor-employee relationship. The ratio of supervisor to employees (perhaps 50-100 in a typical public school), with no middle management, is extreme. Two, the type of work involved in teaching (working isolated in a room with students with little contact with your co-workers or supervisor) means that there is much less contact or observation in the teaching situation than in almost any other field of work. In an office, the department head may supervise 5 or 10 subordinates; In a school, the principal is obligated to supervise perhaps 50+ teachers plus instructional aids, custodians, cafeteria workers, etc...

    In all honesty, I have never seen a work situation where there was LESS contact between the supervisor and the typical employee than in a school. This is just part of the reason that principals' evaluations of teachers (based often on just one or two short observations) are prone to error, subjectivity and bias; In my opinion, these evaluations cannot fairly be relied on for hiring and firing decisions.