Washington Teachers’ Union Executive Director Dr. Terence C. Ngwa with President Elizabeth Davis at a meeting earlier this month. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Washington Teachers’ Union Executive Director Dr. Terence C. Ngwa with President Elizabeth Davis at a meeting earlier this month. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

As D.C. Public Schools’ highly polarizing teacher evaluation system enters its 10th year, officials have announced what they described as an upcoming comprehensive review of the model.

Starting in November, a panel of teachers and education experts will discuss possible changes to the performance measurement tool criticized as a means of quashing teacher dissent.

DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee recently told community members about his plans for the IMPACT evaluation in an email blast that also released data showing an eight-percent gain in teacher retention in the years since its inception.

“This is a big time to think about how to make IMPACT better. Teachers are pleased with the performance, but some are concerned about how to help teachers that are struggling,” Ferebee told The Informer.

This year, three out of four DCPS teachers returned to their school of employment. That group included 84 percent of the teachers deemed “effective” and “highly effective.” Additionally, some public school Wards 7 and 8 experienced teacher attrition rates of 90 percent.

“We might make some adjustments in onboarding and professional development,” Ferebee said. “I’m interested in learning how we can improve the model. We don’t want to move away from it. It’s a model that allows us to invest money in teachers. We need to think about how we can make it better.”

Dr. Ferebee’s October 16 announcement took place amid ongoing teacher contract negotiations, and efforts by the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) to change a law that makes teachers, principals and other school workers’ IMPACT evaluation non-negotiable. In June, D.C. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and five other members introduced and sponsored such legislation, titled the Equitable Evaluations for D.C. Public School Employees Amendment Act.

If passed, it would include the evaluation process in collective bargaining and prevent the punishment of union-backed DCPS employees. WTU President Elizabeth Davis said the upcoming comprehensive review, suggested in a September meeting between the chancellor and a few teachers, hasn’t deterred her from advocating for the legislation.

As of Monday, neither the D.C. Council Committee on Education or Committee on Labor have discussed the bill. That’s why Davis has expressed plans to engage D.C. Council members Elizabeth Silverman (I-At Large), labor committee chair, and David Grosso (I-At Large), education committee chair, for their support of the legislation.

A Decade of Controversy

IMPACT, first put into practice during Michelle Rhee’s tenure as chancellor, provides feedback for teachers in the areas of instructional practice and culture, student achievement, and collaboration. Through IMPACT-plus, DCPS’ performance-based compensation system, teachers rated as “highly effective” receive annual bonuses of up to $25,000. DCPS leaders also recognize them during the Standing Ovation Awards. Teachers could earn up to an extra $3.7 million throughout their DCPS career, depending on their IMPACT score.

Even so, detractors of IMPACT say holds teachers responsible for the societal conditions affecting students. They have also indicted it as a key cause of high teacher turnover over the course of a decade.

In 2017, Jason Kamras, creator of IMPACT and a central figure in the Rhee administration, backed away from the evaluation system upon taking over the Richmond Public Schools system. In May, after an independent arbiter designated his 2009 IMPACT-based termination as illegal, former DCPS teacher Jeff Canady said he had still been immersed in a battle with DCPS’ central office for hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay.

As reported in an Informer article last week, a former DCPS teacher recently filed a grievance with the central office about a “minimally effective” rating he said didn’t take into account resource gaps in his school during the 2018-2019 academic year.

During the most recent Standing Ovations Awards in February, a group of educators led by Davis picketed outside the District Wharf as a show of dissatisfaction with the IMPACT evaluation. At that point, Ferebee had been in the midst of confirmation hearings before the D.C. Council. In testimony before the council and in conversations with Ferebee, Davis expressed a desire for a new evaluation system made in collaboration with DCPS teachers.

Meanwhile, DCPS has retained more than 90 percent of its “effective” and “highly effective” teachers, and received more than 3,000 teacher applications, according to data released earlier this month.

The public school system has also expanded recruitment efforts for teachers of color. Its central office credited its Male Educators of Color Collaborative with its influx of Black and Latino male teachers, the proportion of which stands at 14.1 percent. Ferebee revealed plans to increase recruitment of Latino instructors and tighten bonds with colleges and universities.

If Davis had her way, those new teachers would sign a contract reflective of D.C. Council legislation that gives them more latitude to challenge their IMPACT evaluation scores. Since contract negotiations started in the early summer, DCPS has agreed to meet once a week, Davis said. Issues currently on the table include increased services for special needs students, teachers’ supplies, and technology.

Davis said the proposed contract changes address concerns that teachers citywide revealed in a survey.

“Some of these concerns suggest that that DCPS is out of compliance with the federal Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). We want to make sure our proposals will force the city to come into compliance,” she told The Informer.

“We were able to reach some agreement in that area, but there is more that we could do in this negotiation to help the school district comply with the federal law. Hopefully, negotiations will be finished by the end of the school year,” Davis continued.

“Teachers are concerned about more than their salaries. They’re concerned about the safety of their students, school climate, and the conditions under which they’re students learn. We’re asking for conditions that are going to improve learning for students.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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