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Release of New Study Revives Calls to End IMPACT

In its racial equity review about the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) confirmed that evaluators, regardless of color, harbor biases that cause nonwhite instructors to receive lower scores than their white counterparts.

Now, as the new school year approaches, calls have increased among teachers to forgo IMPACT, if not because of the trauma experienced during the pandemic then for what some have described as the evaluation system’s original intentions.

“It was used to remove older Black and brown educators to make room for Teach for America educators,” said Chantal Fuller, an inclusion teacher in Southeast.

Last year, Fuller, a millennial, participated in a study American University [AU] School of Education commissioned about IMPACT.

For about two hours, she and nearly 50 other teachers of various races and gender identities from across the city reflected on their experiences with IMPACT. They answered questions about whether the evaluation system helped them become better teachers and the role it played in school closures and gentrification.

The AU research team’s findings, released earlier this month, showed overwhelmingly negative feelings about IMPACT among teachers who said it created an atmosphere of fear, distrust and competition, especially in low-performing schools.

Respondents also questioned IMPACT’s ability to foster professional growth and mitigate administrators’ personal squabbles with teachers.

Fuller echoed those sentiments, adding that IMPACT fails to take into account circumstances beyond a teacher’s control, like a student’s home life.

“It wasn’t designed like that,” Fuller told The Informer. “It’s reminiscent of a more idealistic educational situation. An evaluator gives you a score but they’re not talking about what you need. It’s not a tool used for growth. It’s used to give a snapshot of what happens [without] taking into consideration other factors.”

IMPACT and the Stress of Teaching Virtually 

For the first stage of its IMPACT review, DCPS engaged 3,500 people including advisory groups and national education experts. AU’s IMPACT research team, independent of DCPS, gathered and analyzed data from four school leader focus groups, a school leaders survey and data that DCPS provided,  including IMPACT test results and the DCPS Insight Survey.

Under IMPACT, teachers and other staff members interacting with children receive two evaluations during the school year.

Evaluators focus on aspects of instruction and external factors including an instructor’s commitment to the school community. Teachers who obtain high marks on IMPACT receive bonuses up to $25,000.

During the 2020-2021 school year, amid the pandemic and virtual learning, teachers had the option of opting out of the second evaluation that took place during the spring.

Evaluators, as they would do in a normal setting, watched teachers conduct a lesson via a virtual learning platform. As part of the evaluation, teachers could provide context to better help evaluators understand what happened in the moments preceding and following the evaluation.

Such overtures did not suffice for Christopher Stewart, a DCPS librarian who said IMPACT shouldn’t be used during the upcoming school year while teachers and students readjust to the classroom environment.

Stewart, who worked at Columbia Heights Education Campus in Northwest last year, recounted consoling District educators who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and struggled to virtually teach students going through similar situations.

He said portions of IMPACT didn’t explore the difficulty of carrying out one’s duties online when some children face instability at home.

“It can be problematic because educators are dealing with so much on their plate,” said Stewart, who has since transferred to John Hayden Johnson Middle School in Southeast. “They’re already feeling immense pressure and stress and they’re concerned about being effective to keep their job.”

Getting to the Root of the Problem

During an event at Stanton Elementary School on Aug. 19, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee didn’t directly respond to The Informer’s inquiry about whether IMPACT will be used this year. Instead, he hinted at plans to continue adjusting the evaluation system.

As students return to school, some community members, like Maurice Cook of Serve Your City DC, continue to champion solutions that get to the source of educational inequity.

On Aug. 28, Serve Your City DC will host a Back-to-School Bash during which organizers will five out 500 laptops and other essential resources.

In speaking about IMPACT, Cook, a Ward 6 resident and Mutual Aid leader, said educators often get the short end of the stick when school leaders overlook inequities that creep into the classroom.

“They’ve done teacher evaluations knowing that students don’t have what they need to compete,” Cook said. “COVID-19 highlighted how normalized that has been.”

“How do you measure [progress] school to school or youth to youth when you know that all youth don’t have the same resources? he asked. “We have to beat it at its core.”

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