Long before an American University study determined that racial bias existed within the IMPACT evaluation system, District public school teachers rallied for its termination. For years, their central concern centered on administrators’ alleged weaponization of the evaluation system against teachers whose views didn’t align with theirs.
At D.C. Public Schools’ (DCPS) virtual academy, for instance, one teacher said they received such treatment from Principal Dwan Jordon who assumed the role at the online school after a contentious stint at Johnson Middle School in Southeast.
The teacher, who requested anonymity, said the atmosphere Jordon fostered didn’t allow for professional growth and emotional wellness, nor did he assist teachers who had questions about instructional strategies.
“Since Day 1, there had been teachers Principal Jordon was gunning for [and] he lowballed them on their IMPACT evaluation,” the teacher said. “We had no instructional coaches [and] when we asked [him] for specific information, he told us to do our due diligence and [go through a] 50-page PowerPoint presentation we’d seen months ago. As principal, he was the only one we had to answer these questions but he intimidated a lot of people.”
Under the IMPACT evaluation system, either the school principal or another designated administrator must observe a teacher as they carry out a lesson at least two times during the academic year, starting in the fall. As explained by those who’ve undergone the evaluation, the first observation provides an opportunity to gather feedback about aspects of the teaching practice.
Teachers deemed “highly effective” can earn bonuses of up to $25,000 and recognition during an annual award ceremony. Other areas of focus on evaluations include culture, student achievement and collaboration.
This academic year, Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) leaders have engaged DCPS central office about eliminating aspects of IMPACT connected to student assessments and teachers’ commitment to school and community because of COVID-related absences that have impeded learning.
Meanwhile, the WTU, amid contract negotiations that don’t include discussions about IMPACT, formed committees tasked with exploring teacher evaluation systems from school systems in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland.
WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons heralded Cleveland’s teacher evaluation system as one that fosters collaboration between teachers and school leaders which ultimately benefits students. She hinted at soon presenting recommendations to DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and D.C. Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson (D), among others.
“We’re hopeful that we can present what we believe to be the framework of a fair IMPACT system for teachers,” Pogue Lyons said.
“In Cleveland, everyone bought into the system and that’s what they believed helped them keep good teachers,” she said. “Their retention rate is better than most school systems. It’s one that helps to grow teachers.”
DCPS didn’t return an Informer inquiry about the current stage of conversations about changing the IMPACT evaluation system, the number of teachers who scored low this academic year and the opportunities for coaching.
Past criticism about IMPACT included what detractors described as an intense focus on what occurs during the lesson plan and not the circumstances surrounding students’ performance or behavior.
In situations where schools have experienced changes at the top, IMPACT evaluations have been less consistent. For instance, a teacher at Miner Elementary School in Northeast said since the principal left at the beginning of the school year, there has been little communication about personnel changes and how that would affect aspects of the teaching experience, particularly teacher evaluations.
By the time teachers received their first evaluation in the middle of March, DCPS central office had installed a sixth principal at Miner Elementary. In some instances, those who served as principal did so for only a couple of days and with no knowledge of Miner’s inner workings, the anonymous teacher said.
Such conditions, the teacher lamented, didn’t allow for growth.
“In normal cases, we got three evaluations but we got two this time and I don’t know why,” the teacher said. “No one observed me until St. Patrick’s Day. My observation was good but as a teacher you want to grow. After my first observation, I was observed again one month later. But nothing helped me become a better educator [within that time]. We were just checking all the boxes.”