Teacher evaluation is nothing new or radical. In fact, schools and districts have a long history of evaluating teachers.
However, in practice teacher evaluation plays out as one big irony. While the majority of teachers receive “satisfactory” evaluation ratings, an increasing number of schools are labeled “failures.”
There is something wrong with this reality.
Education Pioneers Alumni Brian Pick (’07 DC Metro Area), Tim O’Brien (’08 DC Metro Area), and others at District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) are addressing this incongruity and working to improve teacher effectiveness through three coordinated and complementary DCPS initiatives, all launched this school year: the Teaching and Learning Framework, the IMPACT evaluation tool, and professional development for teachers and school staff that links to the framework and evaluation tool.
Pick, the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Chief Academic Officer at DCPS, works as the project lead for the Teaching and Learning Framework and strives to create synergy between the Framework, the IMPACT evaluation tool, and professional development.
“The exciting thing about IMPACT and the Teaching and Learning Framework is the alignment,” Pick said.
Alignment and cohesiveness between the three elements are part of the DCPS strategy to ensure that a highly effective teacher leads each classroom in the District. Embedded within these smart innovations to teacher standards, evaluation, and professional development are components that position DCPS not only to measure teacher effectiveness more comprehensively but also to be a strong contender for the second round of the Race to the Top competition.
Framework clarifies standards for a ‘murky profession’
As they developed the Teaching and Learning Framework, the DCPS team set out to define expectations for teachers and school staff, to articulate what high-quality teaching looks like, and to identify what key behaviors and practices are essential to being an effective teacher. While few could argue that the standards in the framework—to deliver content clearly, to check and respond to student understanding, and to engage students in learning, to name a few—are radical or unique, what does make the creation of the framework noteworthy is that, for the first time, DCPS has clarified expectations for school-based professionals.
“One of our goals was to provide common language to talk about the instructional core of what’s going on in the classroom,” Pick explained.
The resulting DCPS Teaching and Learning Framework does not focus on a particular curriculum. Nor does it revolve around an exciting new program. Instead, it describes a process, or approach, to teaching.
Each phase of the Framework’s cycle—plan, teach, and increase effectiveness—describes a series of behaviors to illustrate how this looks in the classroom. Effective teachers, for example, develop annual student achievement goals and develop classroom procedures and routines.
“We’ve finally highlighted for teachers what skills they must have and clarified what is otherwise a very murky profession,” said O’Brien, a DCPS Professional Development Specialist, who worked intensively on the development and implementation of the Framework.
IMPACT evaluation tool embraces cutting-edge data practices
IMPACT, an evaluation tool, has dominated conversations in the policy and media worlds. The new tool garners such attention because it incorporates value-added measures and ties student achievement data to job evaluations: innovative tactics that are not universally embraced.
General education teachers at DCPS receive up to 50 percent of their IMPACT evaluation score based on value-added data, a quantitative measurement of a teacher’s impact on student achievement. The rest of a teacher’s evaluation is based mainly on five classroom observations by principals and master teachers who judge teacher performance against the Teaching and Learning Framework rubric.
Through the value-added data and observation-based evidence, IMPACT “identifies our strongest performers, as well as teachers who need more support or who are not delivering for their students,” Pick explained. The tool outlines clear performance expectations, offers feedback to teachers, and launches conversations and plans for continuous improvement of teaching practice.
The DCPS team meets regularly with teachers and principals to gather feedback on the new evaluation resources. And although most say that the content of the Framework and IMPACT evaluation tool is not widely controversial, there has been some initial uneasiness from teachers.
“Some argue that the new Framework and IMPACT are being used to flush people out,” O’Brien explained. “That’s just not true. The focus is to help teachers improve their practice, identify successful teachers, pinpoint why they are successful, and use that information to coach other teachers.”
While the IMPACT evaluation tool is certainly well-positioned to advance teacher effectiveness at DCPS, it will also help the district plan strategically for staffing.
“We can cut the data in an infinite number of ways,” said Jason Kamras, Director of Human Capital Strategy for Teachers at DCPS, in reference to how the school district can use IMPACT data to be more intentional in filling teacher positions.
Do the best teachers come from Teach for America, the DC Teaching Fellows program, or a more traditional pathway? How do teachers from various schools of education fare?
Kamras clarifies that “as we evaluate our recruitment pipeline, we want to assess which paths are bringing in the best teachers.”
A new approach to professional development
DCPS has invested heavily in teacher professional development in recent years. Since Michelle Rhee was appointed Chancellor in 2007, DCPS has increased professional development spending by 400 percent.
But whereas many other districts often take a blanket approach and apply one professional development program or training across all schools, DCPS empowers principals to customize professional development based on what individual school data uncovers as their biggest areas of need for their teachers.
The IMPACT evaluation tool finds teachers who face instructional challenges or need particular areas of teacher growth and development. Then, people like O’Brien pool together the resources necessary to assist the teachers and principal at that school to address their professional development needs.
Kamras’ vision for DCPS professional development builds on the foundation of the Teaching and Learning Framework and IMPACT evaluation tool and delivers some of the training in a nontraditional, innovative way.
“The interactive online resource will have student data, teacher data and professional development information—video clips of exemplary teachers showing what good practice looks like in each of the areas we measure, resources to match the highest performing teachers with those who are struggling to offer mentorship and assistance, social networking opportunities, and more,” Kamras explained.
In concert with this, teachers will continue to receive feedback from principals and master educators not affiliated with the school, and the DCPS Central Office will maintain their agenda to support principals in developing as instructional leaders.
The end goal according to Kamras is “that teachers not only have the most rigorous accountability system but also the most rigorous professional development and support.”
The suite of tools and resources—the Teaching and Learning Framework, the IMPACT evaluation tool, and the improved professional development—all in alignment with one another drives human capital reform efforts at DCPS. Led by Pick, O’Brien, Kamras and others, DCPS is well on its way to developing a best in class, coordinated model to advance teacher effectiveness. In tandem with this, IMPACT’s strong focus to link teacher evaluation to student achievement positions the District to be a strong contender for round two of the Race to the Top funding competition, which encourages states to design approaches to evaluate teachers that tie to student achievement results through the language of the initiative.
As DCPS staff reviews feedback from the more than seventy-five listening sessions they have held to date, data streams into the central office, IMPACT 2.0 and the Teaching and Learning Framework 2.0 take shape, and the U.S. Department of Education prepares to make Race to the Top round two decisions, DCPS and these programs are certainly ones to watch over the next several months.
DC Metro Area Program Associate