As one of the first districts to make student achievement a major component of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system, Washington, DC is now seeing some of the benefits according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The NBER authors find that since DC implemented its teacher evaluation systems called IMPACT, 4 percent of the lowest rated teachers were dismissed and 30 percent of minimally effective (IMPACT’s second lowest category) voluntarily left the district. Of course, losing lower performing teachers is only good for students if they are replaced by more effective teachers. The good news is that according to the study this is what is happening in DC.
However, as I argued in CPE’s latest report, Trends in Teacher Evaluation , in order for IMPACT and similar evaluation systems to truly be effective they need to focus on improving and supporting all teachers and not just concentrate on identifying and dismissing a small percentage of continuously low-performing teachers. While IMPACT focuses more on dismissing low-performing teachers than most evaluation systems, it does provide all teachers with supports, such as instructional coaches, to continuously improve their performance as well as provide financial incentives to retain high performing teachers. The evidence is less clear on the effect of DC’s new evaluation system in these areas.
Critics point to the fact that DC test scores have remained relatively flat since the implementation of IMPACT to counter claims of the evaluation system’s success. Although I argue any good evaluation system should result in increased student achievement, such results take time, especially when looking at a large district like DC. There are no silver bullets in education. This is true for the new teacher evaluations systems being implemented in over 40 states. They will not improve student achievement overnight. It will take time to accurately identify teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom and replace them with more effective teachers. And as CPE’s recent report on teacher professional development found, it takes time for instructional supports to change teacher practices as well.
As such, it is not surprising DC hasn’t seen a significant increase in student achievement as of yet. However, this doesn’t mean that DC should take a wait and see approach. District leaders need to continually listen to teachers, administrators, and even students to get their feedback on how IMPACT should be improved and make adjustments as necessary just as they have done in the past. For districts in any state to get the greatest impact, district leaders need to continuously update their evaluation systems to not only ensure they are accurately evaluating teachers but are providing teachers timely feedback and the support they need to implement the best instructional practices. Teacher evaluation systems should never be static but be living policies that adjust with the ever changing needs of the district and their teachers, and eventually have a positive impact on student achievement. – Jim Hull