Spurred by DC Education Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s recent firing of 165 “ineffective” teachers, the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) has announced its plans to contest IMPACT–the DC public school system’s teacher evaluation system–in a class-action suit.  

Rhee implemented IMPACT last fall in order to hold teachers more accountable for student progress.  Although she held over 40 question and answer sessions and 50 focus groups with school-based personnel, she did not, and was not required to bargain with the teachers’ union on evaluations.  The union has criticized IMPACT from the outset, claiming that its individual value-added measure (IVA) is statistically unreliable, and therefore unfair to teachers.  Jason Kamas, Rhee’s chief “human capital” assistant, has countered that classrooms with fewer than 10 students will not be subject to growth monitoring

IVA is only an evaluation component for reading and math teachers of students in grades 4 and 8.  These grades are each sandwiched between two DC Comprehensive Assessment System exams, allowing evaluators to clearly document test score improvement.  IVA is calculated by subtracting students’ predicted growth-which takes into account students’ test scores from the previous year, their free or reduced lunch status, and their English Language Learner status-from their actual growth, as measured by test score improvement.  It makes up 50% of their IMPACT evaluation scores of these teachers. 

Throughout my public school years in Massachusetts, I often heard teachers lament that standardized testing cramped their creativity, forcing them to “teach to the test.”  There is some merit to this assertion.  Standardized tests do force teachers to conform to a curriculum over which both they, and particularly the parents of the children they teach, have little control.   Ideally, parents should demand teacher accountability and have the liberty to “vote with their feet,” removing their children from poor teachers and schools.  D.C.’s charter schools, which enroll 38% of D.C.’s children, and programs like the now defunct D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, are great ways of giving parents more choice and of moving towards a dynamic school system. 

While evaluating teachers using IMPACT’s IVA measure is not ideal, I think that it is a step in the right direction.  Rhee’s empirical measures of teacher quality are valuable checks against the WTU, which strives to protect all teachers, regardless of their abilities and performances.