Making an IMPACT: Evaluation Changes Will Better Serve Teachers and Students

By Dowan McNair Lee and Alyson Roberts

As District of Columbia Public Schools educators, we share in the belief that all children deserve a first-class education, and that all our students can and will learn. It is our very important job -- and momentous responsibility -- to ensure that this happens every day in our classrooms. We've seen the IMPACT evaluation system evolve over the past three years, and the most recent changes announced by Chancellor Kaya Henderson will help us do this.

The changes continue the District's concerted effort to build a system that helps teachers improve. The revised IMPACT system will reward more of DCPS's effective teachers for our hard work and empower us to continue serving our students. It will also more effectively assist and provide support to the teachers that need more guidance to strengthen their practice.

One of the most exciting changes is the inclusion of an additional measure of student growth for teachers whose evaluations are based in part on value-added measures. This means that for these teachers, IMPACT will now allow us greater discretion in ensuring we are being evaluated based on a more well-rounded view of how our students are growing and learning throughout the year.

We also welcome the restructuring of IMPACT's observation component. Observations can be stressful, even for the most seasoned educator. We still get butterflies in our stomachs when a master educator walks through the door, even though our lessons are well planned and our students are engaged and excited about what we are learning.

In our years with DCPS, our observation experiences have never been dull. We've even witnessed a kindergartner look up just as a master educator walked into the room and yell, as only a kindergartener can, "WHO are you and WHAT are you doing here?" While observations will always be anxiety producing, having one informal, or formative, observation in addition to our formal ones will alleviate some of this anxiety. This change will allow school leaders to better support the development of great teachers and further encourage and challenge already accomplished educators.

The addition of the "developing" category and the raised bar for the "effective" category achieves the right balance between expecting rigor while still recognizing that teachers can grow over time and need the support and resources to do so. While some DCPS teachers may not respond favorably to the smaller "effective" category, we believe that dividing this category into two parts allows for more focused and targeted support for educators. Teachers who fall into this new category will now have the extended time and resources they need to help them become stronger and more efficient practitioners.

Finally, we feel empowered that the District has not overlooked those of us who teach in D.C.'s high-poverty schools by updating the bonus structure to celebrate and reward educators like us. As we both know, working in a high-need school brings with it its own unique set of challenges, and the changes will serve as an incentive to retain dedicated teachers in the schools that need them most.

Teaching in DCPS is challenging but it is above all else incredibly rewarding. The changes laid out for IMPACT this year are focused on helping all teachers develop and perfect our craft. IMPACT is a tool that should be used to hold all educators to a high standard, while also identifying and assisting in our areas of growth and honoring our successes and strengths. The updates to this model are clearly moving in this direction, and will ultimately impact those who matter the most: our students.

Dowan McNair Lee and Alyson Roberts are both DCPS teachers and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows. Ms. McNair Lee is a middle school English language arts teacher, and Ms. Roberts is an elementary Reading Intervention teacher.