Accountability is more important than one teacher
March 16, 2012
It was only a matter of time before The Post published a story featuring a young teacher who lost her job in the District, painting her as a victim to the District’s new “get-tough” evaluation system. While I won’t pretend to know anything about Sarah Wysocki’s teaching abilities, I believe that the March 7 front-page article “D.C. teacher firing offers window into evaluations” did an injustice to D.C.’s effort to hold teachers accountable for results.
No evaluation system will be 100 percent accurate. Therefore one story, even one as compelling as Wysocki’s may appear to be, is not evidence of a discredited system.
Moreover, The Post did not point out that, under the rules of D.C.’s system, the principal can request a waiver of a teacher’s dismissal. Apparently, we can presume that Wysocki’s principal did not.
For years, schools have employed evaluation systems that gave teachers the benefit of the doubt, if not an outright free pass. In order to refocus our attention more properly on the long-neglected needs of students, we need to also accept the fact that schools, like all employers, can’t always make the right calls.
Kate Walsh, Washington
The writer is president of the National Council on Teacher Quality
‘Creative ... motivating’ and fired
By Bill Turque
March 6, 2012
By the end of her second year at MacFarland Middle School, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Wysocki was coming into her own.
“It is a pleasure to visit a classroom in which the elements of sound teaching, motivated students and a positive learning environment are so effectively combined,” Assistant Principal Kennard Branch wrote in her May 2011 evaluation.
He urged Wysocki to share her methods with colleagues at the D.C. public school. Other observations of her classroom that year yielded good ratings.
Two months later, she was fired.
Wysocki, 31, was let go because the reading and math scores of her students didn’t grow as predicted. Her undoing was “value-added,” a complex statistical tool used to measure a teacher’s direct contribution to test results. The District and at least 25 states, under prodding from the Obama administration, have adopted or are developing value-added systems to assess teachers.
When her students fell short, the low value-added trumped her positives in the classroom. Under the D.C. teacher evaluation system, called IMPACT , the measurement counted for 50 percent of her annual appraisal. Classroom observations, such as the one Branch conducted, represented 35 percent, and collaboration with the school community and schoolwide testing trends made up the remaining 15 percent.
Her story opens a rare window into the revolution in how teachers across the country are increasingly appraised — a mix of human observation and remorseless algorithm that is supposed to yield an authentic assessment of effectiveness. In the view of school officials, Wysocki, one of 206 D.C. teachers fired for poor performance in 2011, was appropriately judged by the same standards as her peers. Colleagues and friends say she was swept aside by a system that doesn’t always capture a teacher’s true value.
Proponents of value-added contend that it is a more meaningful yardstick of teacher effectiveness — growth over time — than a single year’s test scores. They also contend that classroom observations by school administrators can easily be colored by personal sentiments or grudges. Researchers for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reported in 2010 that a teacher’s value-added track record is among the strongest predictors of student achievement gains.
Which is why D.C. school officials have made it the largest component of their evaluation system for teachers in grades with standardized tests. The District aims to expand testing so that 75 percent of classroom teachers can be rated using value-added data. Now, only about 12 percent are eligible.
“We put a lot of stock in it,” said Jason Kamras, chief of human capital for D.C. schools.
Yet even researchers and educators who support value-added caution that it can, in essence, be overvalued. Test results are too vulnerable to conditions outside a teacher’s control, some experts say, to count so heavily in a high-stakes evaluation. Poverty, learning disabilities and random testing day incidents such as illness, crime or a family emergency can skew scores...