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DCPS considers less emphasis on test scores for teacher evaluations

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

D.C. Public Schools officials are considering weakening the link between students' standardized test scores and teachers' performance on evaluations, The Washington Examiner has learned.

Currently under the Impact evaluations, students' year-to-year growth on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System counts for 50 percent of the evaluations of teachers whose students take the tests. But after holding a series of focus groups with teachers, school officials are considering scaling back the weight of standardized testing, from 50 percent to 35 or 40 percent.

"We know it causes anxiety for teachers because scores don't come until the end of the year," said Scott Thompson, DCPS's director of teacher effectiveness strategy. "We also are aware the DC CAS doesn't capture everything a D.C. teacher teaches over the course of the year -- for instance, science and social studies that a homeroom teacher might be responsible for. We are certainly thinking about whether 50 percent is the right amount for 'value-added.'"

Impact is one of the most controversial reforms of the former Chancellor Michelle Rhee era because poor ratings have led to the firings of hundreds of teachers -- 206 last summer alone. Classroom observations and whole-school performance also factor into the evaluations.

Impact has been modified several times since its 2009 introduction. Instead of five classroom observations, DCPS this year allowed teachers who were twice rated "highly effective" and who performed well during their first two classroom observations to skip the remaining three, The Examiner first reported. The rubric for observations also has received a few tweaks, and the D.C. Council recently passed legislation that would provide $10,000 annual bonuses to top teachers who transfer to underperforming schools.

At the same time, teacher evaluations that rely on student test scores -- thus tying student performance to an adult's job security and pay grade -- have received increased attention as cheating scandals have erupted nationwide; in Atlanta, teachers and principals at 44 public schools corrected students' tests to raise their scores.

DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said any changes would be unrelated to allegations facing DCPS -- 60 of the school system's classrooms are being investigated; of the 18 investigated last year, three had their scores thrown out for possible cheating.

This is not the first year DCPS has considered modifying the weight of test scores, an ongoing concern of teachers, Thompson said. If the percentage is reduced, DCPS is exploring making up that gap with assessments developed at the school level.

Teachers' union President Nathan Saunders, who has been advocating for a weight closer to 20 percent, said, "The school administration has got to decide, 'What do we want? Do we want creative, inventive teaching or parties so focused on the students' scores that the education of the student is secondary?"

DCPS expects to make final decisions about changes to Impact by late summer.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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