Different states, cities and school districts have embraced the current corporate-reformist fad to evaluate teacher performance using unproven, unreliable value-added models to different extents. In Washington, D.C., under the IMPACT system created by former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, a value-added testing model can be 50 percent of how a teacher is evaluated—at the high end of the weight placed on value-added models—and it’s still in use even as the city’s schools are investigated for suspected widespread cheating on the very test used to evaluate teachers. IMPACT’s emphasis on testing is a terrible model to begin with, but it’s far worse when you consider the fate of non-cheating teachers who inherit students whose previous year’s test scores were inflated by cheating.
That may be what happened to a former teacher profiled by the Washington Post‘s Bill Turque. Sarah Wysocki was a second-year teacher who had received glowing classroom evaluations from her assistant principal; he wrote, “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.” The head of her school’s PTA had a child in Wysocki’s class and said she was “One of the best teachers I’ve ever come in contact with.” But the previous year, in her first year teaching, Wysocki’s classroom evaluations had been less positive, and a poor IMPACT ranking two years in a row means a teacher is fired. So despite her excellent classroom teaching, when Wysocki’s average student test scores fell a few points short of what the value-added model said they should, she was fired. But the value-added model is partly based on a student’s test scores in the previous year, and:
Fourteen of her 25 students had attended Barnard Elementary. The school is one of 41 in which publishers of the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests found unusually high numbers of answer sheet erasures in spring 2010, with wrong answers changed to right. Twenty-nine percent of Barnard’s 2010 fourth-graders scored at the advanced level in reading, about five times the District average.
D.C. and federal investigators are examining whether there was cheating, but school officials stand by the city’s test scores.
The other fifth-grade teacher in Wysocki’s school, also considered a good teacher by the administrators who evaluate classroom performance, was also fired. But don’t worry—despite the cheating investigation and results like these, school officials stand by the city’s test scores and the Secretary of Education is still making appearances with Michelle Rhee, so there must not be a problem with this system.
(Wysocki, happily, quickly got a new job teaching in a northern Virginia school, with a strong recommendation from her former principal.)