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DC schools give false teacher evaluations

Stephon Johnson | 1/2/2014, 1:44 p.m.

Teachers in the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) system are livid over their evaluations, and for good reason.

On Monday, during holiday break, school officials revealed that bad calculations of the value that DCPS teachers added to student achievement last school year resulted in errors in performance evaluations for 44 teachers. The mistake even resulted in one teacher being fired.

Jason Kamras, chief of human capital for DCPS, told the Washington Post that half of the evaluations for the teachers were too high and half were too low. The error was described as the most significant since the system began evaluating teachers five years ago.

Those affected are about 1 percent of about 4,000 teachers in the school system, but the error comprises nearly 10 percent of teachers whose work is judged in part on annual city test results for their classrooms.

Washington Teachers Union President Elizabeth Davis sent a letter to DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson asking about the timeline of the investigation process and chastising him and the system for using these evaluations in the first place.

“This is the latest disturbing result of trying to reduce teaching and learning to a single test score,” said Davis in an emailed statement that contained the attached letter. “That this was disclosed on the eve of a holiday week raises additional questions about the district’s commitment to full transparency and disclosure.” 

“These errors make clear that this evaluation system is flawed,” continued Davis. “Teachers, parents and students deserve full transparency and accountability. We look forward to DCPS’s timely response to the letter we sent seeking answers on the full extent of these errors.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten provided her two cents as well, calling this yet another failure with other so-called innovations in education.

“We believe in D.C. public schools and have worked with our local union and this mayor in many constructive ways, including on its very successful pre-K program,” said Weingarten in a statement. “But there’s something very troubling when the district continues to reduce everything about students, educators and schools to a nameless, faceless algorithm and test score.”

Weingarten said that taking data, applying algorithms and using whatever pops out of a black box to judge students, teachers and schools is wrong. “And now we have the disclosure that even the number was miscalculated, affecting dozens, if not hundreds of educators. Our children deserve better,” she said.

So will the DCPS change the ratings? According to Kamras, the system will leave the ratings that were too high unchanged and raise the ones that were too low. As for the fired teacher, the system is working to reinstate the unidentified teacher and will compensate them for lost salary.