Run, don’t walk, over to the Washington Post to read Jay Mathews piece on the evaluation given to an AP History teacher under Washington, DC’s new IMPACT system for assessing teacher performance. Dan Goldfarb, a teacher at the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School has taken an extraordinary risk by giving a copy of his evaluation to Mathews, but in doing so, he has shed a lot of light on what sounds like a curious and capricious process.
Goldfarb was dinged in his evaluation for — among other things — two students passing notes in class and another (a straight-A student) who was not taking notes at all (poor student engagement). He also earned only two out of four points because, in the evaluator’s opinion, “there was little verifiable evidence apparent during the observation that Mr. Goldfarb works to instill the belief that students can succeed if they work hard.” Goldfarb responds: “Be a cheerleader and tell them that hard work is the key to success? Every five minutes or so? Are you serious? We are dealing with young adults, not small children.” Mathews is promising to follow up with evaluations from teachers who like the new system, but he seems sympathetic to Goldfarb’s criticism:
Overall, the evaluator gave the teacher only 2.3 out of a possible 4 points. Goldfarb got only 1 out of 4 points in one section for failing to post or say what the objective of the lesson was–to me unnecessary kid’s stuff for an AP class. He also got only 1 out of 4 points for not catering to multiple learning styles, even though some experts, like Willis D. Hawley of the University of Maryland, call learning style analysis “bunk.”
This is exactly the issue Dan Willingham raised over IMPACT a few weeks ago. It’s troubling, to put it mildly, that we’re now seeing teachers criticized for not catering to learning styles despite “utter lack of evidence to support it.”
At Harry Potter and the Urban School Nightmare, another teacher who supports Rhee’s efforts to get rid of bad teachers (who wouldn’t?) describes getting stellar marks he didn’t deserve.
I received a score of 3.8 (out of a perfect 4), which puts me in the “highly effective” category. Now, if I’d actually earned that score, I’d be pleased. But I didn’t. My lesson showed me to be effective, but not outstanding. So why did I get the score I got? Because my principal has decided that she likes me. Of course, this isn’t really a problem for me (except that I’m not really getting any feedback for improvement, I suppose). But it is a problem for the people she’s decided she doesn’t like. Some teachers at my school are unhappy with their scores, and for some I don’t really doubt that it’s because they’re not based in reality.
A commenter on Mathews’ blog nails it, noting “No teacher does all the things (all 25 or so of them) in 30 minutes. It is just not going to happen. I can do a dog-and-pony show for the master educator, or I can teach effectively and not hit all of the things that he or she wants.”
Keep your head down, Mr. Goldfarb.