News & Politics

DC Public Schools to Take Break From Using Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

Test scores won't count on teacher performance reviews next year as DCPS switches to new standardized tests.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

The District’s public-school teachers are about to see a big change in how their employer evaluates their performances, thanks to the introduction of a new standardized testing regime. Over the past several years, student test scores have accounted for up to half of teachers’ end-of-year performance reviews, but DC Public Schools plans to suspend that metric, and will replace it with a new Common Core test next year.

District schools will drop the longstanding DC Comprehensive Assessment System in favor of a test developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, a coalition of state education officials. The new tests are designed to fit the the more rigorous set of academic guidelines known as Common Core, which most state education agencies have adopted and is backed by the White House.

The new test will be administered during the 2014-15 school year, but won’t be counted, giving teachers and the school system time to adjust to the new tests. That logic also follows the advice of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which heavily promotes the adoption of Common Core standards but is advising school systems to wait two years before using new tests to evaluate teachers.

“We firmly believe that student learning is a key indicator of teacher performance—and value-added is one of the best ways to measure that,” DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson says in a press release. “But we also know that new assessments always bring delays and unexpected complications.”

Test scores have been a major part of DC’s teacher evaluations since 2009, when Henderson’s predecessor, Michelle Rhee, started pegging educators’ job security to their students’ test performance. About 400 teachers have been fired since then. Connecting teacher evaluations to test scores has also led to widespread allegations of cheating. A report issued in April 2013 by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the DC agency that oversees academic standards, found evidence of cheating in 18 classrooms since student tests became a crucial part of evaluations.

The portion of evaluations currently made up by test scores will be replaced by classroom observation during the one-year layover, DCPS says. Results of the new PARCC tests will start counting for or against teachers—the most successful of whom earn bonuses of up to $20,000—in the 2015-16 school year.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.