High-powered incentives, linked to teacher evaluations, drive improvements in teacher performance in D.C. public schools

October 17, 2013

IMPACT, the controversial teacher-evaluation system recently introduced in the District of Columbia Public Schools, appears to have caused hundreds of teachers in the district to improve their performance markedly while also encouraging some low-performing teachers to voluntarily leave the district's classrooms, according to a new study from the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

IMPACT is a performance-assessment system linking high-powered incentives and teacher evaluations. It grabbed immediate national attention for its explicit dismissal policy for teachers it rated as ineffective, as well as for its substantial financial rewards for high-performing teachers. Specifically, high-performing teachers – as assessed by IMPACT – earn an annual bonus of as much as $25,000 as well as an opportunity for similarly large and permanent increases in their base salaries. In contrast, teachers who are unable to achieve an "effective" rating after two years are dismissed.

The new findings run counter to a spate of recent studies that found that incentives linked narrowly to test scores were not associated with a change in teacher performance. The study will be posted this week as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

"IMPACT provides a unique opportunity to examine the effects of a multi-faceted system of teacher evaluation and supports, coupled with non-trivial incentives for teacher performance. We find strong evidence that this system causes meaningful increases in teacher performance," said James Wyckoff, professor of education at the Curry School and co-author of the study.