The Myth and Misconceptions of Reach

The Reality of the REACH Myth

The CPS evaluation system officially named Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago Students, better known as REACH came into the halls of CPS schools like a distant storm. However, this was a storm that would not pass and CPS teachers are now in its grips. When it began its real rollout, last year, it was only used for non tenured teachers in 2012-2013 school year. This year it will be used for all other teachers this year. For those who were fans of Mr. Obama (I actually voted for him twice), it is we that are responsible for this new system. It was the Race to the Top bill, inspired by Obama’s administration, which required Illinois schools to create a new evaluation system for teachers by 2016. It was the SB7 law, inspired by Race to the Top, which paved the way for CPS to create REACH.

This year it will affect all teachers who teach at CPS as certified educators, including nurses, counselors and other. I will speak only to those who teach classroom at the Elementary Level. However, much of what I discuss will apply to everyone.  Those teachers who were rated “excellent” under the old system in the year 2011-2012 school year will only have one half of their rating this year, and the second half of next school year. This, in my opinion is problematic, because CPS is basically saying that they have so much “faith” in the old evaluation system that they are willing to still use it to rate their teachers using the old system for 3 years.  Those who were rated “satisfactory” under the old system will be rated under the REACH evaluation system this year. It is for them that I speak.

Like any other new system, many teachers still rely on the word of mouth for information about REACH. In their defense, even Principals, Union Leaders, and Teachers have yet to be able to understand the complexity of REACH. In no way do I claim to be an expert of REACH. And to be honest, I don’t think there is one expert at CPS or the Chicago Teacher’s Union. I will try to start a point of conversations by trying to debunk some ongoing myths.  Remember, I am taking this from an Elementary Teachers point of view, but the spirit of the conversation applies to all. Let us begin to hear our myths. Again, I am interpreting what I have pieced together from the CTU Contract, Reach Handbook, and few other sources. I welcome any input about my findings. I am writing this article to inform my fellow teachers and help get the word out to teachers who might feel a little too safe under a new Race to the Top and SB7 world.

Myth#1 Some teachers think that if they get a bad evaluation, they can redo it.

Teachers will be evaluated in their classroom with two types of Evaluations: Formal and Informal. In the Formal observation, you will be notified about the time and subject you are teaching. Informal observation is just a nice way of saying you will have a Surprise evaluation at anytime, and any place. There are a few rules about for waiting times, but be prepared at ANYTIME for your observation.

As far as Redo’s, especially for Informals, this is all at the Principals discretion. In my opinion, principals should have to submit their “sneak” observation schedule to some higher authority. Otherwise he/she will be able to wait until their favorite teachers are ready and strike less esteemed teacher on a bad day. According to CPS, principals do not need to offer reevaluations to their teachers. Once you have your evaluations, it will most likely be on your permanent record.  Principals, according to the CPS PowerPoint 201 “can” do more observations if the principal chooses to do so. In other words, if your principal is not empathetic, he/she is within their right not to re-observe you.  If they are on your side, then they can reevaluate you and give you the higher score. Once again, I think if one teacher gets a redo then everyone should be offered this service district wide.

Myth#2 Some teachers think that one bad rating can’t affect their overall rating.

In the simplest terms, one evaluation can really reduce a teachers rating. It is best to think of classroom evaluations like your old college days! Though I won’t bother you with the more complex calculations (as I am still trying to get my head around them), one bad evaluation CAN ruin your overall score. Let’s take a best case, middle case, and worst case scenario.

Before we start lets remember the Reach ratings per CPS handbook.  These are complex calculations based upon your Teaching Practice (75%), Value added test scores (15%)  and Student Performance Tasks( 10%)

REACH (Scoring Levels)

340400 Excellent

285339 Proficient

210284 Developing (Basic)

100209 Unsatisfactory

Here are some scenarios.

Evaluation Four Evaluations Value Added District Testing Your Score*
Best Case 2.2, 4, 4, 4 =3.55 4 350   Exc.
Middle Case 2.2,2.5,3,3 =2.8 3 284   Basic
Worst Case 2.2,2.2,2.2,2.2=,2.2 3 240    Basic
Possible Case 3, 3, 3 , 3 =3 2 280 Basic
Worst of All 2.2, 2, 2, 2, =2.05 2 204    Unsat.

*approximate calculation based on CPS criteria and my calculations. Do not use for any rating purposes. Consult your principal or other expert.

With the exception of the last two, all of the above calculations assume that you will have Proficient to Excellent testing scores, which is, to me, a bit of the X factor. However, just note how in example number two how one bad rating can put you behind just when you started. I also wonder if principals are willing to expose themselves by having a teacher suddenly make a huge turn around.

Myth#3 I could record myself at my evaluation in order to show evidence for my evaluation.

Once again, according to the CPS Reach Handbook 2013-14, “Recordings cannot be submitted as evidence for any part of the evaluation by the teacher or evaluator.” In other words the Evaluator has the advantage of scanning the room for evidence for or against a teacher. Especially in a small group environment, principals can (and some will) find the group of least engaged students to find evidence against a teacher. Meanwhile, a teacher, who has the burden of teaching 32 students, has no time to be collecting evidence.  Once again, a principal can really collect whatever evidence they chose for or against a teacher. No video tape proof will be able to be used in the “CPS Court of Law.”

Myth#4  Who cares if I get a Basic( Satisfactory) rating. I am tenured and I can’t lose my job.


Ouch! This is the saddest and most dangerous of ALL myths. Yes, my friend, a Basic can and WILL get you not only laid off, it could actually get you banned from CPS forever! This is one little dirty secret many veteran and new teachers seem to be most misinformed. Here is the breakdown. These are based on the REACH Handbook and CTU Contract of 2012.

Substitute Teachers  Substitute teachers who gets a summative unsatisfactory rating, or two Basic ratings (without improvement) will be dismissed with no appeal process.

Probationary Teachers (PAT).  PAT’s who are rated according to the Reach handbook, The Board may decide not to retain PAT who is projected to have a summative rating of less than proficient.

Tenured Teachers  First, and foremost, a teacher who receives to BASIC ratings, without improvement in certain categories, will be given a rating of Unsatisfactory.  Here is what the contract says: “A teacher who receives two consecutive summative developing ratings shall be rated unsatisfactory if, in the second year, either his or her teacher practice rating or his or her overall rating does not improve.”

Here is the sticky part. Once you have received your rating of Unsatisfactory, you will have 90 days to show that you are now a proficient teacher.  If at this point you do not demonstrate you are a Proficient Teacher. The board will commence your dismissal proceedings. This will be interesting to see in the future. I think many teachers may be sacrificial lambs in the coming years.

Myth#5  Even though I have a Basic Rating, I am a senior tenured teacher with many years at CPS I can’t get laid off.

This may be the most dangerous of all thoughts. Depending on the ratings of the tenured teachers in your school, and amount of PATs, this may not be so true.

Remember if you are a 2nd time Basic rated teacher that fell into the Unsatisfactory rating at the end of the year, here is your fate.  Here is the CPS official layoff schedule. It is based on the CTU Union Contract of 2102.

Here is a little summary of the layoff schedule. (Per CTU contract)

1. Any teachers rated unsatisfactory;

2. Any substitute or temporary teachers

3. PAT’s by rating

4. ALL Tenured teachers by ratings.

NOTE: If you are a senior teacher you will beat out PAT’s and teachers with the same rating as yourself. However, if you are a Basic rated teacher and the newer Tenured teachers have a higher rating than you, you will be first to go! If you failed to “remediate” your two basics, and have an unsatisfactory rating, you will be first to go PERIOD!

Myth#6(and my final I promise) Well I have lost my job due to my layoff, but I can still get another job at another CPS school.


Not so fast. This is probably the scariest of all policies at CPS that relates to REACH evaluations. If you find yourself a laid off as Basic or Unsatisfactory teacher, your days at CPS are concluded.

According to Section 5 of the new CTU contract, Basic and Unsatisfactory teacher are unable to be placed the Rehire list. The Contract states that only 1) Excellent and Proficient rated teachers and 2) New Teachers can be placed on this list. There is no rehiring of Basic rated teachers. I wish I could say that CPS has a system of selling Indulgences (forgiveness) to those teachers that, by one principal, are literally banished from CPS, and quite possibly any school district. Reminds me much of the old Calvary movies where the court marshaled soldier is stripped of his uniform and banished from the fort forever. Your days of CPS are over. Your house that you bought in Chicago will no be for naught. You don’t need to worry about residency rules, because you are banished.

Even another district may look upon you are damaged goods. Just read any application these days. One of the first things you must Click a yes or no is, “have you ever been non renewed?” Even though you have been railroaded by a Principals out to protect his/her friends, your Profession could be finished forever. It will be difficult to explain to another district why you were “banished” from CPS. Many districts are famous for looking down on CPS teachers. I doubt being banished will help your cause.

Not to be a complete bearer of bad news, but CTU states on its summary of the SB7 law, Illinois has the right to revoke the teaching license of any teacher that has two unsatisfactory ratings in 7 years.

Again, I am not a labor lawyer, or CPS official, or CTU official. I am just a teacher who is trying to filter all of these myths and misinformation I have heard. I have only given the facts that I have pieced together. I welcome any input. Many teachers probably deserve to lose their jobs, perhaps I am on of them. I have based all of this information on what I have read in CPS and CTU documents.  I just know any other Profession that has such potential harsh penalties for a person who simply didn’t make the grade. Again, a teacher can be dismissed and banned, and potentially be on a education-wide quasi blacklist, only because one principal thought a teacher was not up to snuff. I don’t know much about other state workers, but I doubt they are under the pressure to perform like a CPS, and Illinois teacher.  Many people in the private world often balk at teachers guaranteed jobs. When is the last time a lawyer lost his license for making a mistake or an honest error?  Do doctors lose their license when a patient gets sicker because of bad medical decisions? Next time a non teacher friend say that a teacher is untouchable, just tell them the truth about this myth.  One bad rating could end a career. Please take this as a warning, but the more we know the more we can put pressure on our Principals, CPS, CTU, State Legislators, and even our Dear President – who once again I voted for twice : (


2 thoughts on “The Myth and Misconceptions of Reach

  1. Thank you for writing this piece. So important to communicate better about REACH. Interesting that you focused 100% on the potential for abuse by principals and the employment implications for teachers. Certainly that is crucial information, and I agree with you that district communication to the average teacher has been abysmal.

    The place I also, wanted to spend some time, however, is to note that there is no attention paid to the idea that REACH might actually be worthwhile in part or in whole. According to a study by CCSR last spring, over 80% of teachers agree that the framework for teaching is positive. You didn’t any mention of any language from the framework for teaching, no examination of whether or not there is value in teachers pursuing proficient or distinguished practice. No mention of the impact on children if all their teachers were proficient or distinguished. Actually, no mention of students and what is best for them in the entire piece.

    I taught high school English in the hood for eight years, board certified, department chair, former principal. I wish teachers would invest in reading and learning the Framework and really trying hard to become distinguished. it would be amazingly impactful for kids if we had distinguished teaching in every classroom. I believe in teachers’ ability to collaborate, work together, put together amazing experiences for children. I focus on the possibilities. I know there are good principals and assistant principals working super hard to get these observations done and trying to use it as a professional growth tool to improve teaching and learning. Not in all schools, certainly, but it many, many schools.

    But overall I enjoyed the piece and hope that you continue writing about REACH. And reading about REACH, particularly the description of distinguished teaching. I hope you’ll notice how the main characteristic in distinguished teaching is to release control to the students so they can drive their own learning through inquiry and projects that demand critical thinking and deep reading and writing. Would LOVE to read a similar post to this one reflecting on what it would take to create 520 schools full of distinguished teachers. And what you think it would be like if all kids in CPS got that level of teaching every day from grade k-12.

  2. MJH First of all thanks for the nice words. Honestly, I agree with what you are saying. I agree students and teachers would benefit from the teacher that is Excellent (that’s the AAA rating now) mentioned on the Framework. However, I feel like this framework is something that should never have been used on new teachers in their first year of teaching at CPS. Honestly, what new teacher can even make heads or tails at CPS? Nor should teachers who were considered “basic” under a flawed system, be put to a different standard than others. Also, how can ALL teachers be graded on the same level, when you KNOW CPS is so varied. A teacher with 35 challenged students can be expected to compete with a teacher with 20 in a magnet school? We have value added…shouldn’t 30% more kids get you some type of added points?

    I just don’t like the idea of training teachers as you evaluate them. It was the lack of knowledge that made me write this piece in the first place…My piece should be thought of as what happens when you put the tools in the wrong hands. Also, I bet any principal can be caught having a bad day…or on a phone their phone making a personal phone call. Yet they went around on DAY 1 of the new reach “season” evaluating teachers unaware, then letting the word go out to their chosen few. Again, this is what I saw and heard from my sources.

    I really don’t know what the answer is ….I am just trying to stick up for teachers who have been railroaded by old evaluations systems, and now this one. Probably 8/10 teachers who get a bad review, deserve one. My piece was for the other 20%. I just hate to think that some principal or admin will have more “cred” because they misused the Improved REACH evaluation.

    Again, we all need to strive to better ourselves. However, I just hope that this evaluation will be used honestly and thoughtfully. My beef is not with the REACH itself, it is just misinformation and the misuse I have seen. Especially in the “informal” observation piece. I feel like this has a great deal of potential abuse until principals are asked to submit their schedules to CPS Central. I know the world is not fair, but I just think the most fair “unannounced” observations are truly random and not “gotcha” for some and “hold on I’ll come back” for others. Again, most principals are honest. However, for every bad teacher out there, I am sure there is a bad admin too!!

    Once I put my head around this, I will try to write another blog to address my ideas!! I think we can all agree.

    The first REACH that should have been developed was for Duncan, Huberman, Brizzard, and BBB.


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