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Compass Is Keeping Schools Headed In The Right Direction Evaluation results again debunk fears, but point to need for increased rigor during Common Core transition



It’s been a tough couple weeks for our friends at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT). On October 15th, the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Act 1 is constitutional, overturning a lower court’s finding that the law violates the “single object requirement” of the Louisiana Constitution that prohibits the legislature from passing bills with more than one aim or purpose. LFT filed the lawsuit challenging Act 1, which prohibits districts from using seniority as the primary factor in reduction-in-force decisions and sets a much higher bar for teachers to receive tenure.

Then this past week, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released the 2013-14 results from Compass, the state’s teacher and school leader evaluation system [see presentation below]. For years, LFT has issued dire warnings about the evaluations, with LFT President Steve Monaghan even claiming, “many of the state’s finest teachers will be labeled ‘ineffective’ because of a flawed rating system.” Yet for the second year in a row, those ominous predictions have proven false. LDOE’s report revealed that 92% of Louisiana’s teachers were rated proficient or highly effective on their evaluations, up from 89% a year ago. In New Orleans, 79% of teachers were rated proficient or highly effective, with only 7% rated ineffective.

What do you have to say now, Steve?

Eh, so maybe I overreacted a bit?

Of course, LFT’s lawsuit against Act 1, their boy-who-cried-wolf routine about Compass, as well as their efforts to undermine Common Core are just different means to the same end: weakening the state’s common-sense accountability policies for educators, schools, and districts. Thankfully, the union’s efforts – both in the legislature and the courts – have all ended in failure. Particularly in regard to Compass, the results from the past two years make clear that LFT’s hysterical claims were not only unwarranted, but irresponsible for an organization that calls itself, “A Union of Professionals.”

On the other hand, this past week’s Compass ratings indicate we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that evaluations are rigorous and reflect a common vision for performance. LDOE made the wise decision to suspend the use of value-added measures (VAM) in Compass until the 2015-16 school year while educators adjust to the Common Core State Standards. As a result, this year’s evaluations were based on observations and teacher-created student learning targets, or SLTs. As Jessica Williams noted in the Times-Picayune, the use of the more subjective SLTs likely resulted in the increase in the number of teachers who were rated proficient or higher this year, which reinforces why an objective component like VAM is needed in the model.

In addition, this year’s results again revealed significant variation in average Compass scores both within districts and across schools with similar student populations – differences which in some cases strain the bounds of credulity. I’ve highlighted a few of these results from New Orleans schools below. For example, the Compass results from McDonogh #35 College Preparatory indicate that nearly all of the school’s teachers were rated proficient or highly effective, when only 43% of students scored Basic or better on state tests. Or, to take another example, is really it possible that every teacher at Joseph A. Craig is effective when only a third of their students passed the LEAP and iLEAP exams? Call me cynical, but I find these results hard to believe.

Earlier this month, a 17-member Accountability Commission initiated a review of the teacher evaluation process at the behest of the Legislature. After last week’s Compass results were announced, Rep. Frank Hoffman, who serves on the committee, stated, “We are seeing a lot of inconsistencies in the numbers. To me, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Actually, it makes total sense. For decades, pro forma evaluations were the rule, and as a result, approximately 99% of teachers received a satisfactory rating whether they were effective or not. Compass demands a significant increase in the rigor of evaluations, as well as a shift in the mindsets of school leaders and educators. We’re in the midst of a transition from a culture where evaluations were basically an afterthought, to one in which they are central to both teachers’ professional development and district-wide personnel decisions. This is going to take time. Rep. Hoffman, who was once an Assistant Superintendent in the Ouachita Parish School System, should know from experience that changing school culture doesn’t happen overnight.

Rep. Frank Hoffman is using the variation in Compass results in an attempt to water down evaluations.

Rep. Frank Hoffman

From this perspective, the variation we’ve seen in results is predictable and doesn’t mean that Compass needs a major overhaul. Rep. Hoffman’s recent suggestion that principals need more flexibility in determining final evaluation ratings would be a big step backwards. If anything, principals need more support and guidance in ensuring they’re implementing Compass with fidelity. During this two-year accountability “time-out,” LDOE should work with districts and school leaders on improving Compass quality control. The benefits of Act 1 will never be realized without a strong educator evaluation system like Compass to inform decisions around tenure, promotions, layoffs, etc. – that’s why teachers unions and other reform critics have always opposed it.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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My LFT Survey on Teacher Evaluation | PE + CO Recent comment authors
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My LFT Survey on Teacher Evaluation | PE + CO

Last week, Will Sentell at The Advocate reported that a panel appointed by the Legislature to review Louisiana’s teacher evaluation system is gearing up to recommend a series of changes that could seriously undermine efforts to ensure every child has an effective teacher. The 17-member School Accountability Commission began its review back in October and is expected to present its final proposed changes on February 2nd.
This week, our friends at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) posted a survey asking educators to provide feedback on a series of proposed changes from the Louisiana Department of Education [see presentation below], as well as proposals from an coalition that includes LFT, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), and the principals and school boards associations.
Even though I’m not an LFT member (not by any stretch of the imagination), I thought I’d give it a whirl and share my results. I’ve reproduced the survey below with my responses, although you can find the original here.

LFT Survey: Accountability Commission recommendations for evaluation
Teacher evaluation: You are making a difference!
Education leaders listened to your ideas and came back with some recommendations. Here’s your chance to respond to those suggestions.
Last fall, LFT asked teachers for their thoughts about the evaluation system known as Compass, and suggestions for its improvement.
More than 200 suggestions flooded the in-boxes of the State Accountability Commission. The Department of Education acknowledged your concerns in a report to the Accountability Commission.
At a January 5 meeting, the DOE gave preliminary recommendations for changes to the evaluation system to a subcommittee of the Accountability Commission.
The Accountability Commission will meet again in February to discuss these ideas. Please take a few minutes to look at these recommendations and let us know what you think about them.
Here are the DOE’s recommendations. What do you think of them?
1. Train school leaders on how to create and manage schools where teachers have daily conversations about student growth and personal skill development.
Need more information
Comment:Not only is this critical to the success of Compass, it’s something that school leaders should be already be doing. Successful principals foster a culture of constant feedback, reflection, and improvement in their schools. They also focus on instructional leadership as their primary responsibility.
2. Expand the TAP Initiative.
Need more information
Comment:In a previous role, I did extensive research on TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement – I’ve even attended the TAP Conference in D.C. – and, to be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed. The TAP rubric, while certainly better than many assessment tools, doesn’t set a very high bar in terms of instructional expectations. Moreover, cash-strapped districts and smaller schools may find it difficult to fully implement the TAP program with its Master/Mentor Teacher roles and performance bonuses. Finally, it just seems redundant to promote a program that otherwise incorporates many of the same key elements as Compass. Let’s just focus on Compass and get it right.
3. Develop a statewide principal mentorship program (to include the use of the Compass tool to support teacher improvement through collaboration, observation and feedback).
Need more information
Comment:Mentorship programs always sound great in theory, but in practice, they often end up being lame and ineffective (the LATAAP mentorship program immediately comes to mind…). That being said, I would certainly be receptive to a mentorship program that provided structured, ongoing support and guidance to principals around Compass evaluations. Moreover, I think the program should specifically target the principals of those schools whose Compass results in no way reflect reality (I previously offered a few obvious New Orleans examples here).
4. Goal setting for school leaders with the principals setting goals based on SPS improvements and DOE setting example targets to support principal and superintendent goal setting.
Need more information
Comment:This is obvious – in fact, it should already be happening. Teacher/classroom goals should align and support school-wide goals, which in turn, should reflect the district’s overall academic goals.
5. Empower school leaders to provide feedback, final ratings, and contemplate multiple sources of information.
Need more information
Comment:A bit confused – shouldn’t this already be happening, too?
6. Final ratings should be informed by multiple sources of information, not a single data point (VAM).
Need more information
Comment:Final ratings should already be informed by multiple sources of information: student performance data (VAM) or SLTs and the results from classroom observations. Either way, we should avoid the temptation of adding any additional subjective criteria to the mix, which only creates opportunities to manipulate evaluation results and would move the focus away from what matters most: effective teaching.
7. VAM should not override school leader decision making.
Need more information
Comment:If we simply are consistent in applying the 50%/50% formula across-the-board [see my answer to #8], then this shouldn’t be an issue.
Here are the recommendations from the consortium of stakeholders. What do you think of them?
8. Remove the override provision that allows an “ineffective” rating on either the quantitative or qualitative portion of the evaluation to result in an overall “ineffective” rating.
Need more information
Comment:This is actually an element of the Compass teacher evaluation system that I am in favor of changing. Under Compass, 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on observations and 50% is based on student performance measures. However, if a teacher receives a rating of “ineffective” in either component, s/he automatically receives an overall rating of “ineffective”. While I understand the intent behind this rule, these situations should instead trigger an “automatic review” of the teacher’s evaluation results to ascertain the cause for the disparity between the observation scores and value-added scores. (If, for example, the review concludes the disparity exists because the principal simply rushed through the observations last-minute and gave everyone a high score, then s/he should be automatically enrolled in said mentorship program above.) Anyway, I’m not sure why the 50%/50% formula can’t simply be applied across-the-board.
9. Indefinitely suspend the use of the Value Added Model for the quantitative portion of a teacher’s evaluation.
Need more information
Comment:Getting rid of VAM is a terrible idea. In late 2013, State Superintendent John White announced that the value-added component of teacher evaluations would be suspended for two years as the state transitions to Common Core. As a result, this past year’s evaluations were based on observations and teacher-created student learning targets (SLTs). Because of the added subjectivity of SLTs, more teachers earned a proficient or highly effective rating this year than in 2012-13. This reinforces why an objective component like VAM is needed in the model.
10. BESE policy should specifically require that Student Learning Targets be determined in consultation between the teacher and immediate supervisor.
Need more information
Comment:Like I said above – teacher/classroom goals should align and support school-wide goals, which in turn, should reflect the district’s overall academic goals. In most cases, school leaders and teachers will be able to collaborate in establishing Student Learning Targets, but there may be situations where a more directive approach is needed.
11. All quota systems of mandatory percentages at each level of proficiency should be removed from evaluation systems.
Need more information
Comment:I hear a lot about this quota system from Steve Monaghan, but I’ve yet to actually see it, so I can’t comment.
12. Create a committee of teachers and administrators to develop different criteria for teachers of various specialties.
Need more information
Comment:This is little more than a way to drag out the Compass review process and provide another opportunity for evaluation opponents to water-down standards for teachers. No thank you.
13. Give principals the option of having to complete only one Compass observation if the teacher scores effective proficient or highly effective on the first observation.
Need more information
Comment:We need to ensure that Compass is used as it was intended: as a teacher development tool as well as a means of evaluation. You can’t develop a teacher – even an effective teacher – if you you observe them once at the beginning of the year and then never follow-up on it.

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A Victory For Pettiness Over Progress Why Did The Governor Veto A Common Sense Education Bill?



On Friday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to cancel a veto session to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a number of bills passed by the legislature during this year’s regular session. The move was expected even though many Republican legislators accused the Governor of using his veto power to punish lawmakers who have consistently opposed his agenda.

Although the Governor’s line-item vetoes of construction projects in the state budget aroused the most controversy, the press largely overlooked his rejection of House Bill 568, a proposal from State Rep. Nancy Landry which would have revised the state’s student data privacy law.

Some background on H.B. 568

The story of House Bill 568 has its origins in a conversation I had last spring with a friend who works at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. For years, CREDO has produced highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of the state’s charter schools using data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). However, in 2015, LDOE officials informed CREDO they could no longer provide access to that information due to changes in the state’s student data privacy law, passed by the legislature in 2014, which prohibited the department from sharing data with research institutions outside of Louisiana.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has published highly regarded studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

Without access to student performance data, CREDO’s research on Louisiana’s charter schools would grind to a halt and education policymakers would lose an objective, in-depth assessment of the health of the state’s charter sector. Moreover, the refusal to share data with out-of-state researchers would mean that Louisiana’s influence on the national education policy debate would be significantly diminished.

Seeking to avoid that outcome, my friend at CREDO reached out to see if I had any ideas on how they should proceed. I connected her with State Rep. Nancy Landry, who serves as chair of the House Education Committee, to explain the situation and see if she could help. Their subsequent discussions resulted in H.B. 568, which Landry filed during this year’s regular legislative session.

State Rep. Nancy Landry (R – Lafayette), is chair of House Education Committee and has clashed with the Governor over education policy.

The bill sought to carve out an exception to the overly broad changes lawmakers made in 2014 by allowing data to be shared (in accordance with standard data privacy protection procedures) with researchers at any college or university in the United States accredited and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, H.B. 568 was limited in scope and non-controversial, as evidenced by the fact that it passed by large margins in both the House (95-3) and Senate (27-7).

Read more about how researchers use student data:

Student data privacy and education research must be balanced

Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on data privacy protections for students. Michael Hansen highlights the gravity of the debate around how Congress will update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for use in the modern age where big data is king.

So what’s with the veto?

Which brings us to the question of why Governor Edwards vetoed the legislation, especially when it had broad bipartisan support. Let’s start with the “official” rationale provided by the Governor in his veto message:

“The legislation requires LDOE to enter into a memorandum of understanding in which the person conducting such academic research agrees to be civilly liable for any fine imposed as a violation of authorized uses of the student information. Under current law, a person who violates authorized uses of the student information is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. House Bill 568 references civil penalties only relative to the memorandum of understanding. However, it does not create an exception to the criminal liability provisions in current law. Because of these drafting concerns, I have vetoed House Bill 568.”

The contention that the Governor felt compelled to veto the bill over a technicality – i.e., it didn’t create an explicit exception to the criminal liability provision in the current law – is unconvincing. Even though H.B. 568 didn’t specifically address criminal liability, it’s not at all clear that it necessarily needed to do so. In any case, from a practical standpoint, it is highly unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a misdemeanor conviction – as opposed to a civil fine – against an employee of an out-of-state research institution. In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever faced criminal charges in Louisiana for violating the state’s student data privacy law. It’s also worth noting that the Governor’s Office never raised this concern as H.B. 568 was winding its way through the legislature and could have been amended.

The Governor’s Office never raised concerns about H.B. 568 as it was making its way through the legislature.

When taken together, the facts suggest that the decision to veto House Bill 568 had little to do with the content of the legislation and more to do with its author. Rep. Landry has clashed with the Governor repeatedly over education policy in recent years and several of the Governor’s school-related proposals have died in the House Education Committee, which Landry chairs. Although Edwards would not be the first governor to use his veto pen to punish lawmakers who opposed his agenda, it makes no sense to apply it to a bill as innocuous and apolitical as H.B. 568, especially seeing that Rep. Landry had nothing to gain by sponsoring the legislation.

Nevertheless, Governor Edwards did just that. Thanks to his veto, Louisiana’s overly broad and mind-numbingly parochial student data privacy law remains in force. Out-of-state academics who want to study our public schools will be told to look elsewhere. And as a result, our public education system won’t be able to benefit from the knowledge and insights their research would provide.

Read House Bill 568:

Read the Governor’s Veto Message:

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All About The Kids? Calcasieu Teacher Plays Politics At The Expense Of Students, Taxpayers



For more than a year, Calcasieu Parish special education teacher Ganey Arsement has been on a self-appointed crusade against education reform in Louisiana. He has blasted charters, standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluation, and yours truly on his blog, as well as on social media. He has worked to coordinate his attacks with the state’s teachers unions, particularly the Louisiana Association of Educators, and has sought to ingratiate himself with anti-reform politicians like Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement with Gov. John Bel Edwards and former State Rep. Brett Geymann.

Arsement has also become an increasingly visible presence in Baton Rouge, where he has spent untold hours attending meetings of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and lobbying in the hallways of the State Capitol. In recent months, Arsement has turned his guns on State Superintendent of Education John White – the bête noire of Louisiana’s reform opponents – whom he wants replaced. After failing to convince legislators that the law required them to reconfirm White (who has been on a month-to-month contract since the beginning of 2016), Arsement filed a petition in state court late last month that seeks to remove him from office.

Through it all, Arsement has portrayed himself as a selfless defender of public education who is fighting the nefarious schemes of greedy “corporate” reformers. However, a closer examination reveals that his political adventures have instead come at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Unethical and possibly worse

Official attendance records provided to me by Calcasieu Parish Schools Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus show that Arsement missed 16.5 days of work – more than three weeks of school – over the course of the 2016-17 school year.


Arsement's absences and Calcasieu Parish School Board holidays.

According to Bruchhaus, all but one of these days (May 9, 2017) were recorded as sick leave. State law permits teachers to take two days of personal leave per year without loss of pay. The law also allows teachers to take ten days of sick leave per year due to illness or other emergencies without loss of pay. Unused sick leave can be carried over from one year to the next.

In Arsement’s case, it is clear that he took paid sick leave on many days when he was actually playing politics in Baton Rouge. Moreover, you don’t have to take my word for it, as he admits as much several times on his blog. Here are just a few examples…

What this means is that Arsement was off doing political advocacy while his special needs students were left with a substitute (who also had to be paid) and taxpayers foot the bill. I would venture to guess that most people would find that unacceptable, especially the parents of his students.

Missing absences?

If that’s not bad enough, I’ve also identified at least one day – and possibly two days – where his attendance record says he was working, but he was actually in Baton Rouge.

Several sources have confirmed that Arsement was at the Capitol during school hours on May 2nd. Nevertheless, his attendance record does not mark him absent on that date. Why that absence is missing is unclear, but since teachers verify their timesheets, the error should have been corrected.

The second day in question is May 8th when, by his own admission, he proudly delivered a petition calling for the removal of John White to the office of Senate President John Alario. Although he does not indicate when he made that delivery, one assumes he didn’t hop in his car immediately when school ended at 3:10pm to drive two hours to Baton Rouge to drop it off. In any case, Arsement is not marked absent on May 8th, either.

Exactly why reform is needed

When Arsement claims education reform supporters “demonize” teachers, what he means is that they actually expect teachers to do the work they’re paid to do. While this may seem draconian to someone who can apparently skip entire days of work and get away with it, this is not a radical concept to most of us. When taxpayers hand over their hard-earned money to pay for public education, they expect teachers to teach. When parents send their children off to school, they expect their kids will actually spend the day learning. When Arsement instead takes a bunch of sick days to lobby lawmakers for lower standards and less accountability, he’s breaking that social contract and possibly the law. Worst of all, he’s doing a tremendous disservice to the young people in his classroom – kids who need the most help.

In his effort to rollback Louisiana’s education reform policies, Arsement has inadvertently provided a real-life illustration of why they are so desperately needed. For that at least, I thank him.

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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