Compass -- the evaluation system being rolled out in public schools across the state -- has raised the stakes. Teachers who don’t score highly effective under the new measures face the loss of salary and tenure. Ineffective teachers could lose their jobs.
The state Department of Education says so far attrition has remained steady, but the East Baton Rouge Parish School District is still wary of turnover. Beanka Williams, the coordinator of support programs for EBR, says the district is having job fairs monthly to make sure schools are fully staffed.
Williams has also been fielding questions from anxious teachers since last summer when they were first asked to set goals for what their students would learn this year.
JEFFRIES: Are you still getting the same questions now that you were getting at the beginning of the school year?
WILLIAMS: Not the same questions, different questions, because at this point in the district, everyone has received at least one observation within the Compass system. All persons that are evaluated through the system have put in their two student learning targets and their professional growth plans. So, we’re actually at a different point.
JEFFRIES: So what are the questions that you’re getting at this point?
WILLIAMS: We’re getting questions specifically from teachers if they’re not highly effective, “Where do we go from here?”
JEFFRIES: There were some adjustments that were made to the Compass program that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved.
WILLIAMS: Some good adjustments, by the way, yes.
JEFFRIES: So what were the adjustments that you saw in that batch that you thought were good and needed?
WILLIAMS: Well, the state superintendent has been going around and listening to the issues, the challenges with the Compass system. One of the issues that we’ve been encountering in the district were the lack of instructional pieces for teachers so for every area they can see what it looks like, what a highly effective teacher does at every area.
JEFFRIES: And you’re talking about for core subjects -- English, math?
WILLIAMS: All. They said everything.
JEFFRIES: So that includes art and physics, P.E.?
WILLIAMS: Yes, yes. And that’s supposed to roll out this summer. And one of the larger pieces of that -- having student data available to teachers on the front end, at the beginning of school, so they can see where students are and also providing the projections for student growth for that upcoming school year. And that was not available to us this year.
JEFFRIES: Does that mean that teachers have more information where they can go and talk to their colleagues who’ve had those students in their class...
WILLIAMS: They will have more information in order to develop their student learning targets.
JEFFRIES: Are those targets individual for each student?
WILLIAMS: Yes, yes. Individual, and then grouped together, if you follow me with that. Because each student should grow a certain amount for the year, but then collectively, you’re looking at your students also.
JEFFRIES: The teachers are evaluated on that group.
JEFFRIES: Are teachers finding that helpful? Are they finding that overwhelming?
WILLIAMS: I think it’s overwhelming. Because change brings about all of these feelings. I think on the back end we just have to keep in mind that why are we doing it: because students will benefit from it. But it’s a challenge, it’s a challenge.
JEFFRIES: And what about for principals who are having to manage this process also?
WILLIAMS: Principals are finding that it’s taking lots of hours. Lots of time during the day, weekends, to complete this process.
Because in the past we were only evaluating teachers with 0-3 years of experience every year, but if you had more experience it almost like almost a lottery -- if your number came up that was your year.
But with Compass, everyone is required to do at least an informal and a formal observation. So that’s a lot on a building level principal. But I think with the state superintendent’s recommendation, there’s going to be more leeway to be able to work more with teachers who need more and teachers who are deemed highly effective to not require as much next year.
JEFFRIES: Now that you’ve experienced it for half a school year, do you think Compass is a good thing? Should it stick around? Or is everybody hoping that this thing is going to get overturned and thrown out?
WILLIAMS: They’re probably praying in secret that it will be thrown out. But, I think it’s a positive thing because, in my position, working in support programs, everyone should be evaluated every year. Evaluations should not be punitive, but it should be a form of professional development.