Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why the COMPASS and VAM Failed Our Teachers and Students

I have been reading dozens and dozens of comments and suggestions made to the Act 240 Commission which has been assigned the task of revising the teacher evaluation program. My conclusion is that VAM and COMPASS are a total failure. The new evaluation is a failure for our teachers and also for our students because it is hurting teaching and learning  rather than improving teaching and learning.

The original plan of this evaluation system was to help school administrators to figure out who are the bad teachers and either fix them, fire them,  or convince them to find another career. It was also supposed to help us find out who are the very best teachers and to reward them for their skill and effort. Neither of these objectives have been attained. In fact the opposite has happened, and so far nothing has been done by the LDOE to make the situation better.

Let me give you some examples:
  • ·      Teachers are leaving the profession all right, but it’s mostly the best ones. Dr Lottie Beebe, Superintendent of St. Martin School and BESE member, told the Committee at their first meeting that we are losing large numbers of our best teachers because of the flaws in this evaluation system and it is impossible to fill their positions with qualified persons. Colleges of Education are reporting drops in enrollment of students choosing to go into teaching.
  •      I just analyzed the teacher salary schedule in one parish and found that because of revisions of the teacher salary schedule in response to the teacher merit pay requirements of Act 1 of 2012, teachers who are rated highly effective every single year end up getting lower salaries than they would have gotten using just the step increases in their old salary schedule. All other teachers are getting paid far less then they would have gotten under the old plan.  One school board recently voted to completely change their teacher salary schedule because of the dissatisfaction of most teachers with the new merit pay system based on COMPASS and VAM.
  •      Teachers who have their quantitative evaluation determined by VAM are one third as likely to get a highly effective rating as teachers who are evaluated using Student Learning targets. So the teachers who are teaching the most critical subjects (according to our accountability system) have the lowest chance of getting a good evaluation and the lowest chance of getting paid merit pay.  How is this going to help us attract the best and brightest to teach basic skills subjects?
  •       One school principal wrote to the Act 240 committee that the best teacher at her school went from having the greatest success in teaching math for years to an “ineffective” VAM in only one year because of a flaw in the VAM formula.  That top teacher is now placed on a mandatory remediation plan, has her salary frozen, and has lost tenure just because of one set of student scores that were mostly at the mastery level but still did not meet the VAM requirement.
  •       Teacher after teacher has written in to the Act 240 committee to explain that the new COMPASS rubric is just not at all effective in measuring what they do in their teaching specialty. For example, special education teachers, most of the early childhood teachers, PE teachers, ESL teachers, alternative school teachers, etc.  are reporting that the new COMPASS is not compatible with their every day jobs.
  •       The data collected by the LDOE each year is proving every year that the VAM is totally unreliable in identifying bad teaching and in falsely rating good teachers as bad.
Do you wonder why such a highly anticipated attempt to fix our teacher evaluation system has turned out to be such a train wreck? Here is one clue.

The person who designed the entire evaluation system including how VAM and COMPASS are to be implemented was a person who had never taught a day in her life and had never served as a principal and had never actually used a teacher evaluation system!

What an insult to the teachers who dedicate their careers to real teaching instead of to being part of the education bureaucracy!

Here is a direct quote from one of the teachers writing to the Act 240 Committee:

“We are told as teachers to let the students know the game plan, give them a stake in the lesson, get their buy in, yet we are not treated that way as teachers. Our opinion is never asked, our votes don’t count, and our ideas are not sought . . .”

Maybe the Act 240 Committee will change that!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Teachers Speak Up About COMPASS and VAM

Congratulations Teachers! You Got the Attention of The Teacher Evaluation Review Committee.

The Act 240 subcommittee created by the legislature to review the teacher evaluation system and recommend revisions got much more input than was expected from the teachers in the trenches over the last month or so. The committee received over 200 emails from teachers and principals according to reports given at the November 17th meeting. Most of those emails were not at all complementary of the COMPASS and VAM. Here is the Baton Rouge Advocate report on the meeting.

Those teachers who expressed an opinion about the VAM system were almost unanimous about the inaccuracy of VAM evaluations. Many teachers also pointed out that teachers who teach core subjects and are evaluated using VAM instead of student learning targets (SLTs) are at a great disadvantage for getting a fair score. The statistics support this conclusion. 60% of teachers whose quantitative evaluation is determined by SLTs scored "highly effective", while Department of Education rules only allow 20% of VAM teachers to be rated as "highly effective". This is a 3 to 1 advantage for elective teachers compared to basic skills teachers. The quota system included in VAM is arbitrary and capricious and never rewards the teaching force as a whole for improved student performance. How in the world could such a system be considered fair? Some of the members of the Act 240 subcommittee pointed out that it is becoming more and more difficult to get teachers to teach math and language arts.

The committee members seemed to be getting the message. Carol Price of Zachary High School stated that she believed that most committee members understood that there was by far too much weight given to VAM in the evaluation. She said "I don't think anyone at the table is happy with 50:50. " Debbie Schum, representing principals on the committee said that she thought the weighting of VAM should be reduced from 50% to more like 20%. Representative Hoffmann who originally sponsored the Act 54 evaluation legislation said that he felt that tenure should not be canceled based on one bad year of VAM.

It is also becoming clear that the ranking system that determines a teacher's final VAM score is inappropriate because it always dooms 10% of teachers to an ineffective VAM each year even if student performance improves from one year to the next. This defeats the purpose of the whole evaluation system.

Many special education teachers and teachers from alternative schools have written in to say that the COMPASS rubric does not even come close to measuring what a successful teacher in their specialty must do every day. The one-size-fits-all approach of COMPASS does not work at all for their jobs. Many objected to the "dog and pony show" aspect of COMPASS. 

Let's hope the committee will follow through with appropriate recommendations. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Big Business Takeover Focus on Jefferson School Board

This blog recently pointed out how businessman Lane Grigsby, LABI, and the Greater Baton Rouge Chamber had infused massive campaign funding into the East Baton Rouge school board election in an effort to totally control all future decisions of that local board. At this point, the takeover bullies have been partially successful in EBR with a runoff election remaining.

Jefferson Parish a Major Target

The Jefferson Parish school board is the largest public school system in the state, and has been dominated by big business interests for some time. Some of their latest political shenanigans to maintain control over that Board are approaching the level of outrageous.

In one particular school board district, it seems that the only qualification the big business forces cared about was that the candidate was willing to do their bidding without regard to actual qualifications.  Using only that criteria they were able to recruit a person who had just barely moved to the Parish, but who they thought would have just the right kind of name recognition. 

The Jefferson Chamber of Commerce endorsed candidate for the school board District 2 seat is a young man named Rickeem Jackson. Mr Jackson is 25 years old, has no children, relies on his dad for living expenses, pays no taxes, and didn't register to vote in Louisiana until last August. Nevertheless, with big business backing and money he has made the runoff election. See this NOLA news story.

Candidate Jackson is the son of Saints football star Ricky Jackson, but he just recently moved in with his dad after living in other states. Somehow he was recruited to run for school board even though he has almost no knowledge or previous interest in the school system.

His candidacy survived a court challenge even though his court testimony reveals a very strange and questionable political past. Mr Jackson seemed to admit in court testimony that his 2008 presidential vote may have been fraudulently cast. Here is the testimony:

Q Let me ask you this: Did you -- did you vote in the 2008 presidential election?
A There's a possibility. If it was, it was an absentee ballot. I wasn't there. I think I understand where you're getting at with this: But it wasn't me voting at the stand. It was - - it was if there was a vote done on my behalf, it wasn't under my authorization.
Q Well who can vote on your behalf?
A A lot of people have your information, have, you know, your records. It's not hard to send in an absentee ballot vote for anyone familiar with the voting process. 
(Rickeem Jackson can't remember if he's ever been registered to vote outside of Louisiana) 
Q Let me ask you this: Did you ever register to vote in any place outside of Louisiana?
A I'm not - - I'll go back to the question: I wasn't sure when I registered to vote; so I couldn't answer that.
Q That's not the question. I'm not asking you when. My only question is were you ever registered to vote anyplace outside of Louisiana?
A I'm not sure.
(Rickeem Jackson didn't register to vote in Louisiana until August 13, 2014:
Q You are, in fact, now registered to vote in Louisiana, correct?
A Correct.
Q As a matter of fact, you have not been registered to vote in Louisiana for months yet, have you, correct?
A I'll say that's correct. I'd say that's about right.

The court testimony of Rickeem Jackson goes on to show that he relies on his wealthy dad to pay his living expenses, and that he lives in his dad's house and does not pay rent. Here is a link to the entire testimony.

This is the person the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson Business Council endorsed for school board. Yet like the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, they claim to only be interested in the welfare of the children.