Saturday, September 27, 2014

Educators Speak Up Now or Forever Live With VAM and The Dog and Pony Show Called COMPASS

Note to readers: Legislators got so many complaints from both teachers and administrators last year on the new teacher evaluation system and the use of VAM to evaluate teachers that they passed Act 240 by Rep. Hoffmann which sets up a special subcommittee of the Accountability Commission with the assignment of recommending changes in the teacher and principal evaluation system. That subcommittee has representatives of teachers and administrators who are actually working in the trenches of education, selected by the legislature to work with the regular members of the Accountability Commission to recommend a revamp of the evaluation system to make it more effective. I will be getting the email addresses of all these members and their home parishes so that those educators who are most concerned about the possible flaws in the new evaluation system can relay their concerns to one or more of their representatives on this special subcommittee. If you don't contact them and tell them your recommendations for change, you may be doomed to suffer the flaws of this system for a long long time. The Subcommittee meets on November 7, 2014 to consider changes in the evaluation system. Be sure to contact them before that date.

Do you sometimes wonder why most of the education reform programs in recent years have been such boondoggles? Why is VAM so erratic and unfair to so many teachers? Why is so much of each school administrator's valuable time being tied up in watching teachers perform a dog and pony show that is not always related to real teaching? Why are some of the teachers in the highest performing school districts getting some of the lowest evaluations? Does the new teacher and principal evaluation system mandated by Act54 of 2010 have any connection to reality in our public schools?

Here are my observations about what may have gone wrong:
  1. The whole COMPASS and VAM system was designed and implemented under the direction of a person who had absolutely no teaching or school administrator experience and who had no training whatsoever in education. Her name is Rayne Martin and she was appointed to design and administer the new teacher evaluation program by former Superintendent Paul Pastorek. She now heads up one of the fake grass roots organizations (an AstroTurf organization) here in Louisiana called Stand for Children which is almost totally financed by out of state entrepreneurs whose goal is to privatize public education and to allow out-of-state companies to make as much money as possible using our children and our tax dollars. What an insult to the professional educators of this state! Some of the concepts behind the new evaluation system included parts of a pretty good system of teacher observation developed by Charlotte Danielson (except that I think it is much too inflexible to be applied to all types of teaching). But Rayne Martin was certainly not qualified to design a practical system. That's why it is so unworkable. Danielson herself has disavowed any connection with this scheme and does not endorse it in any way.
  2. The new Director of the evaluation system appointed by John White is almost as poorly qualified as Rayne Martin to run and improve this system. Her name is Jessica Baghian, and her background is (a) 5 weeks training as a TFA corps member with no formal education training, (b) Served as a TFA teacher in a low performing charter school in New Orleans for a couple of years, (c) Has no training as an administrator or teacher evaluator, (d) Has never evaluated teachers herself. Ms Baghian may be a very nice and hard working person but why is she in charge of telling 30 year veteran administrators how to evaluate teachers?
  3. The Value Added Model was designed for Louisiana by Dr George Noell from LSU who was apparently qualified, at least on paper, to design the technical components of a VAM system. But it is useful to note that he also has never had experience teaching or supervising at the elementary/secondary level. The problem is that his product, the VAM system, does not work consistently in identifying effective and ineffective teaching, and there are all sorts of glitches built in that no one has been able to fix. For example, Dr Noel admits that the reliability of VAM in producing a consistent ineffective rating based on student test scores is extremely low. (See this post) Dr Noell was asked: “What is the probability that a teacher who gets an ineffective rating one year because of VAM data will get an ineffective rating the following year if he/she changes nothing in his/her teaching. The answer he gave is 26.8%. So the VAM method of rating teachers as ineffective is going to be wrong 3 out of 4 times when you try to extend it to a second year. Why would any personnel management system want to use such an unreliable process? In addition to the general problem with VAM, no one can figure out how to use it to evaluate teachers of handicapped children and teachers of gifted children. It simply breaks down when applied to the two extremes.. This is the same result that is being observed in all other states where VAM is being used to rate teachers. There is a simple conclusion here: VAM is totally unreliable and should not be used ever to evaluate teachers. Period.
So what can you as an education practitioner (either teacher or school administrator) whose whole career may be adversely affected by this ineffective, inefficient system do to fix it for the future?

Here is my opinion, for what it is worth: Legislators hate to admit they were wrong in passing any law. I don't think we can get them to simply repeal Act 54 of 2010, which created the VAM and the COMPASS systems, but we may be able to get them to adopt major changes if we contact and lobby the members of the revision subcommittee. That means if you are affected by this system you should be willing to send at least an email or more to one or more members of the subcommittee and to the original members of the Accountability Commission. All of them have a vote in the final recommendations. Today I will list for you the regular members of the Accountability Commission and then as soon as I get them I will include the contact information for the newly appointed members of the subcommittee.
Here are the recommendations I would make to the Commission subcommittee. You may want to recommend some of these or formulate your own:
  1. Suspend the use of VAM or at least reduce the percentage of VAM in the teacher and principal evaluation to a much lower percentage than the present 50%. But again, my preference would be to suspend VAM indefinitely.
  2. If VAM cannot be removed, at least remove the requirement that an ineffective rating on VAM overrules the principal's effective rating. This was not part of the Act 54 law but was added by rule.
  3. Remove the requirement that one bad evaluation nullifies teacher tenure.
  4. Simplify and allow modifications of COMPASS to fit different situations such as special eduction, PE, early childhood, remedial classes, advanced classes, etc. Stop trying to evaluate many different types of teaching by one inflexible system.
  5. Stop insisting that teachers perform a dog and pony show where the observer has to document each little component of the COMPASS rubric each time for the teacher to get a good evaluation.
  6. Stop insisting that the ultimate demonstration of good teaching is the demonstration of student directed learning. Sometimes the teacher just has to take the lead in laying out what is to be learned rather than to always expect to see maximum student participation.
  7. I guess what I am saying in the 3 points above, is that each major subject area or department in a school system should be able to get together and redesign the COMPASS system to more accurately fit what the folks in that area do every day. Why can't we trust the teachers and administrators to modify COMPASS to do what will work best in different situations?
Here is the contact information for the members of the Accountability Commission:

Note: Just added Appointees by the Legislature to Act 240 subcommittee. This group will sit with the full Accountability Commission for the teacher evaluation review:

Senate appointees
Keisha Fleming – 5th Grade Math teacher, Iberville Elementary School;
Andrew Johnson – 8th Grade Social Studies teacher, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy,
Heather Lawson – Algebra I teacher, Belle Chasse High School;

House appointees:
Lauren Atterbery, J.I. Watson Middle School;
Miki Wallingsford, Haughton High School;
Mary Aulds, Claiborne Elementary School;

Legislators serving on the Act 240 subcommittee
Representative Frank Hoffmann,
Senator Conrad Appel,

Permanent members of Accountability Commission
Brett Duncan, School Board Rep. Chair of Commission., Tangipahoa Parish;
Jeanne Burns, Board of Regents Rep.; burnsj@REGENTS.LA.GOV
 Laurie Carlton, Curriculum Coordinator, Plaquemines Parish;
Stephanie Desselle, Community Rep. (CABL);
Giselle Juneau, Pupil appraisal, St. John,
Mickey Landry, Charter School Rep.,
Anna Larriviere, Nonpublic school Rep.;
Sandra McCalla, Principal, Caddo Parish;
Debbie Meaux, LAE President,
Steve Monaghan, LFT President,
Brigitte Nieland, Community Rep., LABI;
Carol Price, High School Math teacher, Zachary HS;
Patrice Pujol, Superintendent of Schools, Ascension;
Debbie Schum, Principal Rep., Principal's Association;
Brandy Thomas, Paren Rep; Allen Parish;
Judy Vail, LEA Administrator, Calcasieu Parish;
Lee Ann Wall, A+PEL Rep.;
Rachel Magee, Pupil Appraisal Rep.;,


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mike for your words and for activating the "Defenders"! I am receiving emails as a committee member and I assume so are the other members. Some of the stories are frustrating and even disheartening and just plain sad. I hope to hear from many more of those who can give the committee an intimate and detailed account of what is really going on within the schools under the COMPASS evaluation system; especially under the recently suspended VAM. I do hope that some of these maligned and discouraged educators will consider attending the November 7th Accountability Commission meeting to give public testimony. Debbie Meaux

Anonymous said...

Mike, first off, thank you for all you do to keep us informed. Very much appreciated!

Looking over the list of teachers who are to represent us on this commission, I am worried that we will not be truly represented.

Many are fairly new teachers, and have fast-tracked certifications, as per I could not find Louisiana teaching certification for Lauren Atterbery, but did find she uses her twitter account for heavily promoting CCSS, StandforChildren, LABI, etc.

This quote of hers was particularly disheartening: "Common Core critics never seem to be actual effective educators, or population educated properly."

Who chose these teachers? How can new teachers with such limited education and experience possible add to the discussion about teacher evaluation? I know at that age and level of experience, I would have been too intimidated to stand up to a career politician during such a meeting.

I will keep my fingers crossed, but it seems as if the deck has already been stacked. :(

Anonymous said...

It seems that the time period to actually find and vet the teachers was too short; therefore, the Department of Ed (a.k.a. John White) appointed three of the teachers and the other three we're appointed by legislators. It could well be that they are teachers who have little dispute with VAM accuracy. Mr. Johnson did, however, point out that his VAM score fluctuates wildly and that he is a teacher in a different teaching model from most teachers. He actually teaches and follows his students from 6th-9th grade. Though there is research that this kind of model is good for kids, there is little proof that VAM is a viable method for measuring his effectiveness. Ms. Atterbury did agree that teacher collaboration should occur with administrators on goals and objectives. I am sure that there are concerns, but I am hoping that we can get the subcommittee to pull back on the percentage that VAM is used In Evaluation if we cannot get the vote to recommend to the legislature to remove it from the formula.

Just one other note to all readers and to Mike. I received an email on Friday afternoon requesting that the members of the subcommittee vote on an alternate date for the next meeting. There seem to be conflicts with the November 7th date. The survey for possible alternate dates closes this Tuesday. I am not sure what date will be chosen or nor when we will be contacted with the new date, but it seems that November 7th is a "no go". Debbie Meaux

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your quick reply! I have to say I am not surprised by the delay. My principals are now using way too much of their time having to jump through the paperwork hoops of SLTs instead of the daily student, parent and teacher contact necessary to actually lead a school.

The evaluation system as it now stands is not much of an improvement over VAM. Misplaced energy and time that should be spent on children and learning! As teachers, we recognize this for the reality it is: busywork.

I am fortunate to have school administrators who were career teachers first. They don't need massive 'data' to tell who is doing what in our school. They do need TIME. The busywork being piled on them by LDOE is hurting our students, not helping.

When I see my colleagues - the best teachers I have ever worked with - retiring early, making plans to switch careers, or flat out quitting, all because of the stress of VAM and the Almighty Test, I fear for our children. The busywork has left no time for real teaching or the joy of learning.

The VAM and evaluation issues are only one symptom of the problem - and nothing will change as long as those in power work for corporate interests at the expense of public good. This busywork is a smokescreen to allow the privatizers time and opportunity to wheel and deal. The longer they can drag this out, the more damage they can do.

Please, help us.

Liz Gary said...

You state that the VAM is ineffective for students with disabilities. My question would then be is there a teacher who represents students with disabilities in the commission and what about a parent who has a child with a disability? If we want to make this right, we also need to consider students with disabilities when addressing the issues with VAM and Compass.

Michael Deshotels said...

Thanks for that suggestion Liz. The only thing close to having a rep for children with disabilities is that we have a very conscientious student assessment rep on the Commission. I will look up her info. and send it to you.

Lauren Atterbery said...

Well since I just googled myself in search of something else and this came up, I thought I might respond. :)

My name is Lauren Atterbery. If you looked for my certificate under that name, you wouldn't find it, however if you searched under Lauren Rodriguez, it would come up. Rodriguez is my former married name.

I would like to say something about the comment made about me in reference to my twitter account, as the extreme cyber bullying from a handful of people I have encountered over the past 2 years has been pretty disheartening. And my heart still drops when I find it, years later. (I'm a person, thank you very much.)

I do and did agree with the Common Core Standards in my classroom. I have been using them since 2011. I was appointed to the subcommittee due to my highly effective VAM scores and earning teacher of the year for my school and parish. I love to teach children and I love being part of having a positive impact on my profession.

What I do not love is being misrepresented.

I did not advocate at the time for Stand, and I don't know what LABI is. What I've seen of Stand is pretty great, though. I have seen them helping educators. I fail to see what could be wrong with that. That's just my opinion, and you may disagree. Wouldn't life be boring if we all agreed on everything? :)

And yes, I was vocal on twitter a total of two times. This is after a certain person (who lost her job due to her cyber-bullying of multiple teachers, myself included) hounded me over and over again to try to spark a negative argument. And she won. I gave in and said "I wish the nuts would let us do our jobs." That was in response to her being "a nut" who would not leave me alone.

I also think I said something along the lines of "People who don't like CC are ineffective." This was a dumb, sarcastic, and juvenile reply to her telling me I was an ineffective teacher.(She conveniently left that part out of her character assault.) Hindsight was 20/20 and I took it down hoping and praying no one saw it. Unfortunately for me this woman screen shot it and saved it. Then she distributed it around the world bashing me on Facebook, Twitter, I hear, although I took my account down days later, blogs, etc.

Because I disagreed with her, she made it her mission to try to ruin me. But I teach my students to stand up to bullies, and that is what I am doing. I will stand up to people disparaging me and others every chance I get, because if anyone's tactics to improve education are to try to ruin the lives and livelihoods of good teachers when they simply disagree with you, that is a terrible position.

And if you would like to know anything else about my credentials, I would be happy to disclose them at any time.