COMPASS in Louisiana: An Exercise in Stupidity

I’ve been writing so much lately about the absurdity of Common Core and Engage New York that I forgot Louisiana has its own special brand of insanity called COMPASS, the system that ranks teachers against each other and guide us teachers to become better… what? The COMPASS system doesn’t stop at improving teachers; it tries to transform us from our traditional role of guide and mentor to facilitator, or facilitator of self-discovery on the part of the students. That is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve seen hoisted upon the education profession, and here’s why.

You will never be able to assign a number to me that captures my essence: the difference I make in a student’s life. You are trying to quantify my quality, and on that one, you might as well try to capture a moonbeam or stop the tides rolling in. 

COMPASS assumes this Utopian world where all students have equal eagerness to learn and are willing to discipline themselves and others to follow the path of enlightenment. The only problem is that describes a collegiate world, and often a world of Masters Degree students. It’s not the world of K-12 students. By definition, students are NOT adults yet. They are still learning appropriate actions to follow depending on the situation, and have, frankly, not left the realm of childhood completely yet. Most students by their very age lack the maturity level to police themselves and, even more difficult, turn to a fellow disruptive student and try to inhibit that behavior. COMPASS assumes an ideal world, not the real world where students are facing myriad social, economic, cultural, and hormonal problems.

Here’s an example of the insanity COMPASS employs. Should I have a student that is not on task, and should I steer him or her back into the “activity,” then I can earn a “3” on the 4 point scale. If, however, a student takes it upon himself or herself to steer the distracted student back on task, then I can earn a “4” on the 4 point scale. Exactly how is it valid that I earn more points by doing… nothing? How am I a more valuable teacher when students are doing my job for me? COMPASS designers clearly believe that having students teach themselves, and having me as a benign facilitator is the most ideal way to educate. Too bad it’s completely divorced from reality. Students left to their own devices would devolve into a Lord of the Flies scenario. It is precisely why the teacher TEACHES, not FACILITATES. If students could discover everything on their own, they already would have, and a teacher would be unnecessary.

How’s this for more insanity? When administrators come and evaluate teachers in the classroom, the administrator ranks the teacher with a 1, 2, 3, or 4 in five different categories. Though it is highly unlikely, it is possible that a teacher could earn four solid 4’s in four categories, but the moment he/she earns a “1” in any category, they automatically earn a final score of “1” and are ranked a failure. Even though the average of those five scores is a 3.25, the teacher earns an overall “1” ranking, and is considered inefficient. Who designed such a punitive system that automatically assigns a teacher the lowest possible rank because they failed one of five categories? That’s stupidity on a state-wide scale.

Just to give you an idea how the system worked for me, I will share my scores and how they were computed. When I was evaluated in the fall of 2012, I earned five two’s on the four point scale, but my administrator told me that I was extremely close to a “1” in a couple of categories, and that would have automatically earned me a failure status. When I was evaluated again in the spring of 2013, I played the idiotic game required of COMPASS and earned a 3.6 average (three four’s and two three’s). The average of the fall score (2.0) and the spring score (3.6) was a 2.8 for the observed portion of my COMPASS score, or 50% of my final score. The remaining half came from my student scores on my Student Learning Targets, or SLTs. For my regular students, I claimed a certain percentage of students would earn a particular score or higher, I ranked a 3 out of 4. My honors students made higher gains on the test, earning me a solid 4. The average of a three and a four is 3.5. The school then averaged my observation score (2.8) with my SLT score (3.5) for a final average of 3.15. I therefore earned the rank of Effective: Proficient.

I have news for COMPASS creators. Good luck trying to assign a number to me, because I am not a number. I am more than that, and always will be. I am both an actor and an educator, and I am highly proficient in what I do. You will never be able to assign a number to me that captures my essence: the difference I make in a student’s life. You are trying to quantify my quality, and on that one, you might as well try to capture a moonbeam or stop the tides rolling in. The more time you waste trying to assign a number to me is time that could have been spent allowing me to open the mind of a student to potential possibilities. The more time you waste dragging administrators into classrooms for observations is time that could have been spent disciplining problem students and curbing inappropriate behaviors. The more time you waste making students take pre-tests, post-tests, pre-ACT tests, ACT tests, three to six module tests per subject, is time robbed from students for actual learning.

COMPASS apparently has a lot of time to waste. This is not reform. This is just stupid.

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7 responses to “COMPASS in Louisiana: An Exercise in Stupidity

  1. Taylor Ducote

    While I am not (yet) nearly as passionate about this topic as you are, and while I have not yet completely formed what I would consider a “well-informed” opinion on the matter, I would like to play Devil’s Advocate. Why? Well, … because, … well, … it’s just so much fun. Again, keep in mind that I am only offering these arguments as part of my opinion-forming process.

    In your third paragraph you explain how the scoring system requires a fellow student to combat disruptive behavior by correcting a disruptive student, and then you pose “How am I a more valuable teacher when students are doing my job for me?” Couldn’t it be argued that if you were able to set up a system early on in the school year that encouraged this sort of classroom autonomy when it comes to behavior issues, it would allow you more time to actually teach the material instead of being a policeman for the classroom? You later mention all the things that could be eliminated in order for you to have more time to do what is important, which is teach the subject matter, but are behavior problems not an also example of something that might be minimized, so that you can focus more on your job as a teacher? However, if this argument were to prevail, the issues of all the tests and evaluations, and therefore enforcement of such a self-policing system, would still need addressing.

    One could also make the case that if your lessons were engaging enough, then any distracted student would certainly be set straight by other more engaged students who don’t want to miss out on the lesson. (I realize this part goes back to Utopia, since it is near impossible to capture so many different interests all at the same time. Again: Devil’s Advocate.)

    As for the teacher evaluations, while the scoring system in each category may be too stringent, to me, it makes some sense that a teacher earning a 1 in any given category would receive a 1 as an overall score. It’s sort of like that old “weakest link” saying. If you are severely lacking in a key area (provided each of these categories accurately measure “key areas”), then that severe deficiency, granted only in one of four areas, could easily spell disaster as a teacher overall. That being said, while you have never actually taught me personally, I’ve heard plenty of stories about your teaching abilities, and seeing as how you received twos across the board, only earning better when you went out of your way to do so, I would imagine that either the scoring is far to strict or it doesn’t gauge appropriate aspects of teaching. And herein may be the problem with the concept as a whole, I suppose. The answer to the question “How do we appropriately gauge the quality of a teacher?” is certainly elusive and controversial.

    Thanks for giving me something interesting to read, Vince. I hope I have done the same for you.

    • Hey, Taylor!

      When it comes to my classroom–can’t speak for all teachers naturally–crowd control is paramount. I can’t teach any lesson if the kids are disruptive, so my first priority is to minimize disruption. Minimal disruption = maximal learning, so so I hope. Doc once used to tell me note-taking was not necessarily always good, but it was one form of learning AND more importantly it kept students from misbehaving. What I’m arguing is that expecting students to police themselves is slightly unrealistic. I have the upper grade levels, so that ability is growing, but an elementary or junior high kid is precisely that: a kid. I would love all my students to mimic my job for me, but in doing so, I fear I will not foster in them the love of doing what they love. (Very few people enjoy Algebra II, not even me.) They often aren’t aware of the specific problems I put on the board many times lead to a unique learning point about how to solve that particular quadratic, etc.

      As for your point about a certain understanding of getting the lowest score means you have a weak link. I agree about that weak link needs improvement, but understand what that score of “1” translates to in Louisiana: potentially losing your job. The way the legislative act was written means teachers who are rated “ineffective” can be fired. So a teacher who makes a single “1” somewhere on both evaluations,now has a “1” rating for 50% of their evaluation, and is closer to termination? I understand every teacher should strive to do their best, but when the overriding goal of COMPASS results in teachers’ fearing for their job, something is amiss. I love my job, but I used to view it as a vocation, but it is increasingly transforming into a stress-inducing, anxiety-ridden profession. A single “1” should not be the determining factor in termination. I almost earned a “1” in a couple of categories, and that would have labeled me ineffective. I never had the chance to teach you, as you noted, but I can tell you I am anything BUT ineffective. I still have tenure–I’m a dinosaur in relative terms of teaching–but one ineffective rating wipes out all my years of tenure and makes me an at-will employee. (The merits or detractions of tenure is a lengthy discussion for another time.)

      Talking to you reminds me of texting you from the other room… except now it’s a room in another house. Happy Thanksgiving.

      Sincerely, VPB

  2. Bret

    Hey Taylor…I agree that great teaching would engage the students to not have discipline issues in the first place and/or have students positively correcting each other. However, this is not an easy thing to do when we have street wise kids who end up in near fights with one telling the other, “who are you to tell me what to do?” and that God awful claim “they disrespecting me”. Some students/classrooms, no matter how hard the teachers try, NEVER get to that Utopian point simply because of the limitations of the students.

    (Don’t get me started on whether it is the common civilians’s responsibility to stop each other from speeding, cursing in public at the table next to you in a restaurant, or dressing like the Wal-Mart picture offenders. How much involvement should other people have in your journey through life?)

    Here’s the kicker though, even if you foster a classroom where students promote each others’ great behavior…if the observer doesn’t physically see this happening when they are in the room…we don’t get the check mark (and all the humiliation that goes with it). There are so many things to be checked to get a great evaluation…it is practically impossible to get them all in one class period (this is the reason why Vince says he decided to “play the game” and still came up short on the evaluation measures). In essence, every evaluation system we have is geared against the teacher and places control in the students’ hands…and this is being done by design in order to reform the way teachers teach under the assumption that our teachers have failed us miserably (no matter how good of results they get, no matter how big of a lasting mark they have left on their students, even if they inspired students to become teachers by what they did in their classroom).

    It takes foundation skills that have to be downloaded into the students to be able to do those really cool “use what you know” assignments. We teachers are literally being caught between a rock and a hard place because we are usually being observed during the download lessons while being held accountable for the use what you know tests at the end of the year. If we don’t download the info, the test scores will drop and that is the high stakes for us….but at the same time we are being oppressed by “the White man” (John) for not converting to student-centered formats where ignorance leads the blind.

    And finally, the kinds of lessons they want us to convert to generally requires resources we don’t have…without money to acquire it. Its one thing for the dentist to tell you you need a root canal, and another thing to have the means to pay for it.

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