Our Views: Use a year for Compass

After a couple of years of pilot projects, a tough teacher evaluation system is finally becoming effective. As it is still causing concern among many teachers, its penalties should be deferred for this year, as a bill before the Legislature proposes.

Teacher unions never liked the 2010 law on teacher evaluations. Adjustments in its criteria have been made by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over time.

Still, as some teachers told the House Education Committee, there is uncertainty among the rank-and-file about how it will work. Making at least half the teacher’s grade depend on student test scores on standardized tests is controversial.

But advocates for business and some teacher groups backing Jindal resisted delay of the penalties for teachers found unsatisfactory.

A compromise version of House Bill 160 would delay penalties under the “Compass” system for a year. “We learn this year. We adjust it. The information is gathered and used to go forward,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, who proposed the compromise.

Under the new proposal, if approved by the full Legislature and the governor, teachers rated as “ineffective” for two years in a row would not face dismissal until the 2014-15 school year, which is one year later than current law requires.

A key part of the compromise: keeping the Legislature out of decisionmaking on details of the evaluation system.

We agree with state Superintendent John White that debates over the metrics and wording of any complex model — as the evaluation system is — should not become annual political events in the legislative session.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has the constitutional duty, and more competence in those technical issues, to make those decisions.

A compromise like this does not appease teachers who first of all don’t like standardized tests and, even worse, don’t like their job security to be dependent on them. Nor will it make Gov. Bobby Jindal and his backers happy: It keeps teachers rated “ineffective” in the classroom, critics of the compromise bill said, for a year longer.

The new Compass system was bound to be complex because it seeks to measure how much students improve in the year. Teachers aren’t asked to make the worst-performing students in a parish into Einsteins in a year. Academic progress nevertheless can be measured and should be what teachers are striving for.

The fact is that despite some recent changes, the Compass system has been piloted and has had teachers’ input for some time.

What a delay does is give BESE and the state Department of Education time to show the evaluations’ relevance, and also time to demonstrate the leadership’s sincerity: A key selling point of this evaluation is that teachers whose students do poorly will get professional development to improve.

That’s not just a website on how to teach, that teachers can read at night after monitoring bus duty and grading papers in the evenings.

We suspect that the teachers in any school can tell you who among their colleagues is slacking or presides over chaos in the classroom. If Compass evaluations show that, and in fact intensive interventions for improvement occurs at the school level, the credibility of the system with teachers will be considerably enhanced.

This is a big change. A year’s stay in the penalties won’t hurt, if state and local education leaders use the time to make the system more effective in terms of teacher improvement. Perhaps everyone can win with the compromise.