Our Views: Good start for Compass

Remember the hand-wringing and political battles over the notorious notion of holding teachers accountable for student achievement? The idea that student test scores would be part of the mix was greeted by criticism and attacks by teacher unions. And to be fair to the unions, the disquiet among teachers was widespread.

The good news is that much of that concern has been found to be overwrought. The first year’s results of the Compass system are in, and there is considerable evidence that it is working as sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers who pushed the 2010 law mandating the achievement standards.

By various statistical measures, the ratings for teachers tend to reflect the overall performance of school systems: Higher-rated systems tended to have more highly effective teachers. That those correlations are in line with expectations suggests that the new system is on the right track, according to the state Department of Education.

With any new system, there are going to be not only glitches but perhaps serious ones. So we know that the extensive deliberations in developing the models and processes for the new evaluations could not smooth all the problems out. Experience will tell.

There could be changes down the road as the system itself undergoes evaluation: Fewer than half of classrooms have test-driven data, in subjects such as English or math. The others — from civics to music and other arts to gym class — are based on teachers achieving performance indicators they develop with their principals.

Further, the wide variance between principals’ evaluation of teachers and the more controversial half of the measurements from test scores is not what the more aggressive reformers wanted to see.

The old system of teacher evaluations, entirely by superiors’ classroom evaluations, was often criticized for rating 98 percent or more of teachers “satisfactory.”

While the terms have changed, the principals’ evaluations are coming in at about 90 percent positive statewide — a number perhaps higher than some reformers were looking for. That has helped improve the ratings for many teachers who did not do as well in the more objective student data.

Still, if not perfect, the new system should be considered more successful than not in its first roll-out.

What we consider most important, now, is that the state and school systems work with the teachers who need improvement.

Only 4 percent of teachers were found to be rated in the lowest category, “highly ineffective,” although those now have a deadline to improve their performance or face dismissal.

Is the purpose of evaluations to drive “highly ineffective” teachers from the classroom on the basis of one year’s measurement? Are the middle-rated teachers to be simply left alone? If so, there will be a serious backlash against this evaluation system.

If, as promised, the evaluations are the beginning of more aggressive professional development for teachers, the state and school systems can win over rank-and-file teachers for this program.

True, some teachers rated “highly ineffective” might well be in another profession as the result of a second year of evaluations, whatever principals or mentor teachers do.

But as professionals, teachers deserve a real commitment from state and local school leaders to the second half of the evaluation system, meaningful improvement through professional development.

That’s the follow-up that is needed to sustain a robust teacher evaluation system for Louisiana classrooms in the coming years.