controlled
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia Lower Elementary kindergartners, from left, Amyree Jackson, Rihanna Barnes and Lathan Bates follow along with their teacher Barbara Sidney as they learn about simple addition and other math lessons.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Vidalia Lower Elementary kindergartners, from left, Amyree Jackson, Rihanna Barnes and Lathan Bates follow along with their teacher Barbara Sidney as they learn about simple addition and other math lessons.

Parish teachers excel above state average in evaluation results

Published 12:01am Monday, September 9, 2013

VIDALIA — Amanda Wilson is quick to admit she was concerned this time last year about Louisiana’s new teacher evaluation system.

“We just didn’t know a whole lot about the new system they were going to use to evaluate us and to determine student growth,” the first-grade Vidalia Lower Elementary School teacher said. “We had a lot of discussions with our principals and district officials and did end up changing the way we did things in the classroom, which was difficult at first.

“But at the end of the day, we wanted to go above and beyond expectations for our students and make sure they were learning what was best for them.”

The grading system, called Compass, ranks every teacher and school leader in each public school using a four-tiered rating system — highly effective, effective: proficient, effective: emerging and ineffective.

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat  — First grade teacher Kassiday Adams gets her students prepared for a test on sentence structure and punctuation.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — First grade teacher Kassiday Adams gets her students prepared for a test on sentence structure and punctuation.

Evaluation figures were released this week by the Louisiana Department of Education for the state’s more than 43,000 public school teachers. The figures were based on performance during the 2012-2013 school year.

In Concordia Parish, 91 percent of teachers were ranked effective: proficient or highly effective, which is two percentage points higher than the 89 percent state average.

“That tells me that our teachers are doing the things they need to do in the classroom,” Superintendent Paul Nelson said. “When I see our score compared to the state average, I feel good about that because I feel like our administrators spent a lot of time making these observations and discussing the grading rubric extensively as a group.”

On the school level, more teachers at Vidalia Lower Elementary were ranked highly effective than in any other school in the district at 89 percent.

Principal Phyllis Cage said she believes the rankings are a testament to the dedication of the teachers at the school.

“We have some hard working teachers here,” Cage said. “With anything new, there’s going to be some opposition and apprehension, but we just made sure our teachers knew exactly what was going on.”

Cage said she tried her best last year to keep her teachers in the loop with any information that was released about the new evaluation system.

“There were a lot of rumors going around because we didn’t really know exactly how everything was going to work,” Cage said. “We would come back from conferences and sit our teachers down and tell them everything we knew.

“The biggest thing was just sitting them down and saying, ‘You can do this.’”

VLE first-grade teacher Torri Webber said she was thrilled to learn teachers at her school and throughout the district had received such high rankings in the new system.

“It was like Christmas,” Webber said. “It was a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.”

Webber and Wilson said they will continue this year to set high expectations for themselves and their students.

“I’m the kind of person that if we set the bar at four, I want to get to five,” Wilson said. “I think this system has made us all better teachers.”

The new evaluation system was passed by lawmakers in 2010 and championed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Across the state’s 1,400 public schools, Compass grades about one-third of classroom teachers on student performance improvements on standardized tests. The grades cover those who teach math, English and other subjects that are reviewed on such tests. All teachers are reviewed through classroom observations and whether they hit certain student learning targets.

Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White said the new evaluation method replaces a one-size-fits-all approach that didn’t properly assess a teacher’s ability in the classroom. Under the old system, nearly 99 percent of educators were simply ranked satisfactory, with no range of categories determining excellence or improvements needed.

Evaluations under the new method are done annually, replacing a system in which teachers got formal evaluations once every three years with no tie to student test scores. The new system applies to teachers and administrators in traditional public schools and charter schools.