New custom Compass tool helps students own their academic success
Compass. Helping students reach their goals

Tacoma middle and high school students will soon have a tool to help them become stronger advocates for their own future.

Compass is a web-based tool students can use to monitor their own GPA and individual assignment grades, set goals and milestones to reach them, and check in with their daily mood. Funded by a grant from the Stuart Foundation, Compass originated with the realization that while students were doing their school work each day, they didn’t have much access to their own data about that work.

“We want our students to be able to advocate for themselves, especially in high school and after. They need to take ownership of their learning experience,” said Zeek Edmond, director of the Data Assessment Research Team. “But we haven’t given them a tool to do that until now. Compass is that tool.”

Students drive the online platform by filling in their own goals, interests and moods, and their teachers and counselors can monitor the data through a Compass educator dashboard.

The application was designed especially for Tacoma Public Schools, through research and feedback from focus groups of students, parents, educators, administrators, school counselors and psychologists, and help from partners at the University of Washington and Microsoft.

Gray Middle School teacher Paul Gerbyshak and some of his classes served as early participants in the development and refinement of the app. Gerbyshak likes what he’s seen so far and says his students do, too.

“My students are all about the stats,” he said. “They like using Compass to see how their grades and attendance trends stack up against other students in their school. Anything that’s a competition goes a long way with them.”

“Mood in”
One of the most valuable pieces of Compass is the mood check. Nervous? Chill? Confused? Excited? Students can indicate their mood in the app, which serves multiple purposes. Learning to regulate emotions starts with observing and identifying them; when students acknowledge their mood, they get tips to manage their emotional state and even a list of resources to contact if they want help.

Many teachers across the district use physical mood wall charts and have students mark their moods at the beginning of class.

In class, Gerbyshak often starts the day by asking students to “mood in” by indicating on Compass what their mood is. In real time, he can see the immediate results - or mood trends -  and either do a subtle or obvious check in with a student, depending on the student’s selected mood.

“I can quietly check in with them when something’s wrong or give a big round of praise when something’s going right,” he noted. “The mood checker is a non-threatening way to build classroom environment and trust. Eventually, I think it can get kids to take the risk of being more open and honest with each other.”

Meeker Middle School teacher Francis Reynolds, who also had a class using Compass in the pilot phase, said he thinks the tool has a lot of potential for students and staff, particularly the ability for students to show their mood and see their GPA anytime they want.

“In our advisory classes, we ask students every day how they’re doing, but that’s a public setting. Everyone in class is watching,” Reynolds said. “I think in the private setting of the application, they’ll be more honest.”

Badges mark successes: a strategy from gaming
As students set and complete goals, they’re awarded badges – the digital version of a recognition for a job well done. Students can earn badges in academics, attendance and assessments, among other things.

“The idea behind the badges is to provide a virtual high five and evidence of success,” Edmond said. “Students will be able to see their accomplishments pile up.

Compass is embedded as an application in Schoology, the district’s learning management system adopted this school year, and is available through a web browser or mobile phone or tablet. Compass will go live for middle schoolers March 22 and high schoolers April 12.

TPS Media Contact

Kathryn McCarthy, Strategic Communications and Marketing Manager | 253-571-1015 |

About Tacoma Schools

Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...


Read more Tacoma Public Schools stories . . . . .