Editorial: Teacher Eval Systems Gain Reform Traction

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Teacher evaluations tied to some level of student performance is a slow train chugging down the school reform track.

Although the Legislature this year rejected a bill to institute such a system, the administration of Susana Martinez is pushing ahead — with Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera driving the train.

Skandera is working to create a new teacher evaluation system through administrative rule. It is in draft form and will be piloted this year in about 50 schools and go statewide in fall 2013. The state received a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act on the condition it would come up with a new evaluation plan that included student achievement.

So, a destination has been determined and a schedule set. Now it’s time to figure out how to get there.

The Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science charter school is starting on its third year of evaluating teachers — and determining their raises — based on a combination of student test score growth, classroom observations and other measures.

The school historically has done well on standardized tests and received one of the highest grades in New Mexico under the new school A-F grading system. AIMS principal Kathy Sandoval was on a state task force last summer that made recommendations for the proposed teacher evaluation system.

Half of the AIMS system is based on how much student test scores improve on the Standards-Based Assessment and on how much the school’s test scores improve overall. Other factors are classroom observations, a student survey and the principal’s evaluation of the teacher. It does not control for student characteristics like poverty and race.

Sandoval initially gave the SBA less weight because teachers were uneasy about it, but increased it, in part at the request of teachers who wanted recognition for good test score results.

“I can tell you right now that nobody at my school has left the school because of the evaluation tool. Nobody has had a reduction in pay, nobody has been fired,” she said at a public hearing on Skandera’s administrative rule earlier this month.”I have, however, been able to reward teachers that have been absolutely, highly effective in the classroom. I have also been able to fine-tune and pinpoint professional development that needs to be made with teachers that are perhaps struggling.”

Albuquerque Public Schools has been piloting a slightly different evaluation system.

The American Teachers Federation was a key partner in creating the pilot, which was used last school year at four schools that receive federal money for low-performing schools.

Ninety-three teachers volunteered. Their evaluations were based on whether students met learning goals they set, how much test scores improved, a student survey and classroom observations — some of the same elements in the state proposal.

The results: Students taught by teachers in the pilot improved their test scores more than those taught by teachers who did not volunteer (no surprise there); teachers who scored well during classroom observations saw higher student test score improvement, indicating the observations were a valid measure of teacher quality; the results of the 34-question student survey tracked with test score performance; and the system showed a need for more guidance for teachers in how to set and measure student learning goals.

The strengths in each of these systems should be considered in developing the state system. The PED says it welcomes a presentation on the APS pilot and is willing to incorporate ideas that best serve New Mexico students.

It’s encouraging to see these groups move toward a common goal because this train has left the station. Now, educators have to decide how to get on board.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.