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APS bucks state teacher evaluations

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Albuquerque school board members are getting ready to defy the state’s teacher evaluation system, unanimously saying the district should instead move forward with its own plan.

“I want to know what our plan would be, because then what I would say is, we have a solid plan, we are being aggressive about our plan, and we’re going to fight this,” board member Kathy Korte said. “And I bet if we fought this, along with maybe Rio Rancho as a collaborative effort that we’ve been talking about, other districts across the state just might join us.”

The Rio Rancho school board has also talked about fighting the new system in court.

Board members, during a presentation from staff this week, overwhelmingly said they were concerned that the state system relies too heavily on standardized tests and places unreasonable burdens on principals. Some said the system places unfunded demands on districts, and that the timeline for adopting the system in the fall is unrealistic.

The state teacher evaluation system

■ 35 percent will be based on how much students’ test scores improved. Where possible, the system will include three years of data and will use a statistical method called “value added” that aims to control for students’ demographic challenges; 15 percent based on other measures of student learning, to be established locally; 25 percent on classroom observations, and 25 percent on other measures, to be determined locally and approved by the Public Education Department.

■ For teachers in non-tested subjects or grades, the test score portion of the evaluation will be replaced with other measures of student learning, to be developed by districts and approved by the state. If districts can’t develop local assessments in time for next year, they will be required to use the school’s A-F grade for that portion of the evaluation, or the test scores of all the students on that teacher’s roster. For example, half of a shop teacher’s evaluation would be based on his students’ test scores in reading and math.

■ Principals will also be evaluated, with 50 percent based on student test score data taken from the school’s A-F grade, 25 percent on how well they adopted the teacher evaluation system at their school, and 25 percent based on other measures developed at the district level.

“It appears some will choose to be pessimistic and assume this evaluation can be nothing but punitive. We choose to believe in the thousands of New Mexicans who do their best to educate our students and will prove this system recognizes their greatness in the classroom,” Behrens said. Public Education Department officials responded to questions for this story with a written statement from PED spokesman Larry Behrens:

Several APS board members said the district should go ahead with the teacher evaluation system it is using on a pilot basis at four schools and that also includes student growth on test scores. Board members prefer the district’s system, in large part because it was developed in collaboration with the teachers’ union and because it allows for more nuance and flexibility.

On the surface, the APS teacher evaluation pilot looks similar to the state system, but there are key differences.

APS has developed its own guidelines for classroom observations, which district officials prefer to the state’s. It also weights student test score growth at 25 percent instead of 35 percent and includes a student survey that APS officials prefer over the state’s student survey because it includes more questions and more detail. District officials would most likely adjust the pilot before taking it district-wide.

Although the APS board did not take any formal action at a meeting Wednesday, its discussion mostly centered on strategies for pushing back against the system. Board members said a key legal argument could be that Gov. Susana Martinez overstepped her authority by seeking to legislate through regulation.

Martinez and her education chief Hanna Skandera have been seeking to overhaul the teacher evaluation system since the beginning of 2011. Specifically, they are seeking a system that relies on student test score growth as a key component.

The Legislature rejected teacher evaluation bills in 2011 and 2012, and Martinez then issued an executive order, calling on Skandera to revamp evaluations through administrative rule.

The New Mexico chapter of the American Federation of Teachers filed a writ with the state Supreme Court in November, arguing the evaluation rule overstepped the bounds of rule making and entered the realm of lawmaking. The high court declined to hear the matter.

The rule is set to take effect this fall. For now, the evaluations would not be linked to teacher pay scales. However, teachers rated “ineffective” or “minimally effective” will be placed on improvement plans. Martinez also requested money in the budget for rewarding effective teachers, although that effort was thwarted by the Legislature.

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