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Voters split on teacher evaluation system

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Slightly more Albuquerque voters oppose basing half of teacher evaluations on students’ academic performance than support it, according to a new Journal Poll.

Forty-six percent oppose such measures and 41 percent support them, with the remaining voters saying they didn’t know or that it depends, according to the poll.

The issue has been a contentious one since Republican Gov. Susana Martinez was elected in 2010 and began pushing for an overhaul of New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system. Martinez’s evaluation proposals have consistently failed in the Legislature, so Martinez and Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera overhauled teacher evaluations through administrative rule.POLL_10sept_Evaluations_web

The new evaluation system went into effect at the start of this school year.

Half of teachers’ evaluations will be based on the academic progress of their students. For teachers whose grade level and subject is measured by the state Standards-Based Assessment, 35 percent will be based on their students’ test score improvement.

For other teachers, the student learning portion of their evaluations will be based on other measures. In many cases, those measures will be how much students improved on other tests, like end-of-course exams and early childhood tests.

In addition to the 50 percent on student performance, one-quarter of teachers’ evaluations will be based on classroom observations and the remaining quarter will be based on other measures, like quality of lesson planning.

Teachers’ unions have strongly opposed the state plan. And more recently, the Albuquerque and Rio Rancho school districts have signed a joint resolution asking that the system be delayed and amended.

The evaluation system fared better in a statewide Journal Poll last year, in which 53 percent of respondents said they supported such a system that based teacher evaluations, in part, on student test score improvement.

Given the controversy surrounding the system, pollster Brian Sanderoff said it’s not surprising that Albuquerque voters have mixed feelings about the issue. He said it was also not surprising that the polling followed party lines.

Specifically, voters were asked whether they “support or oppose basing half of a teacher’s job performance evaluation on their students’ academic progress, including students’ scores on standardized tests where applicable.”

The poll found that, among Democrats, 35 percent of likely voters support the system, while 54 percent said they oppose it. Among Republicans, the poll found 48 percent in support and 40 percent opposed.

Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll, said that makes sense, since the main proponents of the system have been Martinez and Skandera, while the most visible critics have been unions.

“To that extent, it’s not surprising to see the way Democrats and Republicans are breaking out on this,” Sanderoff said.

Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens said in a written statement that the evaluations are the right thing to do for students.

“We know a majority of New Mexicans support rewarding our best teachers based on their ability to help our students succeed and improve in the classroom,” he wrote, adding, “The centerpiece of the … approach is the achievement of our students and we know that evaluating ourselves by their achievement is the right thing to do.”

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said the fact that more voters oppose the system than support it is a sign that people are skeptical, especially as the system is starting to be used in schools and people are learning more about it.

She said the poll mirrors national findings released recently by Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup. That poll found the American public had reversed course on teacher evaluations and that 58 percent of respondents opposed requiring teacher evaluations to include standardized test scores.

“I think the poll indicates that voters are starting to understand the issues with these high-stakes teacher evaluations and how this skews what happens in the classroom to focus narrowly on a single test, rather than on the deep, well-rounded education that students deserve,” she said.

The Journal Poll’s findings are based on telephone interviews of 402 voters likely to vote in coming municipal elections who also had voted in an Albuquerque city election in 2011 or 2009. Interviews were conducted Sept. 3-5.

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