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Educators slow to respond to statewide survey

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

The response by New Mexico teachers to an anonymous survey – designed as a vehicle to express their opinions about teaching conditions – has been dismally low and a big disappointment for education leaders across the state.

The TELL New Mexico Survey was supposed to have been available to teachers at all public and tribal schools from Jan. 27 to Feb. 21. That, apparently, has not been the case and there is now talk that the deadline might be extended.

TELL is short for Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning.

The survey is an effort by University of New Mexico Provost Chaouki Abdallah, who gathered a select group of education stakeholders from around the state to help create a second-to-none College of Education at UNM.

As of Monday, the statewide response rate was 3.41 percent. Only 1,108 of 32,528 licensed teachers had responded. A 50 percent response rate is required before data for a particular school will be used.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, 297 of 8,606 licensed teachers – 3.45 percent – had responded. In many schools, not a single teacher had taken the 20- to 30-minute online survey – mirroring a statewide trend.

In Santa Fe, seven of 1,369 teachers had responded, a .51 percent rate. In Las Cruces, response was 1.37 percent and in Rio Rancho, 4.55.

“This is a unique opportunity to bring all education partners together to help pave the path forward for our next generation of education practitioners,” Abdallah has said. “The results of the statewide survey will inform how we can best prepare classroom teachers and school leaders.”

One survey question asks respondents to rate how strongly they agree or disagree with various statements, such as “class sizes are reasonable,” “teachers have the time available to meet the needs of all students,” and the “non-instructional time provided for teachers in my school is sufficient.”

The TELL partners include the state Public Education Department, the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders, the New Mexico School Boards Association, the National Education Association of New Mexico, the New Mexico Association of Secondary School Principals, the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.

Survey partners on Monday suggested possible reasons for the weak response.

ATF President Ellen Bernstein said she believes there has been a “lack of follow-through from various partners” due, in part, to timing. The survey coincides with the legislative session, and attention is focused on Santa Fe, while the survey has become a distraction, she said.

“There’s a million of us who care deeply about this, (but) it’s a terrible time,” Bernstein said. She said some school principals hadn’t heard about the survey, yet it was they who were supposed to pass along codes to teachers so teachers could take the survey. Bernstein said she was not sure who was responsible for providing the codes to school districts and principals.

Another reason for the poor response could be that “teachers in the U.S. are so overwhelmed that even when it’s in their best interest to follow through – because of the sheer volume, it goes on the back burner,” Bernstein said.

The ATF sent an email to its teachers Friday, advising them about the survey and how they could get their access codes, she said.

Richard Wood, UNM professor and special adviser to Abdallah, said, if need be, the survey closing date would be extended.

“I think it’s just slow unfolding,” he said of the participation rate. He conceded that “it’s slower than we would’ve liked.”

The reason for the holdup with the codes is “not entirely clear,” Wood said. He noted that the codes were generated in Durham, N.C., where the organization behind the survey, the New Teacher Center, is headquartered. The codes then had to pass through several hands before reaching New Mexico’s teachers.

Access codes can now be obtained at schools or on a website set up for the survey, tellnewmexico.org.

Moreover, Wood said, Abdallah and the other partners will send a letter this week to school districts advising teachers about the survey. He, too, said the legislative session could have played a role with the breakdown in communication.

Gloria Rendón, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition of Education Leaders, said it is difficult to know why the response rate is low, but she has heard that “people are concerned about who will receive the results and how the results may be used.”

Wood said the survey is fully anonymous and that individual responses will not be broken down. The blind results will be used only by New Mexico education leaders and policymakers. “It’s good, objective data for people on the front lines, teaching our kids,” he said. “We believe that good policy is always informed by good information.”

The New Teacher Center has worked on education policy in several states and with Congress.

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