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Teacher eval problems vary statewide

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

While several New Mexico school districts have found many errors in this year’s new teacher evaluations, some districts support the new system and say they found few mistakes.

The Roswell Independent School District, for instance, discovered a small percentage of its evaluations contained errors, affecting about 4 percent of its 700 teachers, Superintendent Tom Burris said Wednesday.

“I thought (the switch to the new evaluations) went pretty well,” he said.

Jerald Snider, superintendent of Jemez Valley Public Schools, is also pleased. Less than a handful of his district’s 25 teachers found mistakes, he said.

Both Snider and Burris said the evaluations give valuable insight into how teachers are performing.

The switch to the new system was “a bumpy road,” Snider said, but people should “give it a chance, see what it can do. What we have been doing hasn’t been that effective.”

But other superintendents say they are seeing a multitude of problems.

Tom Sullivan, superintendent of Moriarty-Edgewood Schools, said it’s hard to put faith in the evaluations after seeing so many errors. In his district, 40 out of 160 teacher evaluations contained errors and those included teachers getting data that didn’t belong to them.

The state Public Education Department overhauled the evaluation system because the old system lacked accountability, pointing to the fact that 99 percent of teachers were considered effective.

Under the new system, 76 percent of teachers were “effective” or better. The new evaluation process takes in several new factors, including student test scores.

PED has said the errors are based on incorrect or incomplete data provided by the districts, and it is working with the districts to correct those evaluations.

In the Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools district, about 40 percent of its 124 teachers had problems with their evaluations, Superintendent Craig Cummins said.

Los Alamos has reported 25 percent of its evaluations contained errors, Rio Rancho found errors in 50 percent, and Moriarty-Edgewood reported errors in 25 percent.

Albuquerque Public Schools was among the districts where many errors were reported, although district officials don’t have an estimate of how many of its 6,328 teachers were affected. The district is working with the Public Education Department to correct errors.

Three APS elementary school principals this month told the Journal problems they saw included incorrect attendance data, missing student achievement scores, low teacher scores for students who had high achievement, among others.

In Las Cruces, errors were not widespread, but the district has held off on distributing evaluations until the problems are fixed, said human resources director Tracie O’Hara.

She had no estimate of how many of Las Cruces’ 1,500 teachers were affected, but among problems she cited were that some teachers were placed at the wrong school and some evaluations were missing information from student surveys. Still other teachers received no evaluation at all, she said. Las Cruces is working with the state to correct the problems and hopes to release evaluations to teachers by the end of the month, O’Hara said.

Hanna Skandera, education secretary-designate, has said the errors were caused by mistakes districts made when reporting data to the PED that was needed to compile the evaluations. “We can only have a good evaluation if we have good data,” she told the Journal .

Mike Chambers, superintendent of Magdelena Public Schools, said the state can’t place all the blame on districts.

“I think it’s easy for the state to say it’s because the data has been reported incorrectly, but there are more problems than that,” Chambers said, adding that all 29 teachers in his district found mistakes on their evaluations.

Gerry Washburn, assistant superintendent at Los Alamos Public Schools, said while he doubts districts are solely to blame for the errors, it’s not worth assigning blame.

“I think it’s counterproductive for us to be pointing fingers regarding who made what mistakes,” Washburn said.

Performance growth plans

State law gives local districts control over teacher hiring and firing, but the new evaluation system requires teachers who scored “minimally effective” or “ineffective” to be placed on performance growth plans.

While some superintendents questioned whether PED would still mandate those growth plans when there have been many evaluation errors, PED spokesman Larry Behrens said the agency has not changed its position.

The growth plans are “critical, because this is a key avenue to deliver teachers some extra support that is aligned to areas of need,” Behrens said. “Teachers can reflect on each measure within (the evaluations) to establish short-term and long-term goals that will impact increased student achievement.”

Cummins, of Truth or Consequences, said he doesn’t believe this year’s evaluations will affect teachers much one way or the other.

“It’s not going to help teachers, it’s not going to hurt teachers,” Cummins said.

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