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Editorial: Teacher evals important; system needs more work

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Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that some of the school districts that had the most problems with the new teacher evaluations were those that have been the most vocal critics of the state’s attempts at education reform.

Ditto for those districts that have had minimal problems and kept their focus on trying to make the system work – it’s those that have been more amenable to or even led the reform efforts.

Supporters of the status quo evaluation system (which has rated 99 percent of New Mexico teachers effective though around half of the state’s students can’t read or do math at grade level) would put the eval focus on the fact Albuquerque Public Schools still doesn’t know how many of its 6,328 teachers are affected by incorrect data, or that Rio Rancho says up to half of its teachers received erroneous reviews, or even that the Public Education Department has said any errors are based on incorrect or incomplete data provided by districts.

But continuing that us-vs.-them mentality doesn’t move the state and its students up from perennially dismal education rankings.

Yes, it is the first year for state evaluations linking teacher effectiveness ratings in part to student progress. Yes, a statewide pilot year would have been a smart way to work out any glitches. Yes, switching tests and curriculum during this past school year may have made the challenge of delivering good data formidable for the affected districts/grade levels. Yes, classroom observations should be given much more weight than teacher attendance in the absence of test scores. Yes, like school A-F grades, evaluations should have a second page with substantiating information so teachers can clearly see where their scores came from and determine their accuracy.

And yes, considering the problems this first round, it might be time to chalk it up as a test year and give principals the deciding vote on which teachers get put on improvement plans.

But no matter when it happens, change is always hard, and New Mexico’s public school students have already waited too long to be on a positive list.

As Las Cruces has shown, a district that puts its teachers and students first keeps its focus on getting good data for them to then drive positive change. While that district says it also does not have an estimate of the errors it is dealing with, it has said they are not widespread and it has opted to wait until the problems are fixed before even handing any evals out, much less making teachers sign off on improvement plans based on bad data.

Meanwhile the Roswell Independent School District has reported errors affecting just 4 percent of its 700 teachers, and Jemez Valley Public Schools says less than a handful of its 25 teachers found mistakes.

Compare that to the hue and cry in APS, Rio Rancho, Truth or Consequences (reporting about 40 percent errors) and Moriarty-Edgewood (reporting around 25 percent errors).

Districts are now resubmitting data, and PED will again compile it and sent out corrected evaluations. In the interim, two things bear repeating: If the teacher eval system is so flawed, how come it worked so well in some districts? And as with any revision, long-term success requires all involved to address systemic problems so they are not repeated.

This first year of teacher evaluations has had its troubles. But its underlying goal – a K-12 system that prepares students for the next grade as well as life – will be important every school year. It is vital teachers, principals, superintendents and PED use the summer to get the evaluation system ready for next school year.

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.

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