New Mexico teacher evaluations see change

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s Public Education Department will no longer require school districts to use test scores and other data to evaluate roughly 1,000 teachers who teach subjects that don’t use standardized testing – removing one of the most controversial components of the evaluation system.

Also, that data will no longer be used in evaluating first-year teachers even if they are in tested subjects.

Hanna Skandera

SKANDERA: System is more fair for new teachers

Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said Monday the changes to the evaluation system will make it more fair for new teachers, since the evaluations will be based more heavily on classroom observation and teacher attendance, and will no longer be tied to student performance measures from a previous year.

For veteran teachers in subjects and grade levels without standardized tests – music teachers would be one example – school districts will have the option of using primarily classroom observation and attendance to evaluate them.

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School districts would be allowed to choose whether to keep using the backup measures, such as improvement of some student test scores, or scrap them altogether. But if they do continue to use those measures, they can make up no more than 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, rather than the 50 percent now.

The changes were made in response to feedback received by the agency in recent months, Skandera said. Skandera said they were presented to statewide superintendents last week and got a largely positive reaction.

“We feel like we’ve been very responsive,” she told the Journal . “We want to make sure we have the fairest, most objective system for evaluating teachers.”

The controversial teacher evaluations – released for the first time in 2014 and for a second round in May – have been blasted by some for rating teachers based in part on students they have never taught.

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, a teachers union that has filed a lawsuit over the evaluation system, said the changes might address that problem, but will make the rating system more uneven overall.

“I think what this represents is a small concession,” Bernstein said in a Monday interview. “But I think the system is so deeply flawed … that it doesn’t help the vast majority of teachers.”

Retroactive for new teachers

Under New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system, test scores typically carry the most weight, accounting for 50 percent of a teacher’s rating. The other 50 percent primarily consists of observation by principals, teacher attendance and students surveys.

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For teachers who do not have student test data, either because they are new to the job or teach subjects or grades that don’t have student tests, school districts were told last year to come up with an alternate assessment instead that accounted for 50 percent. For instance, Albuquerque Public Schools chose to use the academic growth of the 25 percent of lowest-performing students in a school as the backup measure for teachers.

Under the changes announced Monday, that backup measure will no longer be used in evaluating new teachers.

But APS could choose to use it for those teaching non-tested courses. However, it could only use it at the lower 25 percent level or less, or abandon it entirely in favor of more heavily weighted observation and attendance criteria.

For the 1,876 new teachers in the 2014-15 school year – out of roughly 23,000 total teachers statewide – the revised evaluation formula is being used to recalculate evaluations from last year’s school year. The change will also be applied moving forward.

Most of the 1,876 teachers will not see a change in their rating from last year due to the new criteria. Only 197 of the 1,876 new teachers will have a change in their designation – with 166 of those having an improved designation and 31 having their designation downgraded, according to the Public Education Department.

Skandera described the change in how new teachers are evaluated as the “right thing to do.”

“There’s literally no connection between the new teachers and those (backup) measures,” she told the Journal.

The PED, which is part of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, enacted the teacher evaluation system administratively in 2012, after a bill seeking to enact the system stalled in the Legislature.

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The evaluations have been sharply criticized by some educators and teachers union leaders. After this year’s evaluations were released, a group of roughly three dozen Albuquerque Public School teachers burned their evaluations in protest, with some educators saying the ratings were unfair and meaningless.

Under the teacher evaluation system, teachers are designated as falling into one of five categories – exemplary, highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. Most teachers – about 93 percent of those evaluated this year – fall into one of the three middle designations.

During the first year the teacher evaluations were released, numerous errors were found in the ratings, a phenomenon Skandera blamed on bad data submitted to the state by local school districts.

This year, the agency received 712 requests to clarify evaluations or look into possible glitches in the data.

Those requests led to just 31 teacher designation changes, mostly due to teachers getting a better rating after proving their attendance was better than previously shown. A number of other teachers had their school location or grade level labeled incorrectly, but fixing that problem did not result in a rating change.

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