New Mexico has more highly effective and exemplary teachers than ever before, according to new evaluation data released publicly on Friday.
The Public Education Department’s 2017 teacher evaluation results rate 4.5 percent of teachers as exemplary – the top tier – up from 3.8 percent in 2016.
The percentage of highly effective teachers jumped to 27.6 percent this year, compared to 24.8 percent in 2016.
In total, 74.3 percent of teachers were rated effective or better in the latest round of evaluations. Last year, 71.3 percent reached that level.
“It’s a really positive development,” said Secretary of Education-designate Christopher Ruszkowski.
Albuquerque Public Schools came in slightly below the state averages, but still saw improvement: 3.7 percent of the district’s teachers were rated exemplary, and 26.1 percent highly effective this year. In 2016, those numbers were 3.1 percent and 24 percent, respectively.
Nearly 74 percent of APS teachers were rated effective or better this year, up from 68.1 percent in 2016.
An APS spokeswoman said administrators are still reviewing the data and declined to comment.
The state’s teacher evaluation system is entering its fifth year, but the criteria has shifted over time.
In April, PED announced that test score growth would make up 35 percent of the grade, rather than 50 percent.
Classroom observations are now the single largest factor, 40 percent. The rest of the evaluation is made up of a variety of measures, including attendance and student surveys.
Ruszkowski said the improvement in teacher ratings is driven by performance, not the changes to criteria.
Teachers are earning more points for test score growth than before.
The new system is based on recommendations from Teach Plus New Mexico Policy Fellows, a group of 15 educators from around the state. Last fall, Teach Plus polled over 1,000 New Mexico teachers and translated the results into evaluation policy recommendations.
Hope Morales, Teach Plus NM Policy director, said she was excited to see the changes go into effect.
“This year’s evaluations are more balanced, giving higher points to the art of teaching through observation, while maintaining the importance of student academic growth, but not placing the majority of points in this area,” she said in a statement.
In Santa Fe, 5.2 percent of teachers were rated exemplary, up from 3.4 percent last year and 1.3 percent in 2014-15.
Overall, 72.3 percent of Santa Fe Public Schools teachers were rated effective or better, a 4.4 percent improvement from the year before.
SFPS Superintendent Veronica C. Garcia called the results “gratifying.”
Garcia said the PED report confirms “what we have known about the increasing effectiveness of our teachers.”
Launched by former Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, PED’s evaluation system has generated protests and two teachers union lawsuits.
The system uses five tiers to rate teachers – ineffective, minimally effective, effective, highly effective and exemplary.
New Mexico’s evaluations are among the toughest in the nation, according to research from Brown University Assistant Professor of Education and Economics Matthew Kraft.
Kraft examined evaluation systems in 24 states and found that the majority classified fewer than 4 percent of teachers below effective.
American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly said she believes PED’s ratings are unfair and often filled with errors.
“New Mexico’s educators and public should ignore these results as they are not a reflection of the hard work and professionalism displayed by New Mexico educators every day,” Ly said in a statement.
In a National Education Association of New Mexico press release, Las Cruces elementary teacher Denise Corrales was quoted as saying, “I think at this point morale is once again going to be pretty low for those teachers who allow for that report to tell them that they have failed despite their hard work.”
But Ruszkowski said PED is providing teachers with valuable feedback that can help them improve.
Ruszkowski advocated for districts and charter schools to use the evaluation data to reward and retain top teachers.
“These teachers should be acknowledged in different ways,” he said. “The conversation should shift to how to act on this information.”
PED offers a program that provides bonuses to high-performing teachers. Thirty-eight districts and charter schools applied for the latest round, and 10 received the award.
Critics of teacher merit pay argue that it hurts morale and encourages competition rather than collaboration.