SANTA FE – Santa Fe Public Schools has more highly effective and exemplary teachers than ever before, part of a statewide trend, according to new evaluation data released Friday.
The state Public Education Department rated 5.2 percent of Santa Fe teachers exemplary – the top tier – for 2016-17, up from 3.4 percent last year and 1.3 percent in 2014-15.
The percentage of highly effective teachers jumped to 28 percent, an increase of five percentage points from the previous year and up 10.3 points over two years.
SFPS Superintendent Veronica C. Garcia called the results “gratifying.”
Overall, 72.3 percent of Santa Fe Public Schools teachers were rated effective or better, a 4.4 percent improvement from the year before.
Garcia said the PED report confirms “what we have known about the increasing effectiveness of our teachers.” One third of Santa Fe teachers improved their effectiveness levels.
“We can all celebrate the news that more Santa Fe Public School teachers are being recognized as highly effective or exemplary each year,” Garcia added. “The action is in the classroom and I’m proud of our SFPS teachers.”
The trend was also positive statewide. In total, 74.3 percent of New Mexico teachers were effective or better in the latest round of evaluations. Last year, 71.3 percent reached that level.
The PED’s 2017 results rated 4.5 percent of all teachers as exemplary, up from 3.8 percent in 2016. The percentage of highly effective New Mexico teachers jumped to 27.6 percent this year, compared to 24.8 percent in 2016.
“It’s a really positive development,” said Secretary of Education-designate Christopher Ruszkowski.
The teacher evaluation system is entering its fifth year, but the criteria have 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 in 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.
Launched by former Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, PED’s evaluations have generated protests and two teachers union lawsuits.
New Mexico’s system is 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 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,” she said in a statement.
Las Cruces elementary teacher Denise Corrales told the National Education Association of New Mexico that she is concerned for colleagues “who actually let that stack of stapled junk actually ruin their day, month, school year.”
“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,” she said an NEA NM press release.
Ruszkowski said PED is providing teachers with valuable feedback that can help them improve.
Many states are telling a small number of teachers they need to do better, and “giving the others high-fives,” he said.
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.