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PED to grade state’s teacher prep programs

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Public Education Secretary-designate  Christopher Ruszkowski

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify who issues teacher licenses. 

Starting July 1, teacher preparation programs in the state will be graded by the Public Education Department, with the majority of points coming from components of its teacher evaluations – a controversial measuring system that gubernatorial candidates have vowed to do away with.

A new rule allows the PED to rate educator preparation programs or EPPs through site visits and a scorecard system, mirroring the A through F school grades. And it gives the department the final decision on which programs can stay up and running.

Instead of being monitored by national accreditation groups, New Mexico’s private and public EPPs will be scored annually based on recruitment, training, hiring and retention, and graduates’ performance.

In anticipation of the rule change, the PED released preliminary 2017 scorecards based on those factors for 13 EPPs in the state – none of which got an A.

Although these scorecards will not have any consequences for the programs, the PED aimed to show how – based on its measures – the programs are doing.

The majority of schools in the state got C’s. But the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College, New Mexico State University and Northern New Mexico College each earned B’s.

For every factor being graded, the program must meet a benchmark percentage to get the full number of points. For instance, the PED’s goal is to have 75 percent of the student cohort be an ethnically diverse representative of varying minorities, which the department says mirrors New Mexico’s student population. UNM had about 58 percent.

UNM’s data also showed that 56 percent of its teachers stay in the state, and the PED expects that to be closer to 85 percent.

These factors contributed to UNM’s getting a B in all four categories.

The dean of UNM’s College of Education, Salvador Hector Ochoa, wrote a comment to the Journal that said UNM strives for continuous improvement and will continue to work with the PED. But UNM did not respond to questions on how it felt about the score or whether UNM agrees with the rule’s measures.

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said there are five areas in which all New Mexico teacher prep schools could be doing better: practice over theory, clinical experience, collaboration with districts, data tracking on teachers’ post-graduation and emphasis on recruitment.

He signed the rule into effect last week, saying it hadn’t really changed after public comments in May.

During the comment period, some expressed support for the rule, saying the policy addresses teachers who aren’t prepared the first day of school and children facing the consequences. But opponents said the PED was overreaching its authority and was grading the program on factors that can’t be controlled, such as the diversity of a cohort or whether teachers stay in the state.

Ruszkowski said the PED did alter some calculations in response to feedback from college deans.

“Part of what we did was adjusted the weights based upon what we want to signal as important versus what we want the bulk of the grade to be comprised of,” he said.

University and college officials said they think there still are factors in the rule that colleges can’t change.

“About 50 percent of the measures are things we don’t have control over,” said Betsy Cahill, interim associate dean at NMSU’s College of Education, adding NMSU has asked the PED for the research used to construct the scorecard and didn’t receive any.

She pointed to factors such as the hiring and retention component, saying the prep program doesn’t have control over whom districts hire or whether teachers stay in the state.

But Ruszkowski said the rule aims to make retention a priority for educational change in the state.

“New Mexico has the absolute obligation to value teachers teaching in New Mexico and to incentivize teachers in the state,” he said.

Factors out of the school’s control also are concerns for Virginia Padilla-Vigil, interim dean of the Highlands University School of Education, and CNM President Katharine Winograd.

“There are certain elements we aren’t sure how we are going to influence yet,” Padilla-Vigil said.

But Padilla-Vigil also said she feels there are positives to the rule, such as having access to new data and the emphasis on a high bar for recruitment at Highlands, which got a C on the evaluation.

“I embrace the C,” she said. “There’s always room for improvement.”

Winograd also expressed optimism, saying, “(The PED’s) B rating for CNM will be considered as we continue striving to improve our program and prepare teachers for this highly rewarding and critically important profession.”

Ruszkowski noted the majority of the score is “how teachers are doing in the classroom” through their teacher evaluations.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won the state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, previously said that current teacher evaluations “punish” educators working with vulnerable students and that she would work to come up with a new system. And U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Republican candidate for governor, who was unopposed in the primary, has said he would make changes to the system.

With possible changes in teacher evaluations, Cahill said she thinks that makes EPP requirements a “moving target,” but said NMSU will move forward with the rule while recognizing some aspects may be temporary.

And Padilla-Vigil said Highlands will, too, but noted there are parts of NM Teach – teacher observations and rubrics – that she plans to continue implementing despite changes.

Ruszkowski said New Mexico is among the first few states to start evaluating EPPs. The others include Tennesssee and Delaware, he said.

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