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Capitol Notebook: Democrats assail Pearce over teacher evaluation comments

Dan McKaySANTA FE – Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce says he would suspend New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system and meet with teachers and others to craft a replacement.

But he also left open the possibility that it will look “almost exactly the same” as what’s in place now.

The state Democratic Party seized on those comments Thursday, accusing Pearce of having “doubled down” on the current system, imposed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

A broader snippet of Pearce’s speech – released by the Democratic Party at the Journal’s request – makes it clear that Pearce wants to consider the arguments of teachers who say the system is flawed. But he also suggests he’s open to leaving it largely intact.

Here’s a broader look at what he said so voters can judge for themselves:

In a video shared by the Democratic Party, Pearce told a roomful of education leaders last week that the state Public Education Department has an “antagonistic relationship” related to the teacher evaluation system.

“That’s the reason we said we will suspend the teacher evaluation system, bring all the stakeholders in,” Pearce says. “We’ll decide how we’re going to hold teachers accountable. I have not heard any teachers saying they shouldn’t be accountable.”

But there’s anger, he adds, over the evaluation system, with no resolution in sight.

“Teachers feel like they have no voice in the program,” Pearce says.

He adds that in some cases, teachers say the system doesn’t even correctly count the number of students they have.

Then Pearce makes the comments that Democrats highlighted.

“We may use almost exactly the same evaluation system,” Pearce says. “I see productivity, and I see some teachers saying, ‘You know, I used to push against this pretty hard, but now I’m seeing the positive aspects.’ ”

Pearce continues: “So we may end up with something very similar, but it will have adapted into a role where teachers get a voice, to where we’re listening to the people in the classroom.”

EARLIER COMMENTS: Both Pearce and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham have expressed misgivings about using students’ standardized test scores to evaluate teachers.

In May, Pearce told the Journal that the “current testing system in New Mexico is not working, and it’s contributing to our teacher shortage crisis.”

Also that month, the Lujan Grisham campaign said she would pursue a new evaluation system, crafted with input from educators, lawmakers and others.

“Unlike previous reforms, this cannot be a top-down effort,” her campaign spokesman said.

EXISTING SYSTEM: Student test scores account for up to 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation now. Teacher attendance, classroom observation by principals and student surveys are also factors.

Dan McKay: