School districts, teachers union emphasize observation scores

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Public Education Department officially released the teacher evaluation report Monday. And observations, which make up 40 percent of teachers’ scoring, are what some of New Mexico’s largest districts and teachers union say is the biggest takeaway from the data.

This year’s data show that 75.6 percent of New Mexico’s teachers were rated as effective or higher, the top three categories out of five.

Santa Fe had about 71 percent of teachers rated as effective or above.

In a news release, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia said a team will analyze the results for information that can improve teacher and classroom performance, adding the Santa Fe district is working to grow teachers through observations and professional development.

Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Greg Ewing said principals in his district also will rely primarily on classroom observations of teachers, along with student trends at schools, when it comes to developing his teachers.

Las Cruces’ teachers rated effective or higher made up about 78 percent.

Ewing said experts have been critical of using employment decisions based on student test scores, which represents 35 percent of a teachers’ score in NMTEACH, the teacher evaluation system that has been in effect since 2012. He said his district is explicit that employment decisions aren’t based on “an evaluation system which uses such questionable methodology.”

“We believe that the observation tool is truly an exceptional component, because it looks at the teachers’ practice as they interact with students and plan for the learning activities that students need,” he wrote in an email.

That’s also the strategy Ellen Bernstein, president of Albuquerque Teachers Federation, takes on the evaluations, encouraging her union members to focus on the observations.

Bernstein, who fundamentally disagrees with NMTeach’s methodology, said she feels the observation scores are more valid than the evaluations’ overall ratings.

She also said the 15 percent of a teacher’s rating that takes planning and professional development into account aligns with an evaluation framework that Bernstein agrees with.

Rio Rancho Public Schools had 88.12 percent of teachers rated as effective or higher.

Spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said teachers have professional development plans in place that aim to promote growth in areas identified in the evaluations, but also said an area of concern is the student achievement piece of the scoring.

In total, 72.93 percent of all Albuquerque Public Schools teachers were rated as effective or higher.

APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said Superintendent Raquel Reedy is currently reviewing the data. Armenta said APS is working on an in-depth, internal analysis on teacher shortages and said the district will use the PED evaluation report to aid in identifying “what needs to happen to guarantee the best teachers for our students moving forward.”

The evaluations have been at the center of lawsuits by unions in the state. Bernstein said the trial on the lawsuit is set to take place the first week of November.

November also brings a gubernatorial election for New Mexico, which could result in a different teacher evaluation system – something Bernstein said a lot of teachers are ready for.

“Teacher unions are not against teacher evaluation,” she said. “We’re just against unfair teacher evaluation systems.”

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski cited a survey to the Journal from the New Mexico Teacher Summit that showed 74 percent of responders agreed they wanted to continue NMTEACH. The summit is a PED-hosted conference.

That survey also showed 62 percent of participants said they were able to use NMTEACH as a tool to improve instruction.

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