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Editorial: Good teachers matter, and NM’s get better and better

Teachers matter.

Enormously.

Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski cites decades of research showing the No. 1 factor in student achievement is teacher quality.

Given how critical teachers are to student achievement, it makes sense for school districts to know who their top performers are and to try to replicate those teachers’ methods. And it’s just as important for those districts to know which teachers are struggling so they can be coached.

School districts throughout the state recently received that annual data, and it shows 75.6 percent of our state’s teachers were rated as effective or higher. Congratulations to those teachers – all of whom are making a positive difference in their students’ lives.

Broken down, 41.4 percent of New Mexico teachers earned a rating of effective, 28.5 percent were rated highly effective and 5.7 percent were rated exemplary.

The 1,163 teachers rated exemplary are eligible for Excellence in Teaching Awards, if they’re still teaching, of either $5,000 or $10,000.

Those bonuses are well deserved. Teachers who qualify for them should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.

The latest teacher evals also show 21.3 percent of the state’s teachers were rated minimally effective and 3.2 percent were rated ineffective – and those numbers are down from previous years. Ruszkowski points out that compared to 2015 teacher evaluation stats, there are 1,000 fewer teachers earning ineffective or minimally effective ratings this year. Kudos to all who have improved their ratings.

Of course, there are naysayers who argue that the evaluation system, NMTEACH, is not valid. Some of those critics have even gone to court to block its use because a component is whether students are demonstrating academic growth.

But isn’t that the whole point of being a teacher in the first place – getting students to grow academically?

It’s worth noting only 35 percent of a teacher’s score is based on student academic growth, measured by statewide assessments. Classroom observations, conducted typically by a principal or assistant principal, make up 40 percent of the evaluation. Teacher planning and professional development makes up 15 percent of the score, student and parent surveys count for 5 percent and attendance also accounts for 5 percent.

To be clear: Whether a teacher’s students are proficient in their subject is not a factor in teacher evaluations. Student improvement is, and always has been.

It’s worth noting that since instituting the new evaluation system in 2013-14, the Public Education Department has met with educators around the state and made adjustments while still stressing accountability. Still, the teacher unions are fighting this system in court.

But it’s also important to recognize that 74 percent of teachers surveyed during the New Mexico Teacher Summit earlier this year agreed the state should continue with its current teacher evaluation system, and 62 percent said they were able to use NMTEACH as a tool to improve instruction.

While it wasn’t a scientific survey, the fact it drew responses from 714 educators flies in the face of the argument that NM teachers as a whole want the evaluation system scrapped. And what’s the alternative? Go back to a system based entirely on observation where almost all teachers were rated effective?

Focusing on both academic improvement and classroom observations is a fair way to evaluate our teachers. And should they be elected governor, candidates U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and Steve Pearce, R-N.M., should drop their sound-bite pandering and have the courage to stay the course – for the sake of New Mexico’s students, great teachers and taxpayers.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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