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House approves bill revamping educator evaluations

New Mexico teachers held a 2014 rally in Santa Fe against teacher evaluations and other policies mandated by the Public Education Department. A bill that would overhaul the evaluations passed the state House via a 52-14 vote. (Marla Brose/Journal)

SANTA FE – A bill that would revamp New Mexico’s evaluation system for teachers and school administrators won approval late Monday in the House, with members voting 52-14 in favor of the measure.

Backers of the legislation, House Bill 212, said it would lay the groundwork for a less punitive system for rating educators than the one implemented administratively by then-Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

“I think this bill will lead to a more healthy and robust environment in our schools,” said Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, a high school teacher himself.

Under the bill, teachers’ evaluations would be based on four different measures: Instructional quality, student feedback, student learning growth and professional responsibility.

Student test scores would account for only 15 percent of teachers’ evaluations – down from 35 percent under the previous system.

That prompted concerns from some Republican lawmakers, who said the new system could reduce accountability and turn the annual evaluations into a popularity contest of sorts.

“The fact that only 15 percent of the evaluation is based on student achievement … gives me pause,” said Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs.

Changes in teacher evaluations already appear to be in the works, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, issued an executive order shortly after taking office last month that directs the Public Education Department to revamp the system enacted by the Martinez administration.

That system prompted strong opposition from teachers unions and several lawsuits.

But the bill approved Friday would enshrine the reworked teacher evaluation system in state law, meaning it would be harder to undo in the future.

It would rank teachers in one of four categories – distinguished, proficient, basic or unsatisfactory. Teachers rated less than proficient would be placed on an improvement plan, and it would be up to local school districts to come up with such plans.

In addition, a committee of state education officials and school administrators would be tasked with proposing exactly how the evaluations of teachers and principals should be conducted.

The recommendations would then be sent to PED, which would by June 1 adopt specific standards and guidelines via rulemaking.

The measure is sponsored by House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque. It now advances to the Senate.

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