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Editorial: State strips accountability from teacher evaluations

Last week, New Mexico’s K-12 public school classrooms were transported back to Lake Wobegon – where all the teachers are strong and all the students are above average.

Regardless of the data.

Oh, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham keeps her campaign promises to teachers unions.

The New Mexico Department of Public Education announced all student growth data will be stripped from this year’s evaluations, now being called the “Transition Teacher Evaluation Reports for 2018-19.” But let’s be clear before succumbing to the bogeyman of high-stakes testing that is the root of all education-reform evil: Student scores were never included to show whether students were performing academically at grade level; they were only included to show whether students had improved in the year they were in a teacher’s classroom.

And isn’t that the minimum parents, taxpayers and students should be able to expect from a teacher? That kids leave more educated than when they came in?

Instead, teachers will be graded with classroom observations worth 50%; planning, preparation and professionalism worth 40%; and family and student surveys worth 10%.

Student improvement on tests had accounted for 35 percent. So this year – and likely every year of this administration, don’t be fooled by the “transition” in the evaluation name – there will be no objective data points, just subjective opinions. That opens the doors to scenarios such as:

In tight with the principal? High score. Make waves and voice concerns about anything? Low score. Implement best practices from another district and rock the boat? Low score. Pass everyone along with inflated grades? High score. Alert parents and students to shortcomings that need to be addressed before advancing a grade level? Low score.

In 2011, before student improvement was part of teacher evals, virtually all teachers were rated as satisfactory while around four out of every 10 students didn’t graduate in four years and around half of the students who did get a diploma needed remediation to be able to do college coursework. After reforms, including evaluations with student improvement data, the graduation rate in 2018 had increased more than 17%, to more than seven out of 10 students, and college remediation rates dropped to 33%.

But rather than continue to deliver accountability for the billions spent annually on K-12 public schools, NMPED has completed its superfecta of abandoning critical longitudinal data that shows students on an upward trajectory.

The evaluation change tracks with this administration’s watering down of the annual PARCC test that is intertwined with the Common Core curriculum and correlates with ACT, SAT and NAEP test results to ensure college and career readiness in our high school graduates. And it got rid of the easy-to-understand “A-F” grading of schools, while removing consequences for struggling schools that earned “F” grades five and six years in a row in favor of feel-good labels.

Despite the union’s fawning over the changes, in reality they deliver false praise to those teachers who need mentoring and support to become effective at leading a classroom. And they are an insult to the many highly effective and exemplary teachers in New Mexico who deliver as much as two years of learning in a single school year.

In four short months, almost all accountability has been stripped from a department responsible for more than $3 billion in tax dollars – and the education of more than 300,000 New Mexico students – every year.

And that leaves New Mexico’s public schools back where they started, with empty feel-good reassurances that the teachers are strong and the students are above average, a la Lake Wobegon.

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.