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Editorial: Teacher eval criticism doesn’t add up for N.M.

Here’s a math quiz for the defenders of the status quo who are fighting the state’s new teacher evaluation system — a serious proposal put forth in the equivalent of an improvement and accountability vacuum.

Barely half of the state’s students can read at grade level; just 43 percent of New Mexico students are proficient in math; only six of every 10 New Mexico high school students graduate; almost half of those students who go on to college require remedial coursework.

Yet, 99.9 percent of New Mexico’s teachers are rated as “satisfactory.”

Q: So what doesn’t add up?

A: The fact the Legislature has failed for three consecutive years to revise the state’s system of teacher evaluations. And that despite the Public Education Department’s administrative version being devised over a year and a half with input from teachers and principals, and utilizing student scores from tests designed by teachers, there are still teachers, administrators and district officials who can’t — and don’t want to — read the writing on the wall. Much less do the math.

In each of the two years since Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera first proposed linking teacher evaluations to student performance and ending the practice of social promotion, more than 25,000 third-graders have moved on. And the state’s track record shows around half of them still can’t read or do math at grade level, and just better than half will graduate.

It is past time to stop setting our children up to fail. And it is past time to stop ignoring the Herculean efforts of great teachers who help students gain multiple grade levels of proficiency in a school year as well start identifying poor to mediocre efforts of teachers who need to be mentored to improve or find a different calling. It’s a tough job that not everyone can do well.

New Mexico isn’t alone in lacking a meaningful evaluation system for teachers. According to a New York Times report, evaluations rated 97 percent of Florida teachers effective or highly effective, 98 percent of Tennessee teachers “at expectations” and 98 percent of Michigan teachers effective or better.

Forget that many argue there is an education crisis nationally. These would be stellar numbers in a highly effective enterprise. Grover J. Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, told the Times these rating systems are “flawed” because “it would be an unusual profession that at least 5 percent are not deemed ineffective.”

Or a politically powerful one.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education is considering whether the district will defy the state’s evaluation system — scheduled to go from pilot program to statewide this fall — in favor of one the district developed with the teachers’ union that makes student improvement just 25 percent of the process.

The state system is comprised of a modest 35 percent of student growth over three years on Standards-Based Assessment tests, 15 percent on other growth measures determined by the district or school, 25 percent on observations and 25 percent on other measurements again determined by the district or school. For those grades and subjects not covered by the SBA, districts can again develop their own measurements.

It also evaluates principals, key because every school turnaround can be traced to great school leadership.

Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science charter school — one of the few schools to get an “A” from the state — is on its third year of teacher evals that use test score improvement as 50 percent of the grade.

Its principal says nobody has left or been fired, and she has “been able to reward teachers that have been absolutely, highly effective in the classroom … (and) fine-tune and pinpoint professional development that needs to be made with teachers that are perhaps struggling.”

The state system gives districts input on at least half and as much as 65 percent of a teacher’s evaluation — and APS and perhaps Rio Rancho Schools are debating whether that’s enough.

They should be debating accurate mechanisms for measuring their teachers that complement the state required test scores. APS should be debating why just 12 of its 6,000 teachers are on corrective action when half of its students can’t do work at grade level.

And officials should stop debating whether the state should have a vital stake in evaluating its teachers.

Because the numbers already spell that out.

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.