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Teacher evaluation system questioned

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Teachers helping to evaluate other teachers – it’s a part of the state’s new evaluation system that’s getting attention as the controversial system is about to be launched.

The issue arose Monday at a public hearing, where Public Education Department officials were gathering input about some proposed changes to the teacher evaluation rule. The changes center on the classroom observation portion of the new system.

Observations will account for one quarter of teachers’ evaluations under the new rule, and the rest will be based on measures of student learning, including test score growth where possible, and other measures to be determined at the district level.

The changes specify that teachers with at least five years of experience can be classroom observers in the coming year, if they undergo training and pass a test. Starting in fall of 2014, observer-teachers must be rated at least “highly effective” in their own teaching.

The rule previously said teachers could be observers, but was less specific.

Another change reduced the number of observations required for each teacher from four to three, or two if they are done by separate people.

Charles Bowyer, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association, spoke at the hearing about some of his concerns with the rule and with the proposed changes.

In an interview, he said he thinks the rule takes the responsibility off principals to be instructional leaders and puts teachers in the position of having to evaluate each other.

“The principals’ role is evaluation, and we don’t believe that is the role for colleagues,” Bowyer said. “We think they can coach and mentor; we don’t believe teachers ought to be observing for input into final evaluations.”

State Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera said it shouldn’t matter who is doing the observation, as long as they are trained to do it well.

Bowyer also expressed concern that the rule changes, as written, could allow principals to sign off on an evaluation of a teacher they never observed. Skandera said in an interview Thursday that was never the intent, and the rule will be clarified so it requires principals to observe each teacher at their school at least once.

The observation piece of the system poses a challenge to principals, who have always been charged with evaluating teachers and who often have maxed-out schedules. When the PED’s initial rule called for four observations per teacher per year, many superintendents said principals would simply not have the time.

Teachers have also been resistant to the idea of outside consultants without classroom experience doing observations.

Bowyer said the best solution would be to provide principals with help, either in the form of assistant principals or other administrators.

“Principals do an awful lot of what would be considered administrative duties, not the duties of an instructional leader,” Bowyer said. He called for “additional help for principals that would allow them to concentrate on their role as the instructional leader of the building.”

Administrators at Rio Rancho Public Schools have factored this into their discussions about the system, and have said they will need 18 new assistant principals to adopt the system properly.

Bowyer said the changes are a symptom of a system that is rushed and underfunded. “I think the first issue is, don’t create a system on paper that you can’t properly resource and carry out.”

Skandera said the system “strikes a balance,” in aiming to create a quality system in a time of limited resources.