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Rally set to protest teacher evaluation changes

KORTE: Organizing rally at Del Norte High School

KORTE: Organizing rally at Del Norte High School

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque Public Schools board member is organizing a political offensive against reforms by the state Public Education Department and sending a message to state legislators: Rein in the PED and put the brakes on school reforms, or you will be targeted next.

APS board member Kathy Korte says the Oct. 22 “Stand4KidsNM” rally is to “tell our lawmakers and the Public Education Department that no one is listening to the teachers on the ground and to the students, who are now collateral damage for this reform effort.”

Korte said in an interview that parents and teachers are not opposed to student testing or teacher evaluations, but many are opposed to implementation of all the reforms at once, and what she considered excessive use of testing to grade teachers, schools and students.

State Rep. Dennis Roch, a Republican from Logan, is also a teacher and superintendent of the Logan Municipal Schools. He didn’t know about the rally, but said he “generally supports” the PED reforms, particularly relating to teacher evaluations, which he called “a phenomenal improvement over the old system.”

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales and chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee, did know about the rally. “There are some challenges regarding the teacher evaluation system,” he said, adding that he agreed PED “is pushing too many things at one time, something we’ve heard that from Democrats and Republicans alike.”

PED chief Hanna Skandera this week said that there is bipartisan agreement that New Mexico’s current long-standing teacher evaluation system is “broken.”

“Despite student achievement lagging year in and year out, the previous evaluation system labeled 99 percent of all New Mexico teachers with the same term – ‘meets competency,'” Skandera said. “This not only short-changed our really great teachers, who deserve to be identified as successful and heralded for their work, but also failed to identify teachers in need of improvement.”

Korte said she is organizing the rally with the help of some teachers and parents and is not acting on behalf of the APS board. Email memos and flyers sent out to publicize the rally suggest people contact their lawmakers. It provided seven talking points to explain opposition to the PED reforms.

Monica Armenta, executive director of APS communications, said the only APS involvement regarding the rally is allowing it to take place in the Del Norte High School parking lot.

Neither is the Albuquerque Teachers Federation involved in the rally, said union president Ellen Bernstein. She did, however, say that “anytime teachers have a chance to vent their frustration is good.” Bernstein declined to take a position on the rally’s secondary message to state legislators, but she did note that “lawmakers should be as accountable as they’re asking teachers to be.”

The growing Stand4KidsNM movement sprang out of APS-sanctioned town hall meetings held recently to inform teachers and parents about how the reforms will affect them, and to provide an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.

As a member of the New Mexico School Board Association, a group of 89 school boards from around the state, Korte said she has heard from other members who are “just floored with the reforms.”

Of particular concern to them are the number of tests required by the PED.

To receive a high school diploma, a senior must complete 25 credit hours and pass five tests, including the Standard Based Assessment, or SBA in reading, math and science, and end-of-course exams in social studies and writing.

PED-approved course finals can also be used, as can ACT or SAT scores as a “demonstration that the student is at grade level,” Skandera said.

PED-approved end-of-course exams were rolled out this year for core high school classes, and those can be used instead of finals. PED does not require that districts give both end-of-course exams and finals; in fact, Skandera said she “discourages” it.

“This not about more testing, it’s about giving students alternatives to demonstrate they are ready for graduation,” she stressed.

Another major point of contention among teachers is the PED’s use of the scores from multiple student tests as a major determinant in teacher evaluations, as well as having those scores reflect an overall school rating.

Reforming the evaluation system, Skandera countered, is more specifically a “requirement of our state’s No Child Left Behind waiver granted by the Obama administration.”