New Mexico’s new teacher evaluation system has led, at least in part, to a dramatic drop in teacher absences at Albuquerque Public Schools this year compared to last, according to the district’s superintendent and school board president.
Teacher absences because of illness have dropped over 15 percent at APS during the first half of the current school year compared with the first half of last year, according to data from the district.
Between August and January, there were 27,611 teacher absences in the district. That’s 5,068 fewer absences than the same time period last school year, when there were 32,679 absences. During the same August through January period in the 2011-12 school year there were 28,668 absences.
The current school year – in which there are 6,328 teachers employed by APS – is the first in which the state Public Education Department’s new and controversial teacher evaluation system has been in place. Under the evaluations, attendance counts toward 10 percent of a teacher’s overall score.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the decline we are seeing in teacher absences is directly related to the new teacher evaluation system,” Winston Brooks, APS superintendent, said in an email sent to the Journal on Tuesday. “Every month has seen absenteeism lower this year than last, in some cases a thousand fewer days of absences than the same month one school year ago.”
Brooks has been critical of the new PED evaluation system in the past, but he did not address in his email whether he agreed with the attendance component.
School Board President Marty Esquivel said the drop in absences is a positive trend, regardless of how people feel about the evaluations as a whole.
“The more time the regular teacher is in the classroom the better the overall instruction is,” Esquivel said.
The drop could translate into a cost savings for the district. APS pays substitute teachers between $8.58 and $13.05 an hour based on their qualifications, according to the substitute salary schedule posted on the district’s website.
Brooks said there are other factors that also could help explain the drop in teacher absences, including a decline in the total number of teachers employed by the district in recent years and a mild winter that could have led to few people getting sick.
Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said she disagrees with using attendance in evaluations. Attendance doesn’t lend insight into how well a teacher can teach, she said.
Teachers misusing their sick days should be a separate discipline issue, she said.
She said the drop in absences could be related to the new evaluations, but it’s hard to know for sure.
She said it is possible teachers are afraid to take their sick days because of how it would affect their evaluations.
“What I say to teachers is, ‘Don’t misuse your sick days and don’t show up to school sick,'” Bernstein said.
The overall trend of teacher absences since 2010 showed they varied from month to month, with several months in 2012 seeing a spike. But every month of fall 2013 showed a drop from the year before. And the overall number for this school year’s August through January is lower than every year since 2010, the last year for which the Journal requested numbers.