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Moratorium urged on using student scores in teacher evals

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe Public Schools’ superintendent and a majority of Albuquerque Public Schools board members have told the Journal they would like to see a one-year moratorium on using student test scores in evaluating teachers this year.

Among the reasons: New Mexico is adopting a new statewide test this year, and the districts want to give the state more time to prevent data errors like those that plagued the evaluation system last year.

“We actually had a pretty strong sentiment” that there should be a moratorium on the use of test scores, said APS board member Lorenzo Garcia.

Four board members told the Journal last week that was their position. Two others could not be reached. And school board president Analee Maestas didn’t answer the question in an email response to the question.

BOYD: Backs evaluations, but wants to avoid errors

BOYD: Backs evaluations, but wants to avoid errors

SFPS Superintendent Joel Boyd told the Journal on Friday he supports the evaluation system – and the use of test scores – but for it to work the state should invest in data warehouse systems at the state and local level to ensure evaluations are based on accurate data.

Data errors were behind hundreds of faulty evaluations, perhaps more, given to teachers last spring that had to be corrected over the summer. Errors included evaluations based on incomplete or wrong test data, missing student survey data and teachers being docked for absences that should have been excused, among other mistakes.

So far, Rio Rancho Public Schools, the New Mexico School Superintendents’ Association and Boyd all have asked the Public Education Department to suspend the use of test scores for one year.

PED, for its part, plans to proceed using test scores.

“We will not hit pause for our kids,” Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera said Thursday, adding much of the evaluations’ strength comes from the use of test scores.

Urging less weight

A majority of APS board members also said they would like to see test scores carry less weight.

Under New Mexico’s system, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on test score data.

SKANDERA: "We will not hit pause for our kids"

SKANDERA: “We will not hit pause for our kids”

The PED uses three years of test scores and calculations, called value-added models, to measure student progress and to gauge how much teachers are contributing to student learning. PED officials say value-added models can tease out demographic factors, like poverty, and assess the impact a teacher is having on his or her students.

Board member David Peercy likes the goal but doubts their accuracy. He said value-added models attempt to answer an important question – how much a teacher contributes to student learning – but he doesn’t believe they do it.

“It’s a tremendously complex problem,” he said.

While several APS board members like what they have seen from the observation portion of the new teacher evaluations – 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score is based on principal’s observations – a majority would like the PED to reconsider the weight given to test scores and observations.

Skandera said in a phone interview Thursday that will not happen.

“We have a strong conviction that (test scores are) where the strongest priority should be,” she said.

Under the evaluation system, teachers are rated “exemplary,” “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective,” and “ineffective.” Teachers who score ineffective are required to go on a performance growth plan. Districts maintain control over hiring and firing decisions.

APS Board member Kathy Korte has asked the board to discuss the use of tests in teacher evaluations as the topic of an official resolution at a future board meeting.

New test worries

One reason some local education officials say they want a moratorium is the state is adopting a new standardized test this year – the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers exam.

The PARCC exam, which matches the Common Core standards the state adopted last year, is expected to be more difficult than its predecessor, the Standards Based Assessment.

“It will be a change in the fact that for the first time all of our testing will be on a computer,” said T.J. Parks, superintendent of Hobbs Municipal Schools and president of the New Mexico School Superintendents’ Association. The SBA was a paper and pencil test.

Parks said he fears teachers might be blamed for students’ struggles to adapt to a computer test, noting the 25 percent of students who took the SBA on a computer this year on average scored lower than their peers.

The superintendent’s association sent the PED a letter in August asking for a moratorium, Parks said.

Likewise, the Rio Rancho Public School board earlier this month passed a resolution asking for a moratorium on the use of test scores, citing concerns about the computerized test.

Boyd recently wrote an opinion piece published in the Santa Fe New Mexican calling for a one-year moratorium on the use of test scores.

Accuracy questions

The PED has not tallied how many evaluations needed to be corrected. APS also does not have a tally of how many of its teachers received corrected evaluations, although there were many. Santa Fe was also hit hard by errors.

Skandera has said the errors were caused by faulty data that districts gave to PED. This year the PED has scheduled a “data verification period” to help ensure districts are sharing accurate data with PED, she said.

Still, districts are ultimately responsible for providing good data, Skandera said. “The final responsibility doesn’t rest with PED but with the school districts,” she said.

More investment needed

But Boyd said more investment in new software systems and training for school officials is needed to ensure the accuracy of the data.

“First, while loads of data are now conceivably available, the systems used to analyze that data seem woefully inadequate,” he wrote in his op-ed.

Boyd said he hopes his comments lead to continued discussion about the evaluation system.

The state has spent $9.38 million on the evaluations over the past three years, according to the PED. That figure covers hard costs, including principal and teacher training, the state’s contract with Teachscape – the software system principals upload observation data into – and development of end-of-course exams.

It doesn’t cover soft costs, which include the man-hours principals and teachers put into completing the evaluations. This year, APS budgeted $2 million to pay for 24 new assistant principal positions to help cover the extra workload posed by new teacher evaluations.

States seeking waivers from the “No Child Left Behind Act” were required to include student test scores as part of teacher evaluations. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently gave states with waivers from the act more time to begin using test scores in their teacher evaluation systems.

Skandera said that flexibility is for states that have not yet put new evaluations in place and if New Mexico were to suspend the use of test scores it would violate the state’s waiver.