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NM senator calls for moratorium on use of test scores

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A state senator from Albuquerque plans to push legislation during the upcoming session to impose a two-year moratorium on the use of student test scores in New Mexico’s teacher evaluation and A-F school grading systems beginning next school year.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said he made the decision after listening to superintendents around the state share their concerns with the evaluations during recent Legislative Education Study Committee meetings.

Sapien’s proposed moratorium would not affect the evaluations prepared in the spring of 2015.

SAPIEN: Has been talking to superintendents

SAPIEN: Has been talking to superintendents

“We’ve been hearing from all of them,” said Sapien, who chairs the LESC. The committee will issue a report on the evaluations in November, he said.

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A moratorium would have a major impact on both systems. Test scores make up 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score under the evaluation system the state put in place last year, and school grades are based largely on student test scores.

The call for a moratorium is unlikely to sit well with Gov. Susana Martinez, as both school grades and the new teacher evaluations have been top education initiatives of her administration.

Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera has said the Public Education Department has no intention of halting the use of test scores in evaluations or school grades, as has been recently requested by some local school officials.

“We will not hit pause for our kids,” Skandera said last month. She added much of the evaluations’ strength comes from the use of test scores. Skandera has said the evaluation system is designed to identify struggling teachers so they can be given help and to identify successful teachers so they can be emulated.

Sapien said the biggest reason the state should delay the use of test scores in the rating systems is because New Mexico is adopting a new standardized test this school year. Since PED uses three years of test scores in the evaluation and school-grading process, data from two different tests would be used over the next two years. Teachers and schools are evaluated on whether their test scores improve.

This school year the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam will replace the Standards Based Assessment as the main statewide test. The new exam will match the Common Core standards the state put in place last school year and will replace the Standards Based Assessment.

Beginning next year, PED will use both PARCC and SBA scores in teacher evaluations and school grades, comparing students progress over a three-year period. Skandera has said she’s confident the state will be able to “crosswalk,” or equate scores from the two tests.

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Sapien, however, is skeptical scores from the different tests could be used together in a meaningful way, noting the PARCC exam is likely to be more difficult.

“It’s not foolproof,” he said, arguing it would be better to wait until there is three years of consistent test data.

PED spokesman Larry Behrens said a moratorium would have serious ramifications.

“We would have to re-file our waiver with the U.S. Department of Education and defend why student achievement is not important,” Behrens said, referring to New Mexico’s waiver from No Child Left Behind.

New Mexico filed a waiver to the U.S. Education Department that stated it would follow certain policies, including using test data in teacher evaluations and school grades. Without a waiver, the state would again have to follow the rules under No Child Left Behind, which were unpopular. If the state then didn’t comply with No Child Left Behind, it would risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding.

Behrens also said a moratorium would mean “students who are currently in 9th grade would never have their achievement count toward a meaningful teacher evaluation.”

Superintendents continue to voice concerns

The LESC held its last meeting with superintendents to discuss the evaluation system Tuesday in Santa Fe. School officials from Albuquerque Public Schools, Rio Rancho Public Schools, Santa Fe Public Schools and three other districts spoke.

Santa Fe Superintendent Joel Boyd expressed different concerns than Sapien’s in reiterating his support for a moratorium on the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. He reiterated his recent calls for a moratorium this school year, noting numerous errors discovered last spring.

There were hundreds, perhaps more, of teachers who received faulty evaluations at the end of last school year when the new evaluations were first given to teachers.

The PED and school districts have worked since then to correct mistakes.

Boyd said a moratorium would give state and local education officials more time to address problems and for the state to invest in new data systems, which he said are needed.

“We have to get it right,” Boyd said, who added he remains a strong proponent of using test data in teacher evaluations.

Skandera has said the evaluation 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.

Rio Rancho Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland said Tuesday her district made errors, but she also believes some of the errors were made by the PED.

Cleveland said the evaluations have put a lot of strain on principals and assistant principals to complete the observations that are also apart of the evaluations.

And meanwhile, both Cleveland and Shelly Green, chief academic officer for Albuquerque Public Schools, said they aren’t confident they’ve yet identified all of the errors from last year’s evaluations.

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