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Use caution with teacher evals

As it has with many other aspects of modern life, our federal government has increasingly interfered in individual states’ education policies, usually with disastrous results.

Now, under President Obama’s “Race to the Top,” the U.S. Department of Education is requiring New Mexico’s Public Education Department to use a Value Added Model, or VAM, based on student growth when evaluating teachers.

Supposedly, this method measures the contribution of a teacher to a child’s learning, which makes sense until you consult experts in the field.

The American Statistical Association has found the VAM to be unreliable, at best. Research conducted by another group contracted by the U.S. Department of Education found that one in four teachers who are actually average in performance will be erroneously identified for rewards or punishments by VAMs.

Our children and their teachers deserve better than an evaluation regime based on this level of error, especially when a “poor” evaluation can destroy a qualified teacher’s career.

Unfortunately, Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera has chosen to base 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on these same unreliable VAM scores, which is the maximum allowed by the U.S. Department of Education. And yet, she has already lowered Santa Fe’s VAM percentage to 35 percent. Why isn’t she treating all our school districts equally?

If the method Skandera is supposed to use is as bad as the American Statistical Association says it is – and who would know better? – why use the maximum amount of an unreliable method to evaluate teachers? Shouldn’t we want to make the best of a bad situation by using the smallest percentage possible, rather than the largest?

My second point: The U.S. Department of Education is also now allowing states more time to make the required changes in their public education systems. The goal is to avoid problems, to make certain reform is done correctly and to ensure teachers are evaluated accurately.

Skandera should take the same care and consideration and do what our most qualified educators across our state are asking: Give us more time.

If other states can negotiate with the U.S. Department of Education, why can’t New Mexico?

We must comply with “Race to the Top.” But when its requirements are making a quality education for all our children harder to provide, we should be looking for ways to lighten that load.

Skandera should reduce the effect of the thoroughly discredited VAM on teacher evaluations for the entire state to the amount already set for Santa Fe schools. And, give our students and educators the extra time the U.S. Department of Education is allowing for states to implement these large changes.

Let’s take the time to get it right, for our children’s sake!

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