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Court upholds NM teacher eval system

SANTA FE, N.M. — The state Court of Appeals has rejected a petition brought by a coalition of teachers unions and several Democratic lawmakers arguing that New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system violates state law.

The petition took aim at the evaluation system Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera put in place in 2012 by administrative rule that tied student test scores to teacher ratings – which remains a source of controversy between the Public Education Department and teachers unions.

Judge Michael D. Bustamante rejected the petition’s argument that Skandera usurped the Legislature’s authority by overhauling the state’s teacher evaluations through administrative rule.

“We disagree that the Secretary has acted outside of her statutorily defined authority,” Bustamante wrote in his opinion. Judges Jonathan B. Sutin and Roderick T. Kennedy concurred.

The petitioners had opposed Skandera’s decision to move away from a “binary” evaluation system in which teachers were graded either competent or not, to one with five levels ranging from highly effective to ineffective.

The petitioners also objected to using student achievement as part of teacher evaluations, according to Bustamante’s opinion.

The court refused to strike down the new system, ruling that Skandera was required by law only to have a system that was both objective and uniform.

“The scope of our review is limited to whether the Secretary’s actions fall within her authority; we do not examine the prudence of the regulations themselves,” Bustamante wrote.

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Stephanie Ly said the union was disappointed by the court’s decision but respects the court and will continue to fight the evaluation system.

“We believe that the Public Education Department’s model of evaluation is deeply flawed and that recent critical analysis of the model established its fundamental ineffectiveness as a measure of teacher quality,” Ly said in a statement.

In addition to the union, the petition was brought by state Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, and Los Alamos teacher Ryan Ross.

Defendants included Skandera and the Public Education Department.

The group filed the petition with the Court of Appeals in 2013 after District Judge Shannon Bacon dismissed its petition. Prior to that the group tried to get its petition heard by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Bustamante also rejected arguments the new system violates state law by allowing vice principals to perform teacher observations in addition to principals and because it exempts charter schools from some evaluation rules.

PED spokesman Larry Behrens said the petition was a waste of time and resources.

“These are resources that are better spent in the classroom helping our students instead of a legal paper chase the union and their supporters continue to obsess over,” Behrens said in a statement.