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Evaluations give teachers more data

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When New Mexico teachers receive their state-issued evaluations in the coming days, they’ll notice much more detail than last year, when they were rolled out in what turned to be a rocky debut.

The Public Education Department made the evaluations available to principals on Monday and school districts can decide when to distribute them to teachers.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, teachers are expected to receive their evaluations today, spokesman Rigo Chavez said.

New Mexico overhauled its teacher evaluation system last year and, for the first time, issued teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores, a policy that many teachers and some local school officials opposed. They have argued the evaluations don’t accurately measure teacher performance and rely too much on tests.

The PED this year, in response to complaints that teachers didn’t fully understand how ratings were generated, beefed up the evaluation reports with more information.

While teachers previously received a one-page evaluation report, this year the report will be five pages and show how teachers were rated in each of the evaluation categories, including student test scores, principal observations, teacher attendance and student surveys.

“We’ve never had details like this before,” Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said. “It should be a driver for instruction and getting effective teachers in the right places and for supporting those who are struggling.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether the more detailed evaluations will make them more popular among teachers or succeed in helping teachers better understand how they work.

Wilson Middle School Principal Ann Piper hasn’t given her teachers their evaluations yet but said she believes many will remain skeptical.

“My hunch is that it makes the teachers feel like there is more smoke and mirrors,” Piper said.

The PED has provided principals with webinars to instruct them on how to explain evaluations to teachers, Skandera said, adding that she hopes principals walk teachers through the findings and explain how they can be used.

Of the 20,500 teachers rated statewide this year, 73.8 percent rated effective or better on their evaluations, according to Public Education Department data.

That’s down 4.4 percentage points compared with last year, when 78.2 percent of teachers rated effective or better.

At APS, 72.14 percent of the district’s faculty scored effective or better this year, compared with 82.3 percent last year.

Under New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system, test scores carry the most weight, accounting for 50 percent of a teacher’s rating.

The PED uses three years of test scores and calculations, called value-added models, to measure student progress and gauge how much teachers are contributing to student learning.

Value-added models can tease out demographic factors, like poverty, and assess the impact a teacher is having on his or her students, PED officials say.

Critics of the evaluations argue the value-added models don’t in fact accurately measure a teacher’s impact on classroom learning.

The second-biggest category is observation by principals, which in most cases makes up 40 percent of teachers’ scores. The other 10 percent is based on measures that vary by school district but often include teacher attendance or student surveys.

Teachers who are found to be “ineffective” or “minimally effective” are put on performance growth plans under the state’s evaluation system.

Skandera announced in 2012 that the Public Education Department would overhaul New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system by administrative rule, and that the evaluations would rely heavily on student test scores.

Previously, attempts by Gov. Susana Martinez and state Republican lawmakers to pass a law overhauling the evaluation system failed.

Teacher unions in New Mexico have strongly criticized the evaluations and have filed lawsuits to overturn the system. Some local school officials have also been highly critical of the evaluations.

Compounding teacher confusion over the new evaluations last year was that many teachers found errors in their ratings.

Skandera has said the errors were caused by bad data submitted to the state by local school districts. The PED and local districts worked throughout the year to correct the errors, and the department has put in place new safeguards this year to make sure the data used in the evaluations are sound, Skandera has said.