Teachers’ grade for attendance goes up

Overall teacher attendance has jumped in New Mexico schools, an improvement state officials say is largely due to the new evaluation system, the Public Education Department announced this week.

Nearly 32 percent of teachers who had “exemplary” attendance records missed less than two days of work each, according to state data. Students had 18,000 additional instructional hours from licensed teachers instead of substitutes, statistics also showed.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, teacher absences caused by illness fell about 15 percent. That decrease is from the first half of the last school year to the first half of this year.

Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said attendance now can be factored into evaluations and serves as a motivational tool to keep teachers in classrooms, even though it’s only a small part of the overall rating.

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“As a general rule, a lot more learning is happening when your teacher is in the classroom versus a sub,” Skandera said.

However, Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association-New Mexico, said many New Mexico teachers are being forced to go to work despite illnesses.

“Yes, attendance is up. But at what cost?” Patterson said. “How are they going to be effective if they are sick?”

The attendance portion of the new evaluation system has drawn scrutiny after critics pointed out cases in which teachers on medical or family leave faced marks against them.

Skandera said that shouldn’t have happened and was based on confusion in the districts, not the state.

“I was on the phone for over an hour with a teacher who had cancer,” Skandera said. “She said it wasn’t fair. I said, ‘You are right.’ ”

As a result, state officials say they are working with districts to help them develop fair evaluation systems that don’t use medical or family leave against teachers.

Under the state’s new teacher evaluation system, district and charter schools can create their own evaluation plans, but they must use student achievement to count for 50 percent of evaluations if a teacher has three years’ worth of student-testing data.

After factoring classroom observation, districts can use surveys or attendance in their evaluations.

The previous system took a pass-fail approach on whether a teacher was competent based on what administrators observed during classroom visits.

Fewer than 1 percent of teachers failed to meet standards under the old system, Skandera said.

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