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Editorial: Eval information should give NM’s teachers power

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

– Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan

The second round of New Mexico K-12 public school teacher evaluations provides a lot more information on how students are doing, and in the process gives teachers and administrators more information they need to look at their own work and the evaluations with a critical eye.

Last year, teachers received a single page that showed how many points they earned in two or three categories (say 50 out of 70 on test score improvement, 70 out of 100 on in-class observations, and 40 out of 50 on planning and professionalism) for a final score that equated to exemplary, highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective.

It left many teachers and administrators alike frustrated and scratching their heads as to where the data came from and questioning whether it was accurate. This year, they should have their answers in three additional pages that include:

  • A breakdown of teachers’ class rosters, providing how many students they had in each subject as well as how much progress each of those students made in the school year, comparing that progress to the rest of the students in the district and the state.
  • A breakdown of teachers’ scores in the four observation areas, again with comparisons to their district and the state.
  • Complete student survey results (if their district chose to include that as a “multiple measure”).

Wilson Middle School Principal Ann Piper might be correct when she says some teachers could “feel like there is more smoke and mirrors.” That would be unfortunate and short-sighted, because Annan is right, knowledge is power, and with these evaluations teachers and administrators have more knowledge at hand to either dispute results (“I don’t have 19 students in my fourth-grade math class!?”), acknowledge strengths (“Your students gained more than a year and a half in English!”) or address weaknesses (“While your students made strides in English and math, we need to shore up your experience/lesson plans in science.”)

One interesting data point from the evals concerns teacher attendance – now that it is part of many evaluations, it has gone up, accounting for 18,000 additional instructional days with licensed teachers in front of students – as opposed to substitutes – something the state Education Department says saved districts $1.2 million. And that was 18,000 days with higher-quality instruction.

It is also telling that the district teacher evaluation results appear to have a correlation with graduation rates.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, where 27.86 percent of teachers scored minimally effective or ineffective, 43.57 percent scored effective and 28.57 scored highly effective or exemplary, the 2014 graduation rate was 62.7 percent.

In Rio Rancho Public Schools, where just 14.52 percent of teachers scored below effective, 47.2 percent scored effective and a whopping 42 percent were rated as highly effective or exemplary, the graduation rate was nearly 84 percent.

There’s no question there will, and should, be more discussion as teachers receive and digest their evals in the coming days. But the bottom line of this new system, whether it has been adequately conveyed or not, appears to demonstrate that the quality of teachers matters – a lot. Giving them the information they need to improve their craft and replicate success translates into progress, and power, for them and their students.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.