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APS teachers burn their evaluations in protest

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than three dozen Albuquerque school teachers, including many who have just been rated “highly effective” by the New Mexico Public Education Department, burned their teacher evaluations in front of the Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters Wednesday to protest what many called the inherent “unfairness” of the process.

Courtney Hinman ignited the blaze by taking a lighter to his “effective” evaluation. He was quickly followed by a “minimally effective” special education teacher from Albuquerque High School, then by a “highly effective” teacher from Monte Vista Elementary School.

Wally Walstrom, also of Monte Vista Elementary, told the crowd of 60 or 70 people that his “highly effective” rating was “meaningless,” before tossing it into the fire.

One after another, teachers used the words “meaningless” and “unfair” to describe the evaluations and the process used to arrive at those judgments.

One teacher said she was judged “highly effective,” but a colleague who uses many of the same teaching techniques was found to be “minimally effective.”

Another teacher said the majority of his autistic, special-needs students failed the SBA – a mandatory assessment test – yet he was judged “highly effective.”

“How can that be?” he asked as he dropped his evaluation into the fire.

Student progress is one of the biggest factors used to evaluate teachers.

New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera launched the new evaluation system in 2012 by administrative rule. It ties student test scores to teacher ratings, which remains a source of controversy between the department and teacher unions. Skandera’s office could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Teachers leveled one complaint after another about the testing and evaluation processes:

  • An English teacher said he was judged on student progress – in algebra and geometry.
  • Another said she had taught a mere two months, yet was evaluated as if she had been in the classroom for an entire school year.
  • Several said their scores were lowered only because they were sick and stayed away from school.
  • One woman said parents routinely say she’s the best teacher their children have ever had, yet she was rated “minimally effective.”
  • An Atrisco Heritage teacher said most of the math teachers there had been judged “minimally effective.”
  • And a teacher of gifted children who routinely scored at the top in assessment testing asked, “How could they advance?” before tossing his “highly effective” evaluation into the blaze.

Several people assembled outside the building carried placards opposing student testing and the policies of Gov. Susana Martinez and Skandera.

One, with fangs added to photos of the two women, carried the message: “Collectively sucking the life out of education since 2010.”

Others, however, were less inflammatory. “D.A.R.E. to resist PARCC,” read one, referring to the much-maligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers standardized tests introduced in New Mexico this year.

Later, many of the teachers carried their protest inside to the APS Board of Education meeting.

Robert Foyer, who teaches math at Highland High School, told board members that his special education math students are competent at the second- to seventh-grade levels. Yet the exam he must give is for 11th-graders and is not tailored to students with disabilities.

The tests “intimidate and embarrass” students who already have low self-esteem, he said.