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SF schools chief backs lawsuit against evals

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Santa Fe Public School Superintendent Joel Boyd, left, shown here with state Department of Education Secretary Hanna Skandera during an August 2014 meeting about teacher evaluations, testified in court Thursday in support of a lawsuit challenging PED\’s evaluation system based largely on student test scores. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd on Thursday lent his support to a lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system, testifying he doesn’t have faith that it can determine whether teachers are effective or not.

Boyd said in state District Court here that while there’s “compelling” research in favor of “value-added” evaluations based in large part on student test scores, New Mexico’s have failed because erroneous and incomplete data about teachers have been used.

Boyd acknowledged he publicly supported the test-based teacher evaluations, which replaced previous ratings based mainly on classroom observation by supervisors, as they were being put in place a couple of years ago. “We didn’t deliver on that promise,” he said.

Boyd also said he never got an explanation for why the state Public Education Department changed initial findings on the percentage of Santa Fe teachers found effective in each of the past two years. “They told us the errors were on our end, but we never changed anything,” he said.

Jeffrey Wechsler, attorney for the state Public Education Department, pressed Boyd on why the Santa Fe district accepted $4 million this year from PED in merit bonuses for school personnel based on the state evaluations. Boyd said that, given what his district can pay, “we didn’t have a choice.”

Boyd testified in the first day of a hearing before Judge David Thompson on a request for a temporary injunction to stop use of the testing-based evaluations while a lawsuit filed by a teachers union, several state legislators and others proceeds. The suit seeks to prevent the use of student achievement scores in teacher evaluations. The injunction hearing will continue with PED witnesses Monday.

Wechsler said stopping the evaluations now would create chaos, jeopardize state efforts to obtain federal funding and end New Mexico’s waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, putting the state back under that law’s more “onerous” rules for standards-based education.

Wechsler argued that, in order to get an injunction, the plaintiffs need to show harm being caused by the evaluations now. He said no teachers are getting fired over the evaluations and the state has agreed there will be no negative actions on teacher license renewals based on evaluations until 2017. But the plaintiffs’ side argued that being found ineffective can put teachers on the path to being fired or losing their licenses and that, without a good state evaluation, teachers can’t move up to a second “tier” that provides $10,000 more in pay.

Shane Youtz, attorney for the American Federation of Teachers, said the PED’s evaluation system is skewed against teachers of core subjects. He noted that, in Albuquerque Public Schools, twice as many core teachers – in math, reading or science, or in elementary grades 3 or above – on a percentage basis have been evaluated as ineffective compared to non-core teachers of languages, art or music. “Does APS hire really bad math teachers and really good French teachers?” he asked.

State Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, who recently retired as a high school teacher of subjects including psychology and statistics, testified about errors in his own evaluations on details like which subjects he taught and how many students he had. The same year he was rated only minimally effective, he received a $5,000 award approved by PED based on how his students did on advanced placement tests.

While student performance makes up 50 percent of the evaluation score, classroom observation by principals or assistant principals also counts. Youtz, with support from Moriarty-Edgewood superintendent Tom Sullivan, maintained PED is pressuring principals to bring observation scores in line with student achievement factors. Principals who don’t make their observation reports as low as the test scores face loss of “fidelity points” in their own evaluations, they maintained.

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