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Experts differ on test-based evaluations at NM hearing

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s model for evaluating roughly 23,000 teachers statewide got mixed reviews Monday, as two experts on such systems disagreed about its fairness and the effect of teachers on student achievement.

In testimony in state District Court, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, an associate professor at Arizona State University, said “value-added” evaluations based in large part on student test scores have not been proved effective in gauging whether teachers should receive bonus pay or face disciplinary action.

“They look good in theory. I would love for them to work in practice, but they do not,” Amrein-Beardsley said in response to questions from an attorney for the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, a teachers union that is challenging the teacher evaluation system in court and brought her to New Mexico as an expert witness.

She also cited a recent study that she said showed teachers control only from 1 percent to 14 percent of student achievement, with the remaining percent falling outside their control.

As for New Mexico’s model, Amrein-Beardsley, who runs a popular teacher evaluation blog, described it as among the nation’s most arbitrary and capricious but acknowledged she is not familiar with all aspects of it.

In contrast, Pete Goldschmidt, a former PED assistant secretary who helped develop the state’s evaluation system and testified as a witness for the defense, defended the state’s model as carefully tailored to the state’s population and based on multiple years of testing data.

“I would argue the New Mexico model is working appropriately and is one of the best models in the country,” said Goldschmidt, who left the department in 2014 and now works as a professor at California State University, Northridge.

He also disputed other parts of Amrein-Beardsley’s testimony, saying effective teachers do have a significant impact on students.

The dueling testimony took up all of Monday, the second day of a hearing before District Judge David Thomson on a request for a temporary injunction to halt use of the testing-based evaluations while a lawsuit filed by the teachers union, several Democratic legislators and others proceeds. The judge did not issue a ruling Monday, and the hearing is expected to resume Oct. 1.

The Public Education Department, part of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, enacted the teacher evaluation system administratively in 2012, after a bill seeking to enact the system stalled in the Legislature.

The evaluations have been sharply criticized by some. After this year’s evaluations were released, a group of roughly three dozen Albuquerque Public School teachers burned their evaluations in protest, with some educators saying the ratings were unfair and meaningless.

Under the state’s system, test scores typically carry the most weight, accounting for 50 percent of a teacher’s rating in most cases. The other 50 percent primarily consists of observation by principals, teacher attendance and students surveys.

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