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School official supports evaluation rules while breaking one

SANTA FE – The superintendent of a small southern New Mexico school system testified Thursday in favor of the state’s current teacher evaluation system, though he admitted he has defied its rules by renewing the license of at least one teacher who didn’t meet performance benchmarks.

On the stand in state District Court, Tom Burris, superintendent of the Roswell Independent School District, said he knew that New Mexico Public Education Department regulations do not allow the renewal of licenses for teachers rated minimally effective or ineffective, but he is dealing with a teacher shortage and needs all of his staff.

“The negative consequences are exactly what I’m battling – I don’t want the negative consequences,” he said under cross-examination from attorney Shane Youtz, who is representing the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico in a legal battle against the teacher evaluation system.

“I am down teachers. I don’t need teachers, number 1, quitting over this and, number 2, I am not going to be firing teachers over this.”

Burris said he signed one teacher’s reapplication for licensure, though he was not rated effective.

The superintendent explained that his district of about 600 teachers currently has 29.5 open teacher positions, an unusually high number, and he would rather work with his current staff than bring on substitutes.

Burris said he has put minimally effective and ineffective teachers on growth plans, as required by PED, and views the plans as a positive step in improving performance.

Overall, Burris said he supports the current teacher evaluation system, which places 50 percent of the weight on test scores and 50 percent on a combination of classroom observations, teacher attendance and student surveys.

The superintendent was one of two defense witnesses to testify Thursday, the third day of hearings in the battle between AFT and PED. The teachers union is seeking a temporary injunction to stop evaluations based on testing.

Another hearing is set for Tuesday, with Judge David Thomson saying it will be the last.

Thomas Kane, a Harvard education professor and researcher who spoke for the defense, stressed that numerous studies show that teachers make a big impact on student success.

He said his own data has indicated that one year of student standardized test scores has a strong correlation to how well a teacher’s students will do on the tests throughout his career.

“Teacher evaluations are a crucial instrument to ensure students have most effective teachers possible,” he said. “It is not about beating up teachers or impose a culture from the business world on kids.”

Kane stressed that he is not an expert in New Mexico’s teacher evaluation model and said he could only speak to evaluations in general.

He did confirm that New Mexico is at the top of the range in how much weight it gives student achievement in teacher evaluations. Nationally, states range from 25 percent to 50 percent weight, he said.

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