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Teacher evaluation hearing extended

SANTA FE – A hearing on the New Mexico teacher evaluation system will continue Thursday after the judge unexpectedly added a fifth day of testimony, saying that the material under consideration is complex.

First Judicial District Court Judge David Thomson had said that Tuesday would be the last day of testimony, but reconsidered as the hearing on the lawsuit by the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation approached its seventh hour. Three expert witnesses had appeared for the New Mexico Public Education Department on Tuesday, with a fourth still to come when Thomson called to wrap up for the night.

Originally, only two days of testimony were planned on the unions’ efforts to secure an injunction stopping the evaluations while their lawsuit against the system proceeds.

Tuesday’s testimony highlighted the state witnesses’ stance that the new evaluations are a big improvement over the previous approach, which rated 99 percent of teachers effective.

“The old system was very black and white – it was either you met standards or you didn’t meet standards,” said Paym Greene, executive director and principal of El Camino Real Academy, a STEM-focused charter school in Albuquerque.

Greene testified that the new evaluations provide more data for her teachers, who are using the information to improve their classroom skills.

“It really has been a useful tool for us,” she said.

Greene said she views the evaluations as an opportunity for development, not a punitive measure, and said she is not firing teachers based on poor ratings.

Of her school’s 26 teachers, one rated ineffective and three minimally effective in the most recent evaluations, Greene said.

She added that her teachers are “putting themselves on growth plans” to improve in areas where they have fallen short.

Matt Montano, PED’s director of educator effectiveness and development, testified at length about the creation of the new teacher evaluation system, which PED instituted administratively in 2012.

He said that PED met with educators, union representatives, principals and superintendents during the process to receive their feedback. Since the new evaluations started, PED has worked to ensure that teachers understand their scores, Montano said.

The third state witness, Suchint Sarangarm, assistant superintendent for data and assessment for the Hobbs Municipal School District, agreed that most teachers have a good grasp of the evaluation process.

Sarangarm said he supports the new evaluations because he feels they provide a more complete picture of the teacher’s abilities.

Overall, 77 percent of New Mexico’s teachers are at least “effective” under the new system, which has five levels of achievement: ineffective, minimally effective, effective, highly effective and exemplary.

Most controversially, the new system places 50 percent of the evaluation’s weight on student achievement as measured by standardized tests. Twenty-five percent of the evaluation comes from the principal’s classroom observation of the teacher, and the other 25 percent from several measures, including teacher attendance and student evaluations.

AFT-New Mexico and ATF have argued that the new system is unfair because teachers’ ratings can vary widely from year to year. They also cite studies showing that an individual teacher has a relatively small impact on a child’s standardized test scores.