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Teachers union changes stance in eval suit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The head of the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico acknowledged that her union has changed its approach on the injunction it is seeking against teacher evaluations but denied that they have reduced their demands.

Stephanie Ly, president of AFT-New Mexico, said the organization is seeking a stop to growth plans put in place for teachers who receive “minimally effective” and “ineffective” ratings on evaluations – not the entire “value-added” teacher evaluation system, which they targeted when the injunction hearing began in September.

The union contends that the growth plans are a step toward possible termination and also disrupt teachers’ progress through licensure.

The New Mexico Public Education Department’s witnesses disputed that stance during the hearing, which wrapped up Thursday in 1st Judicial District Court after five days of testimony.

AFT-New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation have filed a lawsuit against PED over “value-added” teacher evaluations, a system that uses student achievement on standardized tests as 50 percent of the score. A trial is scheduled for April.

In an emailed statement, PED spokesman Robert McEntyre said that the unions have “realized there’s no evidence to justify an injunction and have significantly retreated.”

“Sadly, the union’s ‘Plan B’ is to have the court prohibit schools from implementing professional development plans for struggling teachers, which makes no sense and wouldn’t benefit our teachers or students,” he wrote.

Ly said that AFT made the change on the injunction because PED’s legal counsel brought up possible risk to New Mexico’s waiver on certain No Child Left Behind provisions if the state drops its “value-added” system. Washington lost its waiver after failing to set up a teacher evaluation process that meets U.S. Department of Education standards.

Ly said the union disagrees with PED’s stance on the loss of the waiver but doesn’t want any questions about NCLB to impact the injunction.

Other states have similarly stopped tying negative consequences to teacher evaluations without violating the waiver’s requirements, she said.

The union president stressed that AFT is still targeting the aspects of evaluations that have the potential to harm teachers.

“It is not a reduction (of demands),” Ly said. “We heard that they (PED) are concerned about the waiver, so what can we do? We can take away the consequences – that’s what’s important. At the end of the day, that’s what we were asking for in the beginning.”

During closing arguments Thursday, PED’s attorney Jeffrey Wechsler said that the “value-added” evaluations have not harmed the state’s teachers because they have not caused firings, salary reductions or the loss of teacher licenses.

Roswell Independent School District Superintendent Tom Burris and El Camino Real Academy executive director Paym Greene testified for the defense that they view growth plans as a means for teachers to improve and not a punitive action.

Judge David Thomson is expected to rule on the injunction by early November.

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