Trial over teacher evaluations postponed for six months

A union lawsuit challenging the Public Education Department’s teacher evaluation system will not go to trial until October, six months later than originally scheduled.

On Monday, 1st Judicial District Judge David Thomson in Santa Fe backed PED’s request to delay the April 11 trial, rescheduling it for Oct. 24. The new date will give PED time to streamline its evaluation process – changes announced in late January that still have to go through necessary steps including public forums and publication.

A partial preliminary injunction restricting use of the evaluation system, granted in December, remains in place. The plaintiffs include the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico; its local affiliate, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation; five state lawmakers and seven teachers.

The injunction prevents PED from using the evaluations to make decisions on employment, advancement and licensure until trial.

“The immediate harm is still being prevented because of that injunction,” AFT New Mexico spokesman John Dyrcz told the Journal .

Thomson cited confusion about the evaluation system as a reason for granting the injunction, which PED is addressing by streamlining.

In a prepared statement, PED spokesman Robert McEntyre touted the simplification as “a win for New Mexico’s teachers and students.”

PED is making changes such as reducing the number of tests it will consider to calculate teachers’ scores and releasing evaluations in the fall, rather than the spring, to give feedback early in the school year.

AFT New Mexico president Stephanie Ly and ATF president Ellen Bernstein called the effort “a desperate attempt to right a sinking ship.”

“New Mexico educators will not cease in our fight against the abusive policies of this administration,” they said in a joint statement.

At the heart of the lawsuit is a debate about the validity of standardized tests like the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PED’s “value-added” teacher evaluation model uses student test results as half of the total, while the other half is made up of measures such as classroom observations, attendance and student surveys.

AFT says the evaluations aren’t fair for a number of reasons, including the argument that an individual teacher has minimal influence over student test scores.

PED counters that it is creating accountability by replacing a system that rated nearly every educator as “effective.”

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