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Number of effective teachers keeps dropping

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s good news and bad news for New Mexico teachers in the latest round of evaluations from the Public Education Department.

Overall, the percentage of highly effective and exemplary teachers is up, but so is the percentage of ineffective and minimally effective.

And the number of teachers who reached effective or better has dropped steadily since 2014, when PED launched its teacher evaluation system.

This year, 71.3 percent hit that bar, down from 73.8 percent in 2015 and 78.2 percent in 2014.

Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera said she feels that teachers who use their evaluations to improve have seen good results, while those who don’t are falling behind.

“This is incredible information for the teacher,” she said. “You get really good feedback.”

The controversial evaluation system weighs standardized test scores as half the total in most cases. The rest is based on classroom observation and measures such as professionalism, parent and student surveys and teacher attendance. Teachers are classified as “ineffective,” “minimally effective,” “effective,” “highly effective” or “exemplary.”

Skandera highlighted progress in the “exemplary” category – 3.8 percent of teachers were in that group this year, compared with 1.5 percent in 2015.

On the other end of the scale, the percentage of ineffective teachers has seen similar growth, going from 2.2 percent in 2014 to 5.4 percent in the latest numbers.

Albuquerque Public Schools saw a similar pattern.

Just over 3 percent of its teachers were in the top category, up from 2.4 percent a year ago. At the same time, 5.4 percent were ineffective versus 4.9 percent a year ago.

“We are still looking at the numbers, but what we can see so far is that more APS teachers were rated exemplary this year than were rated exemplary last year,” Superintendent Raquel Reedy said through a district spokesman.

In total, 68.1 percent of APS teachers were “effective” or better this year compared with 72.1 percent in 2015 and 82.3 percent in 2014.

The state’s two teachers unions – the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico and National Education Association-New Mexico – argue that PED’s system is fundamentally unfair because it so heavily weighs standardized assessment results, an approach known as the value-added model.

Individual teachers don’t have much power over student test scores, the unions say, and, as a result, their evaluations can vary from year to year.

AFT-NM President Stephanie Ly called the evaluations “meaningless for educators.”

“Secretary Skandera is solely responsible for the sustained destruction of New Mexico’s public schools under her watch,” Ly said in an emailed statement. “Her blithe indifference to the consequences of her actions is immoral and the harm she has caused will take years to repair.”

Both unions have sued the state to try to stop the evaluations, and last December, AFT-NM won an injunction that blocks PED from using the results to make employment, advancement and licensure decisions.

State District Judge David Thomson’s ruling noted that the evaluation system is “not easily understood, translated or made accessible,” which led PED to simplify the formula.

Now, only three types of test scores are used in the calculation: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, end-of-course exams and the Istation literacy test.

PED also altered the way it classifies teachers, dropping from 107 options to three. Previously, the system incorporated many combinations of criteria such as a teacher’s years in the classroom and the type of standardized test they administer, while the three new categories are just tied to length of career.

Evaluations are also released in the fall rather than the spring to incorporate the newest data from PARCC.

Since the new evaluation process began three years ago, teacher attendance has risen substantially, though it dropped slightly compared with last year. Overall, teachers are in the classroom much more than in 2012, adding up to 55,000 fewer days with substitutes during the past four years.

Skandera said New Mexico still has a lot of work to do, but the evaluations provide valuable guidance that will help teachers raise the bar.

Under the old evaluation system, 99 percent of teachers met standards, according to PED.

“Like any other profession, we have some struggling teachers,” Skandera said. “When we see teachers using this as a tool, they are closing gaps.”