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Mixed bag for RRPS teachers after new evals

Rio Rancho Public Schools teachers continue to perform better than statewide averages, but slid slightly in some areas compared to last year, according to the latest round of evaluations.

The newest data, released Friday by the New Mexico Public Education Department, classified 41.4 percent of RRPS teachers as “highly effective” or “exemplary,” versus 28.6 percent across the state. Only 2.1 percent of the district’s teachers were rated “ineffective,” less than half the 5.4 percent New Mexico average.

“Overall, the data reflects the high quality of teachers that we have in Rio Rancho Public Schools,” said district spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass. “We are appreciative of their service and dedication to igniting student potential. We will continue to analyze the data to determine ways in which we can better support our teachers and students.”

But, a year ago, RRPS’ evaluations were even stronger.

In 2015, 42.2 percent of the district’s teachers were rated “highly effective” or “exemplary” and less than 1 percent were “ineffective.”

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

Overall, 82.4 percent of RRPS teachers reached “effective,” compared to 71.3 percent across New Mexico.

Statewide, there is growth on both ends of the scale.

Almost 4 percent of teachers were “exemplary” this year, up from 1.5 percent in 2014. The percentage of “ineffective” teachers went from 2.2 percent in 2014 to 5.4 percent in the latest numbers.

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 added. “You get really good feedback.”

The state’s two teachers unions – the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico and the National Education Association-New Mexico – argue that PED’s system is fundamentally unfair because it weighs standardized test 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.

Both organizations have sued the state to stop the evaluations and, last December, AFT 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 career length.

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

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 were considered “effective.”

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

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