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Editorial: Teacher evals have evolved but tired criticisms of them have not

The predictable sturm und drang surrounding the most recent New Mexico Public Education Department teacher evaluations misses/mischaracterizes several points:

• The evaluations have been simplified so teachers are evaluated only on their own students.

• The evaluations consider only student improvement, not proficiency.

• The evaluations only rate teachers’ effect on their students over a school year compared to how like students did – students of the same income, English language ability, etc.

• Classroom observations by fellow educators and educational leaders follow student test results on the higher end of rankings – the statewide test score data ranks 17.9 percent of teachers as highly effective and 2.9 percent as exemplary; observations rank 17.8 percent highly effective and 2.4 percent exemplary.

• The evaluations use up to three years of rolling standardized test and final exam data to show a student’s individual trajectory.

• The evaluation grades use student achievement for, at most, 50 percent of the calculation, though PED Secretary Hanna Skandera should consider reducing that number administratively and the Legislature ought to consider codifying it.

• Less than half of the state’s teachers are at the full 50 percent of their grade based on student test scores.

• Classroom observations account for at least 40 percent of an evaluation and can account for 90 percent.

• Statewide teacher attendance is up now that it affects evaluations – there have been 55,000 fewer substitute-teacher days since 2012. That’s 55,000 more class days with the teacher who is trained and licensed to teach that grade/subject. And this year’s evaluations do not factor in attendance until a teacher has four or more absences not excused by their district.

• The evaluations now contain the most recent test data so there is no lag time.

In the past year NMPED has simplified the metrics that go into the evaluations to make them more uniform, yet the usual critics, such as the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico and National Education Association-New Mexico, continue to claim the evaluations are fundamentally unfair because individual teachers don’t have much power over student test scores.

And that begs the questions of who is trying to improve the system for New Mexico’s students and who is trying to preserve the status quo, and if a teacher has no power over a child’s academic improvement, then who does?

And it conveniently ignores the fact 18 schools with low-income minority student populations improved those kids’ academic performance so much that they improved their school standings three full letter grades. That’s real power.

Employees in the real world are routinely evaluated so that they can be made aware of their strengths and weaknesses, so that they can capitalize on the former and work to improve on the latter. Teachers should be no different, and three years of teacher evaluations show those who take advantage of mentoring programs improve. In fact, eight schools in four districts that are participating in these programs almost doubled their highly effective and exemplary teachers.

As for the most recent numbers that show 71.3 percent of the state’s teachers are effective or better, with 28.7 percent minimally effective or ineffective, they mirror every other workplace in America. And that makes it fundamentally unfair, to quote the unions, not to give those lower-performing teachers the help they require to become the educators the state’s children need.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.