The state Public Education Department said Monday that it wants to reduce the weight of student growth in teacher evaluations from 50 percent to 40 percent, cut the hours of student testing and increase the number of exempt days for teachers in the attendance component of their evaluations from three to five days.
Those changes – which are aimed at some of the most controversial public education issues in recent years – eventually would be incorporated into the state plan for Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind, Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said during a conference call with reporters Monday.
The measures, some of which are being proposed through legislation, were formulated after a fall listening tour in which Skandera and PED administrators visited 10 cities, 21 schools and hundreds of parents, teachers and community leaders around New Mexico.
But Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, and Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association, New Mexico, were unimpressed and said the teacher evaluation system remains flawed and unfair.
Bernstein said that standardized student scores should not be a factor in teacher evaluations.
Among the measures planned by Skandera:
• PED is proposing legislation during the current session that would reduce the maximum weight of student growth in teacher evaluations while increasing the weight of principal observations. As part of the proposed legislation, PED also would increase the number of exempt days in the NMTEACH attendance component. Student growth and attendance measures used in teacher evaluations are imposed by PED rule, not mandated by state law.
• PED will reduce the amount of time earmarked for testing under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, by 2018. The amount of that reduction has not yet been determined. Skandera noted that from 2015 to 2016, PARCC testing was reduced on average by 90 minutes per grade.
She also said PED replaced the early childhood literacy assessment earlier this year with a new computer-based interim assessment for kindergarten through third grade, noting “many teachers have reported savings of several hours with this assessment.”
• PED will ask the Legislature for “targeted investments” for teachers, including debit cards so they can buy classroom supplies and stipends for teacher mentorship programs.
Skandera said late last year PED launched new teacher leadership opportunities. They included the statewide Teacher Leader Network, to encourage better communication with and among teachers, and the New Mexico Dream Team, which brings together teachers from across the state to collaborate on classroom literacy tools.
Further, she said, PED is planning to host the second annual New Mexico Teacher Summit in June, which is intended to offer more resources, professional development and teacher collaborations.
PED will continue to evaluate feedback from the public meetings and will incorporate other measures into a draft state plan for Every Student Succeeds Act later this winter, Skandera said. The plan will be posted for public comment for 30 days prior to the final submission in the spring to the U.S. Department of Education.
Skandera said the changes came out of a statewide “listening tour.”
ATF president Bernstein said “not a single teacher believes she (Skandera) has been listening, at least not based on trying to get an unfair system into law – again. If she really wanted to get credit from teachers for listening, she would have had to start three years ago.”
As for reducing the weight of student growth in teacher evaluations from 50 percent to 40 percent, “that’s still more than most states, but that’s not even the point,” Bernstein said. “The point is that both practice and research have concluded tying student scores to teacher evaluations does not work. The science and math behind it doesn’t pan out and you can’t get consistent ratings on a teacher’s ability to teach. Fifty percent or 40 percent – it’s still junk math.”
NEA-NM executive director Bowyer said in a statement: “The secretary wants top down centralized control of teacher evaluation. We believe in local control and want decisions made by those closest to the issues. We do not support putting this unfair system in statute, which would make changes much more difficult.”
Betty Patterson, NEA-NM president, said the organization welcomed Skandera’s “willingness to move away from some of the worst aspects of the fundamentally flawed evaluation system.”
Nevertheless, she said in a statement, the “incremental changes” proposed will not make much difference to students, whose education is compromised daily from an “over emphasis” on testing; nor will it “reduce the voluminous paperwork the evaluation system requires teachers to focus on and taking time away from teaching itself.”