SANTA FE – In a win for teachers unions, the House Education Committee did not advance a bill Saturday that would have made student test scores the main component of teacher evaluations by law.
While House Bill 350 would have dropped the weight of test results from 50 percent to 40 percent of the evaluation, both of New Mexico’s teachers unions argue that the scores have no place in the evaluation system at all. The bill failed to advance on a 6-6 vote along party lines.
The committee did back a second proposal, House Bill 241, which allows educators to use sick leave without impacting their evaluations.
The votes came after three and a half hours of emotional testimony from more than 40 teachers, superintendents and leaders of various education organizations.
Most of them spoke against the current evaluation system, calling its heavy reliance on standardized test scores demoralizing, unfair, punitive and condescending. They argued for evaluations based on classroom observations instead, a position backed by the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.
New Mexico’s Public Education Department crafted the teacher evaluation system in 2012 by administrative rule and has the power to adjust the components without approval from the Legislature.
In late January, state Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said she wants to change the formula so test scores make up 40 percent of the evaluations and classroom observations are 35 percent.
Now that HB 350 – sponsored by Reps. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque and David Gallegos, R-Eunice – is effectively dead, it is not clear if she will take that step on her own.
Another wrinkle is HB 241, also known as the “Teachers Are Humans Too” bill, sponsored by Reps. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, and Dennis Roch, R-Logan.
HB 241 grants teachers up to 10 sick days and all personal days with no penalties on their evaluations. It passed the House Education Committee in a 9-2 vote and advances to the House floor.
Currently, attendance makes up 5 percent of teachers evaluations – 10 points out of 200 – a small enough portion that a teacher could lose all the points and still reach the top tier, “exemplary.”
Under PED’s rules, teachers can take three sick days but begin to receive penalties on the fourth day, though those who are on formal leave are not impacted.
PED reports that the attendance incentive has helped districts save $3.6 million on substitutes in the past year and increased teacher time in the classroom by 400,000 hours, but Harper has said that comes at a cost.
He told the Journal he has seen his children’s teachers come to school sick out of fear that they will hurt their evaluations.
During the public comment period on Saturday, a number of teachers said they have worked with the flu and other illnesses.
One pointed to a brace on her leg and said she had a recent car accident, but did not take much time off to heal.
The attendance points are just one facet of an unfair evaluation system that is driving away good educators, she said.
Some teachers spoke in favor the evaluations and their use of student test score growth, also known as the Value-Added Model, saying they feel the information helps them improve.
The previous system was highly subjective, the supporters said, because it relied on administrators’ classroom observations.
Currently, PED ranks teachers in five categories – ineffective, minimally effective, effective, highly effective and exemplary. Nearly all fall into the middle three designations.