The New Mexico Public Education Department is revamping its controversial teacher evaluation system, reducing the weight of student test results from 50 percent to 35 percent and doubling the number of sick days available without penalty.
Under the plan announced Sunday by Gov. Susana Martinez and Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, classroom observations and test score growth will have equal importance – 35 percent. Teachers will also be able to take six sick days, rather than three, before it impacts the attendance portion of their evaluations.
The new system is based on recommendations from Teach Plus New Mexico Policy Fellows, a group of 15 educators from around the state. Last fall, Teach Plus polled over 1,000 New Mexico teachers and translated the results into evaluation policy recommendations.
“Our teachers have spoken and we have listened, and we will continue to listen,” Martinez said, during a press conference at the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science, a public charter school on the University of New Mexico campus. “These changes are for teachers and by teachers, and I know they’ll help build on the success we’re seeing in the classroom.”
The new weighting will be used for the next round of evaluations, which will be sent to teachers in August and September.
Hope Morales, a Teach Plus fellow and teacher at Military Heights Elementary in Roswell, stressed that the members of the Teach Plus group had different opinions on the evaluation system and worked together to come up with a good compromise.
Their ultimate recommendation still holds teachers accountable while listening to their concerns, Morales said.
But union leaders said they felt “disappointed,” arguing that attendance and test scores should have no place in the evaluation system, which was introduced in 2013.
Stephanie Ly, American Federation of Teachers New Mexico president, told the Journal on Sunday that high-performing states do not use either in their evaluations.
In an emailed statement, Charles Bowyer, National Education Association New Mexico Executive Director said PED should find statistically valid ways to measure teachers.
“We find it ironic that after years of saying 50 percent of a teacher evaluation must be based on student achievement, based mostly on test scores, that, suddenly, without any empirical evidence whatsoever, that number can suddenly magically be lowered to 35 percent!” he said.
Bowyer called the boost in sick days “a small improvement to a seriously flawed concept.”
One teacher in attendance echoed that view.
Joy Garratt, a Painted Sky Elementary School instructional coach, said she has never seen teachers abuse their sick days. Many need all 10 days offered in their contracts to handle family emergencies or serious illness, Garratt said.
A few of her colleagues are caring for premature babies and have already gone past six sick days.
Legislators this year passed a bill nicknamed “Teachers Are Human Too” which would have given educators 10 sick days, but it was vetoed by the governor and an override effort failed in the House.
Garratt also criticized PED for holding the press conference on a Sunday with little notice.
“I wish they had had this in a more public setting,” she said. “There needs to be transparency.”
But, Maureen Torrez, a La Mesa Elementary instructional coach, characterized the changes as a win that will boost teacher morale.
“Teachers’ voices were considered – it’s good PR for PED,” she said. “There has been a lot of negativity about them.”