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Editorial: Revamped evals will serve teachers, students alike

The dialogue between education professionals and the state Public Education Department to improve teacher evaluations paid dividends over the weekend when officials announced two reasonable compromises. New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez said PED will reduce the emphasis it puts on student test results in the evaluation process and double the number of sick days teachers can take without negatively affecting their overall score. The change was prompted by recommendations from Teach Plus New Mexico Policy Fellows, a group of 15 educators from around the state who work with their national organization to improve public education policies and practices.

Under the plan announced Sunday, student test scores – which have constituted up to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score – will be reduced to 35 percent for almost all teachers. Teach Plus relied on research that shows weighting student scores at 33 to 50 percent is optimal. For the majority of teachers the change gives test scores equal standing with classroom observations. Teachers will also be able to take six sick days, rather than three, before it affects the attendance portion of their evaluations – 5 percent of the rating.

PED has said the old evaluation system was ineffective because it didn’t critically evaluate teachers, rating almost all as “effective” so they didn’t have information to improve. The current system, introduced in 2013, created new categories; the plan announced Sunday doesn’t change those, just the weighting of each. Teach Plus recommended it stay in place for at least five years for continuity. The new standards will be in the next round of evaluations this fall.

Hope Morales, a Roswell teacher who helped develop the changes, said opinions varied among her 14 Teach Plus colleagues, so the final recommendations represent a workable compromise. It’s refreshing to see that bull-headed partisanship, which cripples so many worthwhile efforts at all levels of government these days, took a back seat with this group and, as Morales noted, the compromises still hold teachers accountable while listening to their concerns.

But, speaking of bull-headed partisanship, teachers unions are blasting the compromises, still insisting student improvement on standardized tests should have absolutely zero impact on teacher evaluations, as well as ignoring the argument that having a trained teacher in the classroom as much as possible benefits students.

Cooler, fairer heads have prevailed, and the compromises reached, recommended and adopted will serve teachers and, more importantly, students well.

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.