New Mexico Continues to Struggle with Value-Added Evaluations

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

New Mexico has completed its third year of using its controversial teacher evaluations, and the results found that more than 70% of the state’s over 21,000 educators received a rating of “effective” or better. The numbers are down from last year’s roughly 74% and the 73% who scored the same in the 2013-2014 evaluation, according to Robert Nott, writing for The Santa Fe-New Mexican.

State Public Education Department (PED) statistics show that the drop in the number of “effective” teachers could be due to higher numbers of teacher absences. But in Santa Fe, 67.6% of teachers scored at the effective level or better. This rating was an increase from last year’s 66.7% and the 67% rating in 2014. The Santa Fe district does not include teacher absences in its process of rating teachers, said Superintendent Veronica García.

Critics, union members, and lawmakers are largely not in favor of these types of teacher evaluations. Lawsuits have been brought against the PED seeking to stop the reports that some say are unfair to educators. One criticism is that the assessments rate a teacher’s performance by relying too much on students’ scores on high-stakes standardized exams. Gov. Susana Martinez began this system after state lawmakers refused to adopt it.

The first significant complaint is that three years of scores are used in the process even for the teachers who have just been hired, which determine 50% of a teacher’s rating. Public Education Cabinet Secretary Hanna Skandera changed the methodology after the release of last year’s evaluations. She did away with test scores as a portion of first-year teachers’evaluations in 2015-2016. She also altered the importance of students’ test scores for teachers with only a year or two of experience.

Skandera also applauded the rise in the number of teachers who were rated “highly effective” or “exemplary” in the state.

The Albuquerque Journal’s Kim Burgess reports that Skandera noted that teachers who use their ratings to improve their knowledge and skills would have improved results in the classroom, but those who do not will continue to fall further and further behind. The classifications are “ineffective,” “minimally effective,” “effective,” “highly effective,” or “exemplary.”

American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico and the National Education Association-New Mexico argue that PED’s system is unjust because it so heavily relies on standardized test results, which is known as the value-added model. Teachers have little power over students’ test scores, they claim, and because of this, teachers’ ratings can rise and fall from one year to the next.

AFT-NM President Stephanie Ly said:

“Secretary Skandera is solely responsible for the sustained destruction of New Mexico’s public schools under her watch, Her blithe indifference to the consequences of her actions is immoral and the harm she has caused will take years to repair.”

Both unions have tried to eliminate the evaluations, and last year AFT-NM won an injunction that barred PED from using the test scores to make job, promotion, and licensure determinations. State District Judge David Thomson said the evaluation formula was “not easily understood, translated or made accessible.”

Now the only test scores used are the Istation literacy test, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and end-of-course examinations.

The National Education Association of New Mexico Charles Bowyer pointed out that Massachusetts and Delaware allow learning goals to be set by teachers and pupils. The measure of a student’s travel toward this goal is a much better measurement of how well a teacher is doing in the classroom, Bowyer says.

The Associated Press reports that Skandera said student achievement numbers are improving in the state, as are school grades. Both of these measures signal that New Mexico’s education system is advancing.

The evaluations are based on three areas: teacher attendance, student and parent surveys, and student achievement, reports Damien Willis for the Las Cruces Sun-News.

“We all know teachers are the most important factor for our students’ success in the classroom, and every student deserves the best teacher possible,” Skandera said. “Every profession is evaluated, and public education is no different. Teachers deserve the opportunity and tools to help our struggling students learn.”