After New Evaluations, Teacher Absences Down in New Mexico


The Public Education Department in New Mexico has announced that the state's schools have seen a rise in overall teacher attendance, which state officials believe is the result of a new evaluation system.

State data showed that 32% of teachers who held an "exemplary" attendance record missed fewer than two days of work. In addition, students were found to have had 18,000 additional hours of instruction at the hands of a licensed teacher rather than from a substitute.

Teacher absences at Albuquerque Public Schools, the largest district in the state, were found to have fallen by 15% between the first half of last year and the first half of this school year, writes Russell Contreras for The Santa Fe New Mexican.

According to Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, attendance is now factored into teachers' evaluations, and as such becomes a motivating factor to keep teachers in the classroom. "As a general rule, a lot more learning is happening when your teacher is in the classroom versus a sub," Skandera said.

Not everyone is happy about the change, though. Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association-New Mexico, argued that many teachers in the state are feeling pressured to come to work even when they are sick. "Yes, attendance is up. But at what cost?" Patterson said. "How are they going to be effective if they are sick?"

Critics of the new evaluation system say teachers who take medical or family leave are then penalized on their evaluations. However, Skandera maintains that any sort of punishment those teachers faced were a result of confusion on the part of the individual district, not the state. "I was on the phone for over an hour with a teacher who had cancer," Skandera said. "She said it wasn't fair. I said, ‘You are right.' "

State officials are currently working with districts to aid in the creation of evaluation systems under which things such as family or medical leave are not counted against teachers.

The new system allows districts and charter schools to create their own evaluation plans for their teachers. However, student achievement must account for 50% of the total evaluation if there are three years' worth of available student testing data on a teacher's record. Other than classroom observations, schools can also make use of surveys or attendance for the remainder of the evaluations.

Previously, a pass-fail approach was used based on classroom observations made. Less than 1% of teachers failed to meet the standards under that system.

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