Judge Stifles Move To Block New Mexico Teacher Evaluation System

An attempt to turn back a controversial new teacher evaluation system in New Mexico has been rejected by an Albaquerque District Court Judge. Judge C. Shannon Bacon upheld the New Mexico Public Education Department's right to develop and implement an evaluation program through executive force. The move is a major setback for the many educators who are fighting against the new rule, writes The New Mexican's Robert Nott.

The program, put forward by Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, would assess teacher performance based on three years of student test scores (at a 50% weight), classroom observation, attendance, and other factors. Skandera's agency has also allowed some districts to build their own assessment plans, though they have hewed closely to the state design.

Opposition to the new system includes the American Federation of Teachers and state legislators.

Stephanie Ly, president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, said the organization has not yet made a decision to appeal the judge's verdict, but it will meet soon to discuss that option. "It's important to know that this judgment doesn't say the evaluation system is flawed, but we believe it is flawed, and we owe it to taxpayers, students, educators and communities, to continue fighting for what is best," she said Sunday.

Prior to Skandera's reforms, teachers were evaluated at a level of meeting competency or not meeting competency. The new plan has expanded the metrics to include exemplary, highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective. Opponents also disagree with the system allowing non-principals to conduct classroom observations, and that charter schools are exempt from the program.

Though attempts were made to pass legislation backing the Public Education Department's evaluation plan, no such law was ever passed. The program ultimately being implemented through an executive order by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. Although that executive order has now been upheld, opponents of the program still see deeper issues.

Ellen Bernstein, head of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, which represents about 7,000 educators, is one of the plaintiffs in the case. She said by phone Sunday, "Obviously educators statewide are going to be incredibly disappointed. It seems like the judge focused solely on the authority of the PED to make rules and not whether the rules conflicted with the law, which is what our contention is. We are going to keep fighting. This is an ill-conceived, poorly implemented, punishing system that does not truly evaluation a teacher's ability to teach."

Although the fight against the new standards may not be over, their implementation continues for 22,000 New Mexico teachers.

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