A preliminary injunction has been ordered by a New Mexico judge to bar schools temporarily from using the state's standardized tests for teacher evaluations because the system seems not to be objective and uniform as the law mandates.
The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports that the injunction means that, for now, teachers will not lose their licenses because of low ratings, nor can they receive wage increases on their merits.
Until Judge David K. Thomson of Santa Fe's district court hears and decides the full case that has been brought by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the injunction will remain in place. The argument is that the evaluation system is arbitrary and unfair and should be eliminated.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said this is a "decision that will resonate through communities across America."
"Judge Thomson recognized that New Mexico's teacher evaluation system is deeply flawed, and deprives students of the high-quality educators they deserve while also hurting and demoralizing teachers — the very people we rely on to help students," Weingarten said in a statement.
New Mexico is one of many states that have adopted complicated algorithms, "value-added" models, to decipher how much of what a student learns can be attributed to his or her teacher.
Thomson wrote last week that the theory appears to be well-grounded. But in practice, in his state the program has been full of errors in data, obfuscation, and other problems. He said that teachers seem to be bearing the weight of what appears to be a litmus test that is inconsistent and uneven in application.
Public Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre said nothing has changed and that the department will continue to evaluate teachers because it allows the DEP to praise highly effective teachers and to assist those who need support.
Another lawsuit is pending by the National Education Association-New Mexico and is scheduled to go to trial in April 2016.
Deborah Baker and Dan Boyd of the Albuquerque Journal report that the system uses student test scores on standardized tests to make up approximately 50% of a teacher's rating. The other factors considered are teacher attendance, classroom observation by principals, and student surveys.
Teachers are then put into one of five categories – exemplary, highly effective, effective, minimally effective, and ineffective. Approximately 93% of teachers evaluated earlier this year fell into one of the three middle ratings. Any teachers who fall into the two lowest designations are placed on professional development plans, which could change because of the temporary injunction.
The next teacher evaluations are to be released in May, which will be during or after the scheduled trial.
The system was instituted by state Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera in the 2013-2014 school year. The Santa Fe New Mexican's Chris Quintana writes that other lawsuits have been dismissed in the state Court of Appeals and the state District Court in Albuquerque.
Skandera declared the old system of evaluation flawed because 99% of teachers were labeled effective, but documents supporting this statement have not been produced.