Teachers Wary Of New Evaluation System in New Mexico

In New Mexico, teachers are standing in opposition to a new teacher evaluation system proposed by Hanna Skandera, the state's education secretary-designate. Ms. Skandera was appointed in 2011 by the state's Republican governor Susana Martinez.

The teacher evaluation system is designed to improve student achievement in the state, but teachers say the new system leans too heavily on standardized tests. In November 2013, teachers protested the new evaluation system by wearing black clothing and holding rallies across the state, writes Dan Frosch of The New York Times.

Ms. Skandera, a track athlete in college who held education policy posts under Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, did not receive a confirmation vote from Democratic lawmakers on her appointment, a sign that she is not fully supported.

The Democratic-controlled Statehouse rejected a bill backed by Ms. Skandera that would have created the evaluation system she wanted. After the refusal, Ms. Skandera decided to use her authority to install it this year.

Ms. Skandera insists that increasing teacher accountability is the best way to help New Mexico's struggling students. She quoted statistics supporting her position.

As with other evaluation methods put in place around the country which have drawn the ire of teachers, New Mexico uses mainly standardized tests and classroom observations to measure a teacher's effectiveness.

According to Ms. Skandera's critics, too much weight is given to the standardized component, which counts for up to 50% of a teacher's rating. This component requires teachers to spend considerable time preparing students for tests.

"This is a train wreck," said Stephanie Ly, the president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, which filed two unsuccessful lawsuits to block the evaluations. "It's set up for our students and teachers to fail."

In her defense, Ms. Skandera puts forth that the state was obligated to use the evaluations as part of a waiver on requirements in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that was granted by the Obama administration.

"We'll get a rich picture of student achievement over time," Ms. Skandera said, noting that a student's growth would be measured over three years.

However, educators say Ms. Skandera has ignored other valid ways to judge teachers. Kathy Korte, a member of the Albuquerque school board, said Ms. Skandera had declined to consider giving more weight to classroom observations.

Ms. Korte said that many ideas were rejected by Ms. Skandera, including gradual implementation of the new system. The districts were already burdened with new Common Core standards for math and English.

The criticism has become personal. The superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools Winston Brooks was suspended last month for three days because he posted comments on Twitter likening Ms. Skandera to farm animals.

Recently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released reading and math scores. Students in fourth and eighth grades in Tennessee and Washington, D.C., which started using evaluation systems emphasizing standardized tests, showed marked improvement since 2011.

However, students in fourth and eighth grades in New Mexico showed no significant progress and ranked near the bottom.

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