We agree with the concept of evaluating schools of education based on the performance of their graduates in the classroom, which Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed as part of a larger plan to bring more accountability to the state education system.
But, we don't believe these reforms should be rushed or forced.
Martinez and Education Secretary Hanna Skandera were in Las Cruces last week to unveil the framework for a new ranking system for the state's six colleges of education. The exact system will be released at the end of the year.
We hope it's easier to understand than the state's A-through-F grading system for schools, which is so complex that Paul Aguilar of the Public Education Department told legislators that no more than five people in the state understood it. A team of physicists, mathematicians and scientists in Los Alamos tried to decipher it, with little success.
Teachers are worried that these rankings, like others implemented under Skandera, will be heavily tied to standardized test scores. The argument against tying evaluations to testing is that a student's success on those tests often depends on factors that are beyond the teacher's control.
The rankings will also include classroom observation; how many alumni teach science, technology, engineering or math; how they progress in their careers; how long they stay teachers; and how many pass the state licensure exam.
Skandera also said last week that she was going full-steam ahead with plans to tie teacher evaluations to test scores aligned with the new Common Core curriculum, even after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which bankrolled the new standards, urged states to move slowly.
"The Gates Foundation agrees with those who've decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years, during this transition," the foundation said in a press release.
States like Colorado, Kentucky and Maryland are giving teachers time to adjust to the new standards before using them as the basis for such evaluations.
The Albuquerque Journal reported last week that school districts throughout the state reported problems with the new teacher evaluation system. In Las Cruces, that included teachers placed at the wrong schools or evaluations that were missing information from student surveys. Some teachers received no evaluation at all. The Truth or Consequence school district reported that 40 percent of its teachers had problems with the evaluations.
We believe standards should be increased. Past evaluations that Skandera said found 99 percent of teachers to be effective were clearly insufficient. We also support the decision to toughen the New Mexico Teacher Assessment — Basic Skills Exam, which Skandera said is now at the eighth-grade level.
We should evaluate the performance of both our teachers and the universities that prepare them. But it is critical that we ensure the evaluations are fair and accurate.