San Juan County educators discuss positives, negatives of teacher evaluation system
AZTEC — Teachers around San Juan County are still struggling to comprehend parts of the state teacher evaluation system and some have concerns about how it is affecting their livelihood.
The second year of NMTEACH educator evaluation and support system results were released in May by the New Mexico Public Education Department.
The system produces a teacher's rating on a five-point scale using a variety of sources including observations by district staff members, teacher attendance, parent or student surveys and student assessment scores to determine a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom.
County educators said they had concerns about the weight of students' standardized test scores but liked what they say are improvements in the "Observation" component.
Patti Shaffer — who was teaching English at Koogler Middle School in Aztec late last month when first interviewed for this story — was struggling to decide whether to continue teaching after dropping two ranks from "Highly Effective" to "Minimally Effective" in a year.
"It leaves you speechless, I'm truly speechless," Shaffer last month after learning of her latest scores.
Shaffer said she recently changed jobs, becoming a fourth-grade teacher at Country Club Elementary School in Farmington, with the hope that the new situation will provide a fairer evaluation of her performance.
"I still love what I do. I don't want to quit yet," Shaffer said on Friday. "I thought this was the best option to make sure I have different demographics on my evaluation."
Since 2011, Shaffer has raised about $80,000 in grants for her classroom and the middle school. And she received $12,000 for taking second place nationally in Voya Financial's "Unsung Heroes" awards competition last year.
Shaffer has been teaching for about 30 years and received a Masters of Education in Education Technology Leadership in May from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
She was prepared to move up from a Level 2 teacher to a Level 3 teacher and earn a nearly $10,000 salary increase.
But when teachers are rated Minimally Effective or Ineffective, they are placed on a growth plan and are ineligible to advance in the teacher licensure system until they are rated Effective or higher.
"It's just a slap in the face by (state education secretary Hanna) Skandera and anybody that supports her," Shaffer said. Skandera instituted the NMTEACH system statewide.
Shaffer's score dropped 51.53 points from the 162.58 she received last year to 111.05 this year.
Shaffer is trying to make sense of her Student Achievement score, which accounts for as much as 50 percent of her total.
She said she didn't understand how the school staff could develop a professional growth plan for her when the calculations used to measure Student Achievement are secret and cannot be reproduced without help from the state education department.
It uses a complex formula to calculate a student's assessment score from three years of New Mexico Standards Based Assessment and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, exam scores and, depending on the district, end-of-course exams, along with other alternative measures of student achievement.
Students who have not taken the required state- or district-level assessments are disqualified from being used on a teacher's evaluation report.
She earned 15.65 points out of 85 possible points or about 18.4 percent for the Student Achievement component this year.
The score she received last year was 2.64 points out of 35 possible points or about 7.5 percent in Student Achievement.
But the percentage of Shaffer's report based on the Student Achievement component increased from 17.5 percent last year to 42.5 percent this year. Shaffer believes that's because she had more students who qualified to be counted in this year's evaluation.
Shaffer performed much better on other components of the teacher evaluation report over the last two years.
In the Observation component, Shaffer earned 49.4 points out of 65 possible points or about 76 percent.
In last year's score for the Observation component, she earned 98.67 points out of 100 possible points or 98.67 percent.
Under the "Multiple Measures" component, she earned 46 points out of 50 or 92 percent this year. Shaffer's score last year was 61.28 points out of 65 or 94.28 percent.
Individual scores within the Observation and Multiple Measures components are rated on the same scale as a teacher's ranking — ineffective, minimally effective, effective, highly effective and exemplary.
All of Shaffer's individual scores were highly effective or exemplary except for two areas where scores are missing. Shaffer thinks those missing scores might have been caused by a glitch in the system.
"I think it's bad for the students when experienced, good teachers are getting this rating," Shaffer said. "I know what I am, I'm an outstanding teacher. Nobody has to tell me that and I know I am not this (rating)."
Asking for Changes
State education department spokesman Robert McEntyre said the department is actively working across the state to support and retain teachers like Shaffer, who have decades of experience and are struggling with the teacher evaluation system.
McEntyre said Matt Montaño, state education Director of Educator Quality, has been traveling across the state conducting NMTEACH training so districts have a better and deeper understanding of the evaluation system.
"We really think this is about creating better teachers," McEntyre said. "At the end of the day, it's about our kids and these tools provide critical feedback."
Aztec superintendent Kirk Carpenter said Shaffer is a great teacher and was one of two district teachers awarded the Student Achievement Award presented by the Aztec Board of Education members.
"She is the type of teacher that you would want your son or daughter to have, because you would know that they would be getting a quality education while in her classroom," Carpenter said.
Carpenter said he believes too much emphasis is being placed on student achievement.
"We need to value more what our leaders are seeing in the classroom versus what prior performance, from previous years says," Carpenter wrote in an email. "It has a place but not for more than observations and all other components of a teacher's evaluation."
He recently drafted a letter on behalf of the New Mexico School Superintendents Association to Skandera asking her to consider changing the percentages used in the system.
The letter suggested decreasing Student Achievement 15 percentage points to 35 percent, increasing Observation 20 percentage points to 45 percent and decreasing Multiple Measures 5 percentage points to 20 percent.
"All the superintendents in the state were polled and 90 percent were in favor of changing the percentages, but today those percentages remain the same," Carpenter said.
While questions are being raised about the Student Achievement component, Carpenter along with area teachers and principals embraced the Observation component.
Cindy Colomb, a seventh-grade science teacher at Hermosa Middle School in Farmington, said she has enjoyed how the observation portion of the teacher evaluation system was changed to be more specific.
Trained staff visit a teacher's classroom about two to three times a year to observe a lesson taught and evaluate the teacher's performance. Colomb saw her rating improve from Effective to Highly Effective this year.
"I like the way the principals are having to come and observe us with a lot more (specific) criteria of what they are looking (for)," Colomb said. "I like that much better because I know where my weaknesses in a lesson are and where my strengths are."
Colomb learned from her observations that she did not review and close a lesson she was teaching during that class period.
"It made me focus on that," Colomb said.
Colomb performed better on that area in this year's report than last year's report.
The observation component has made Colomb more consciousness of what is going on inside her classroom and helped her improve her planning skills, she said.
Bloomfield High School principal Cody Diehl said the school still runs into unanswered questions about the system but believes it has improved relations with teachers as they discuss improving instruction and student learning.
"It's hard to have confidence in the overall system but I have lot of confidence in the evaluation system of (Observation and Multiple Measures) that has improved exponentially ... the feedback we can offer teachers," Diehl said.
Hermosa Principal Mark Harris said the old teacher evaluation system — the Adequate Yearly Progress system used as part of the No Child Left Behind Act — was very vague, ranking teachers as satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
"Now we have a rubric and different domains that we can look at," Harris said. "Specifically how they are preparing for class, what the content of their teaching is, and how they are giving feedback, and the methods they are using as a teacher."