New Mexico revamping teacher evaluations

Robert Nott
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Amy Lerma, center,  a Head Start teacher, asks questions about New Mexico teacher evaluations during a training given by the University of New Mexico's Center for Development and Disability, Thursday, August 2, 2018. Both Head Start and PreK teachers attended the training.

RIO RANCHO — Teaching veteran Jeff Tuttle said New Mexico could have done a much better job creating the complex and controversial evaluation system it used for public school educators from 2012-18. During the years that matrix was in place, his work was rated anywhere between Minimally Effective to Exemplary, giving the longtime Albuquerque elementary school teacher little real sense of how well he was actually doing.

Tuttle, a 28-year veteran and past Golden Apple Award recipient for excellent teaching, said the old approach was about as accurate as "throwing darts at a target in a closet."

Now, he and 45 other educators, administrators, parents and union leaders are working to formulate both an interim and permanent evaluation plan to replace the one that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham threw out with the stroke of a pen in January. The governor said at the time that she would put together a task force to come up with a new plan by the start of the school year.

During a weekend task force meeting in Rio Rancho, Tuttle said he thinks the results will make teachers better — which, in turn, he added, will make the students better, too.

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"I feel like the tone being set here for collaboration is making improving education a joint effort rather than a singular directive," he said Sunday while taking a break from a two-day workshop held to build a new system for the state's roughly 22,000 public education teachers.

"The biggest issue at play among us is: How do we help each other grow as professionals rather than just evaluate?" he said.

While the group tossed around ideas, reviewed the pros and cons of the old system and offered ideas for improving it, they did not hide their enthusiasm for the framework of the new plan. And none seemed daunted by time pressures: Given that school starts in most districts in the next week or two, they have less than a month to come up with an interim plan to buy them a year to build a stronger, more permanent system.

"While it may be difficult to create an interim plan on such short notice, I think it will also allows us to flush out punitive measures in the old plan and not repeat them," said Stephanie Ly, president of the state's American Federation of Teachers.

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Deputy Superintendent Gwen Perea Warniment said the Public Education Department prepared for the task force by sending representatives to 12 locales around the state earlier this year to solicit input from educators and administrators on how to improve the evaluation system. That input was included in a booklet given to task force members this weekend to help them move forward.

Many taking part in the weekend workshop said they will meet the tight deadline. One possible change, they said, is that more emphasis may be placed on principals' observations of classroom teaching practices. And more of those observations and coaching efforts may be targeted at new teachers to help them improve. Less emphasis may be placed on observing veteran educators.

Neither the interim or permanent plan will rely on that test data to rate educators after Lujan Grisham eliminated both the old teacher evaluation system and the state's use of PARCC exams to test student achievement levels.

Perea Warniment said the task force is looking to incorporate other methods of tracking student achievement growth to use in the permanent system a year down the line. For instance, a teacher could set goals for a student and be evaluated on how close that student came to meeting those goals over the course of a school year.

Nor will teacher attendance, another component of the old teacher evaluation system — and one that gained little support among teachers union representatives or educators — be part of any new plan, said Perea Warniment, a veteran educator.

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Martinez and her first public education secretary, Hanna Skandera, implemented the teacher evaluation system by executive rule after failing to win legislative support for it. While Martinez and Skandera argued their approach provided transparent accountability for schools and teachers, critics countered the system — and its heavy reliance on student test scores to measure teacher success — unfairly judged educators.

Edward Tabet-Cubero, executive director of the Learning Alliance of New Mexico, an education advocacy group, said teachers "want to be held accountable. They want to get feedback. They want opportunities to grow. So one of our biggest questions is, 'To grow to what, and how do we make that happen?'

"The biggest influence on student learning is what is happening with their teacher," he said. "So having an effective evaluation system will drive teachers to better serve students."

Perea Warniment told the assembly the task force needs to have an interim plan in place by the second week of September so the state can start training administrators and principals on it. The task force will then convene again on Sept. 28 to begin creating a permanent plan to go into effect in the autumn of 2020.

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