April 2013 Column

 Teacher evaluations are a hot topic nationally. New Mexico is scheduled to implement a new system of teacher and principal evaluations in August based largely on how students score on state tests. Districts across the state have mixed emotions about the proposed change. There seems to be consensus that the current evaluation tool – one in which principals observe and evaluate teachers -  should be reassessed and modified to meet today’s standards. However, school boards across the state are grappling with the quick timeline and a lack of information. The latest teacher evaluation proposal sent by email on April 16 was still in draft form.
 Albuquerque Public Schools are applying to use an APS-created evaluation tool over the state model. Rio Rancho Public Schools has held several board meetings to discuss the possibility of taking legal action against the state to delay implementation.  The most recent state superintendent meeting, held in conjunction with the Spring Budget workshop, saw no fewer than five superintendents emphatically ask Secretary Designate Skandera to delay the implementation until we can properly inform and train teachers and principals about accountability criteria.
 There are multiple concerns for implementation:
1) A large portion of the evaluation model is based on student test scores. Only 25 percent is based on actual observation by the supervising administrator. Other scheduled reforms means it is possible that teachers will be evaluated on three tests in three different years with no guarantee the tests are aligned to curriculum taught in the classroom.
 2) Timing is a major concern. As of today, administrators have received no training - although the Public Education Department has scheduled two days of training for the summer. This means that teachers will not receive the criteria for which they will be held accountable before leaving for the school year.
 3) Supervisors will be required to perform four formal evaluations per staff member (we have requested this number be reduced to three). This is double the amount of time currently spent on teacher evaluations.  I believe this is a great concept, but the reality is principals have very little free time, due to discipline, supervising students and performing all their daily tasks. If we want to get serious about improving instruction, every campus needs an instructional leader.  But that would be one more administrator, thus taking money away from the classroom. I disagree with taking any money from direct instruction.
 4) The Legislature denied the governor’s request in 2011 and 2012 to implement an evaluation system by statute.  And the National Academy of Sciences along with experts assembled by the Economic Poicy Instiute have warned of the potentiall damaging consequences of  evaluations and/or merit pay based on test scores. Yet Secretary Skandera chose to implement the new evaluation system by “rule.” I have a concern that one person can supercede the legislative process in order to override the decisions of citizen-elected lawmakers.
Teachers will rise to the occasion when given adequate information and training.  It’s often stated the only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper. Educators who have been in the business for any length of time can validate the number of changes we have experienced in our profession from Sputnik in 1958 to the most recent No Child Left Behind. Maybe someday a true educator will be given the opportunity to offer their version of reform (what a novel idea!)
In the meantime, we will embrace the reform with open arms, do our due diligence with the children and offer a great education.
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