July 7, 2015

Public Education Department chose to deceive

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Charles Goodmacher is the government and media relations director for NEA-New Mexico

Every New Mexico student deserves the opportunity for an education led by high-quality teachers. The system brought in when the Public Education Department threw out the old one is doing the opposite – driving great teachers away and limiting the time available for the teachers who remain to provide a high quality, well-rounded education as they sacrifice that to a test-driven standardized curriculum.

New Mexico students are being short-changed by the new evaluation system implemented by Secretary Hanna Skandera, based on the false assertion that 99.8 percent of teachers were evaluated as satisfactory under the prior evaluation system.

This figure was stated again and again, before legislative committees and to the media — so much so it became accepted as the truth as shown in these May 16 and July 26, 2014 Albuquerque Journal articles and this KRQE story on the new system.

They used that political claim to impose their system, which unfairly subjects students to over-testing and thereby short changes students with an emphasis on only those subjects that are easily tested.

Charles Goodmacher

photo courtesy of Abigail Goodmacher

Charles Goodmacher

At the National Education Association-New Mexico, we knew from experience the 99.8 percent claim could not be supported by facts. That would mean only two of every 1,000 teachers were rated as unsatisfactory by their district administrators.

With 21,000 teachers in New Mexico, that would mean only 44 teachers statewide were rated unsatisfactory. Our “field staff” of seven UniServ directors, aided by attorneys at The Jones Firm, had assisted many more teachers responding to poor evaluations each year.

Together with colleagues at the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, we and our leaders knew it was false. But how to prove a falsehood is false?

Our public information request and their response proves there is no basis for that claim. The emperor has no clothes. The public has a right to know the truth: The PED chose to deceive the public in order to throw the baby out with the bath water.

A harmful system

It was not necessary for the PED to impose (by rule) the number-seeking standardized test-based system New Mexico students are suffering under. The successful elements of their new system could have built upon the prior one: Keep it mostly based on administrator observations, but provide the significant trainings, multiple observations, four domains now and five levels of rating.

Their new system unfairly puts a specific number on each teacher. Then they use that number to also grade schools on how many teachers of different ratings under the flawed systems are at which schools.

They are using those numbers to award pay bonuses to teachers claimed to be highly effective or exceptional under this system – and to punish teachers whose evaluations are short of those levels. This though the test-based VAM scores have never been validated by outside professional sources.

Every teacher knows many colleagues whose ratings under this new system make no sense whatsoever. Even after years of trying to get their ill-conceived system correctly implemented, the PED still does not have its new system right. There are thousands of teachers throughout the state whose districts support their claims that there are problems with this year’s evaluations.

Students are being deprived of quality teachers who are fed up and leaving the profession in droves.

Students are being taught by teachers who provide them excellent education but who are being told otherwise by this new statewide evaluation system that has removed much of the local control and the professional autonomy of administrators as well as teachers.

Driving teachers away

The new system of rating teacher quality, imposed under cover of the 99.8 percent myth, has been debunked by every credible policy and professional organization as an invalid use of the student tests. The American Statistical Association says it is plain wrong to use these test results as the measure of individual teacher’s quality or performance in the classroom.

Every parent knows the over-testing craze is causing undue stress and harm to their children.

All these consequences are happening here and now in New Mexico because the PED and this administration have repeatedly stated as fact something for which they have zero evidence.

The public demands, and it is the law of this land, that government agencies be responsive to public information requests. The PED has shown a blatant disregard for the public’s right to know.

Every New Mexico student deserves the opportunity for an education led by high-quality teachers. The system brought in when the PED threw out the old one is doing the opposite – driving great teachers away and limiting the time available for the teachers who remain to provide a high quality, well-rounded education as they sacrifice that to a test-driven standardized curriculum.