August 4, 2015

Education Department makes changes to teacher evaluations

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

The state Public Education Department is tweaking parts of its controversial teacher evaluation system.

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc

Mainly, school districts won’t need to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers who teach subjects that aren’t tested. New Mexico Political Report wrote about that problem earlier this summer. For that story, we profiled Nick Prior, a 26-year-old music teacher at Albuquerque’s Eisenhower Middle School.

From our earlier report:

This year, Prior scored just 112 out of 200 possible points on his state-mandated teacher evaluation, ranking him “minimally effective.”

It’s also a dramatic drop from last year’s evaluation, when Prior scored a “highly effective” ranking. That’s because this year, half of Prior’s evaluation is based on student standardized test score improvements.

In the category marked “student achievement,” Prior scored a 33.25 out of a possible 100 points, too low for him to be able to apply for a Level 2 license this summer. If his ranking doesn’t improve by next year, Prior’s teacher license will expire. In that situation, he either must apply for an extension, teach somewhere else or drop teaching altogether.

Half of Prior’s evaluation came from test scores from the state’s Standard Based Assessment, which tests students on English and Math, subjects that Prior doesn’t teach. The scores didn’t even necessarily come from Prior’s own students. Instead they were based on a three-year average of Eishenhower’s lowest-performing 25 percent, also known as Q1 students.

“The biggest issue I have—I don’t teach Math, I don’t teach English.” Prior said at the time. “I may have some Q1 students, but many of these students I’ve never met before.”

Prior’s story later received national attention in Slate.

Today, the Albuquerque Journal reports that the Education Department will no longer force school districts to use standardized test scores in evaluations for teachers like Prior. The changes could affect an estimated 1,000 teachers in the state.

From the Journal:

For veteran teachers in subjects and grade levels without standardized tests – music teachers would be one example – school districts will have the option of using primarily classroom observation and attendance to evaluate them.

School districts would be allowed to choose whether to keep using the backup measures, such as improvement of some student test scores, or scrap them altogether. But if they do continue to use those measures, they can make up no more than 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, rather than the 50 percent now.

Previously, the Education Department gave a handful of options to school districts on how to evaluate teachers who don’t teach subjects with standardized tests. Albuquerque Public Schools last year chose to use Q1 student test scores because those students are more likely to improve, APS spokesman Rigo Chavez told us in June.

Now that’s changed.

“We can decide how we’re going to use student evaluation data to evaluate teachers who don’t teach core subjects,” Chavez said in a brief interview today.

Additionally, standardized tests won’t be used in the evaluations of first-year teachers. Presumably this is because the Education Department uses a “value added model” that draws from student test scores from previous years.

More from the Journal:

For the 1,876 new teachers in the 2014-15 school year – out of roughly 23,000 total teachers statewide – the revised evaluation formula is being used to recalculate evaluations from last year’s school year. The change will also be applied moving forward.

The Journal also reports that feedback about teacher evaluations prompted the Education Department to make the changes. Earlier this summer, APS alone submitted more than 1,600 formal inquiries to the department, taking issue with 30 percent of the district’s teacher evaluations.

The changes aren’t enough to prompt praise from Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers.

“They fixed something that should have been common sense in the first place,” she said in an interview.

Bernstein likened the changes to a teacher who calculated wrong grades for 160 students but decided to fix the scores for one of those students. She said the Education Department’s moves won’t change anything in the union’s ongoing lawsuit against the department, which alleges that the evaluation system is fundamentally flawed.

“The system is still highly destructive,” Bernstein said.

Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre did not return our phone calls or email requesting comment for this story.

Updated with quotes from Ellen Bernstein.