December 11, 2015

APS halts teacher punishments tied to test scores

Albuquerque teachers punished for low scores earlier this year on state teacher evaluations need no longer worry—for now.

Exam FrustrationA memo sent this week to principals across Albuquerque Public Schools says that “effective immediately” the district is suspending all teacher professional growth plans based on evaluations from the state’s NMTEACH program.

Based on the New Mexico Public Education Department’s figures of the percentage of low scoring teachers and APS’ total amount of teachers, the pause affects more than 1,500 teachers in the state’s largest school district.

APS made the decision one week after a Santa Fe District judge temporarily barred the PED from using scores from the state’s controversial teacher evaluations for school personnel decisions.

A PED spokesman didn’t respond to a request to comment for this story.

“In mid-October you were given information on professional growth plans and site support plans for teachers who were rated below effective on the 2014-2015 NMTEACH Summative Report,” the memo, written by APS Special Projects Director Carla Green, reads. “A preliminary injunction was granted in [Albuquerque Teachers Federation] vs NMPED on December 2, 2015 staying the enforcement of sections H through O which outline the consequences associated with less than effective evaluations.”

Sections H through O refer to outlines of the professional growth plans as mandated by PED. They state that districts must observe and evaluate teachers deemed “minimally effective” or “ineffective” by the evaluations “more than four times” for 90 days.

After the 90 days, a school district evaluator has five days to decide whether the teacher has improved from the professional growth plan. The district superintendent then decides whether the teacher should be fired or not.

In last week’s court ruling, Judge David Thomson called the state’s teacher evaluation system “less like a model than a cafeteria-style evaluation system where the combination of factors, data and elements that are not easily determined.” Thomson barred using the evaluations until a permanent ruling is issued.

His ruling came in response to a lawsuit against PED filed by ATF and several state lawmakers and educators alleging that methods used in the evaluations are unfair. Hearings for the lawsuit are scheduled for April.

PED uses student standardized test scores to make up half of the state teacher evaluations. The test scores are averaged over three years of a student’s career in what’s known as a value-added model.

At a Thursday hearing at interim Legislative Finance Committee, PED Secretary Hanna Skandera said that hiring and firing teachers is always done by school districts and not her agency. But she acknowledged that her agency couldn’t enforce professional growth plans after the judge’s injunction.

“There’s a professional growth plan that allows 90 days [for a teacher] to get better,” Skandera told lawmakers at the meeting. “We will not enforce this at the state level because of the ruling.”

Skandera also emphasized that the evaluations are “designed to give school districts information” and to use as “a tool.”

Because Thomson’s ruling is temporary, National Education Association New Mexico Government Relations Director Charles Goodmacher said he thinks most school districts will stick to business as usual.

“We think most districts are not going to do anything to change the performance plans that they have in place,” he said.

But ATF President Ellen Bernstein noted that she hopes other school districts follow Albuquerque’s lead by doing away with them.

“This system has been so demoralizing for awesome, dedicated teachers,” Bernstein said.

APS took issue with the same teacher evaluations earlier this year. In June, the school district submitted formal inquiries about perceived problems with the evaluations of more than 1,600 of its teachers.

APS is still moving forward with teacher performance plans for its own evaluations, which are based on classroom observations.