Changes to teacher evaluations spark mixed reaction

Gov. Susana Martinez’s recently announced changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system came from discussions between a panel of New Mexico educators and state Public Education Department officials. This is according to Chris Eide, the national director of state policy, advocacy and partnerships with Teach Plus. The Boston-based nonprofit, which focuses on teacher-driven education reform, launched an initiative in New Mexico last year to look at teacher evaluations and teacher preparation. Over the weekend, Martinez accepted two recommendations from the New Mexico Teach Plus task force. One allows teachers to use up to six absences without affecting the attendance portion of their state teacher evaluations.

Judge stops, for now, some of state’s reasons for denying wage theft claims

A judge temporarily halted a New Mexico state agency’s self-imposed limitations on wage theft claims.

In a ruling Tuesday afternoon, Santa Fe District Judge David Thomson ordered that, for now, the state Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) cannot automatically deny complaints of wage theft that total more than $10,000. The state department is also not allowed to automatically turn down claims that happened more than a year before they’re made. “Wage theft” refers to an employer denying payments owed to an employee in any way, which can include paying below minimum wage and refusing to pay overtime, for example. Thomson’s temporary restraining order against the state comes because of a class-action lawsuit filed just two weeks ago by “low income workers” who made wage theft claims against their employers to DWS. Ten individuals named in the lawsuit allege that DWS’ handling of their wage theft claims violate multiple state laws.

Legislators join battle over immigrant tax returns

Legislators joined the dispute between an immigrant rights group and the state Taxation and Revenue Department. State Rep. Miguel Garcia and State Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Richard Martinez, all Democrats, sided with the immigrant rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido and MALDEF. The groups say that TRD is illegally withholding tax returns from immigrants who are in the country illegally. The TRD secretary says that the efforts are legal and necessary to root out fraud in tax returns.

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. A 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.

Setbacks for standardized tests in NM, nationally

Standardized tests took a blow this week nationally and locally after Congress abandoned No Child Left Behind and a local judge suspended schools’ abilities to use state teacher evaluations for personnel decisions. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will replace the controversial George W. Bush-era federal education law if passed by the Senate and approved by President Obama. All of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, which is usually split along party lines, voted for the bill. While the new law would still mandate schools give standardized tests to students from grades three-eight and once in high school, it restricts the federal government from measuring the results. One of the most controversial parts of No Child Left Behind was its Adequate Yearly Progress reports, which measured progress on state-mandated math and reading tests.

Judge: State can’t force medical marijuana patients to try ‘standard treatments’ first

A Santa Fe district court judge struck down a state rule that required medical patients to exhaust “standard treatments” before entering the Medical Cannabis Program. The case that Judge David Thomson ruled on earlier this week involved the state Department of Health’s rejection of a post-traumatic stress disorder patient’s application to the Medical Cannabis Program based on the fact that the patient’s doctor, Carola Kieve, didn’t submit enough medical records with the application and didn’t exhaust other medical treatments first. Kieve filed the lawsuit more than a year ago. She also charged that Dr. Stan Rosenberg, director of the health department’s Medical Cannabis Program, had a conflict of interest because of his role heading Albuquerque Integrative Medicine. There, Rosenberg refers his own patients to the medical marijuana program.