Amid acknowledgment that change is needed and despite concerns, questions and criticism, the New Mexico Public Education Department plans to implement a revised teacher-evaluation pilot program in 17 schools this coming year in anticipation of a full adoption of the new system for the 2013-14 school year.
None of the 17 schools is in Santa Fe. The pilot program is designed to see what works and what doesn't as the Public Education Department rolls out the plan.
The plan was discussed Wednesday during a task force meeting of the New Mexico Teacher Evaluation Advisory Committee chaired by Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. The committee members include teachers, principals, superintendents, higher-education representatives and technical experts from educational facilities around the state.
This was the second of six such meetings planned to discuss -- and dissect -- the new plan. The idea, according to Skandera, is to find a process to "capture great teaching" that acknowledges and honors teachers who are making a difference in the classroom.
Teachers are currently evaluated on a system that judges them as meeting or not meeting competency levels. According to the Public Education Department, between 90 percent and 99 percent of New Mexico teachers were evaluated as "meeting competency" between 2005 and 2010.
Under the new system, teachers would be evaluated on five levels: exemplary, highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective.
The new system -- which Skandera has promoted as part of Gov. Susana Martinez's educational reform program -- would vary somewhat in judging teachers whose work is tied to Standards Based Assessment testing and those who teach subjects not tested, including art, physical education and history.
For teachers tied to test topics, for instance, 35 percent of their evaluation would correlate to student achievement growth records based on three consecutive years of test-score data; 25 percent would be based on classroom observation by their supervisors; 25 percent would be multiple measures developed by their local school districts and approved by the Public Education Department; and another 15 percent would relate to other student academic-growth measures.
Though no one on the task force was openly critical of the overall plan to revamp the evaluation system, many of the members did pose questions that do not seem to have any immediate answers.
How will teachers who do not have three years' worth of state Standards Based Assessment scores behind them -- either new hires or transfers from another state -- be evaluated? How will special-education teachers, who often have no assessment plans in place for students and who sometimes share responsibility for one child's progress, be evaluated? What sort of quality-control measures will be put in place to ensure that evaluators -- including those who observe and evaluate principals -- are doing their jobs objectively and effectively?
All of which led to another question: How will cash-strapped districts find money to fund the program? And why can't the state take more time to test the program before putting it into place to ensure success?
Skandera replied to that last question by noting that the state is obligated to move quickly on the evaluation plan in order to fulfill requirements for the federally approved waiver from No Child Left Behind mandates. That waiver leverages about $10 million in federal support for flexible spending for the state's struggling schools.
New Mexico is one of 11 states that received that waiver and thus must agree to implement policies -- including connecting teacher evaluations to student performance -- supported by President Barack Obama's administration.
"We've got some healthy challenges in front of us," Skandera told the group Wednesday. "How do we come together on this?"
The department is creating a draft rule for the new system that it plans to post on its website for public review by Friday. After allowing 30 days for online commentary by professionals and others, the department will hold a public meeting in mid-July to discuss the proposed changes.
Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation and an outspoken critic of Skandera, said by phone Wednesday afternoon that despite the apparent transparency of the committee, "It is not a genuine process. It's window dressing; it's just for show."
She said the plan closely follows a similar plan penned by Florida reformers; Skandera served as deputy commissioner of education under Gov. Jeb Bush in Florida for two years.
Advisory committee member Sonya Romero-Smith, who teachers kindergarten in Albuquerque Public Schools, said by phone Wednesday afternoon that the committee's input gives her hope that teachers will have a say in the process.
"I'd rather be in on the conversation rather than outside the conversation," she said of her decision to join the committee. "Whether my input will change anything or not, I'd rather be in the trenches, trying to impart my experience as a teacher ... to make decisions that impact the classroom."
Still, she said the speed with which the plan is moving is "way too fast, way too fast."
Bernstein suggested that the Public Education Department does not want to draw attention to the process, since it did not post any public notice of either this meeting or the first one, held June 4. About 15 people attended Wednesday's meeting, including teacher-union representatives.
Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, said by phone Tuesday that he was not informed of either of these task force meetings. He sent a letter to Skandera in early June noting that the Legislative Education Study Committee, which he chairs, was not aware of the Public Education Department's actions on this issue.
"At my request, the staff reviewed the PED website for council information and found that the website did not include a public meeting notice or any other information regarding the council's activities," his letter states.
During Wednesday's meeting, Skandera acknowledged that the Public Education Department failed to notify the Legislative Education Study Committee and suggested it was just an oversight in email communication.
The teacher-evaluation move is being made by executive rather than legislative order, given that various legislative attempts to create a new teacher-evaluation system failed during the last session at the Roundhouse.
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