The American Federation of Teachers last month sued New Mexico state officials over new teacher evaluations that have sparked resistance across the state from teachers who say that the system is unfair and error-ridden.
Like many new evaluation systems across the country, the NMTEACH Educator Effectiveness system, as it is known, includes a “value-added” score that is meant to capture how much a teacher contributes to student learning. The evaluations also include scores for traditional classroom observations and teacher attendance.
Secretary of Public Education Hanna Skandera instituted the new evaluations over the protests of teachers and many state lawmakers because, she said, the state needs aggressive changes in order to produce real change for students. New Mexico’s academic performance metrics consistently fall near the bottom of national rankings.
“We have confidence in the information produced by NMTeach and believe that these evaluations are an essential tool to support the teachers and students of New Mexico,” said Ellen Hur, a spokeswoman for Skandera.
But many teachers disagree. They say that the new evaluations, which were first used for the 2013-2014 school year, are arbitrary and offer little guidance as to how to improve. Below are four teachers’ evaluations along with their explanations of problems they see with those evaluations. The AFT collected these and many other narratives and evaluations in May; since then, the state department of education acknowledged errors and revised some evaluations.
Third-grade teacher Pamela Crone was rated minimally effective after receiving zero out of 40 possible points for teacher attendance. Crone said she missed four months of work after she slipped on a wet floor at school and suffered a brain injury.
“I had six months of sick leave, actually more than that, but that didn’t matter to them,” Crone said. “The time was counted against me. I failed my evaluation, and that is after having 36 years of excellent evaluations every year.”
Crone said she retired last spring because of continuing health problems stemming from her fall. “I went to work every day because I loved my job,” she said. “I miss my kids more than you know.”
Jo Anna Casados is a second-grade teacher in Albuquerque who was rated minimally effective. She received only 10 of a possible 20 points for the teacher attendance portion of her evaluation. Casados said her husband, a disabled veteran, was very ill and needed surgery. She took four or five sick days to care for him, she said. “I’m never out, I’m really never out,” she said. “But I really had to make sure he was okay.”
Casados scored only 8.66 points out of 50 on the student achievement portion of her evaluation. She said her students are mostly advanced and arrive in her class already working above grade level, which makes it impossible for them to show a full year’s worth of growth on a grade-level test. She also said she is retiring this spring after 27 years in the classroom, in part because she is so frustrated with the evaluation system.
“I’ve had enough,” she said. “It’s just very painful.”
John Simms is a middle-school teacher in Albuquerque who barely scored high enough to be rated effective. For the value-added portion of his evaluation, called “SBA” on his evaluation, he scored only 22.56 points out of a possible 70. Value-added scores are supposed to be based on three years’ worth of test data. Simms said it’s not clear to him what his score is based on; though he now teaches social studies, he believes that the scores come from previous years when he taught language arts.
“When I ask administrators, they’re not even sure how I’m being graded,” Simms said, adding that because he has no idea where the score came from or how it was calculated, it doesn’t give him any information about how to get better. “The system doesn’t make sense if you’re trying to help kids.”
Sara Winsett teaches math and science at an alternative high school for pregnant and parenting teens, and many of her students have learning disabilities or emotional disabilities. She received 23.8 out of 70 points for student achievement based on tests she said are “unvetted and unreliable.”
“There are things I am being evaluated on which I do not and cannot control,” she wrote. “Each year my school graduates 30 to 60 students, each of whom is either employed, or enrolled in post-secondary training/education. This is the measure of our success, not test scores.”