More than 50 Los Alamos teachers and their supporters, many wearing red to signify their support for Los Alamos teachers, attended the Oct. 8 meeting of the Los Alamos School Board to voice their frustration with the New Mexico Teacher Evaluation System implemented this year.
Nineteen school districts out of 85 around the state, including Rio Rancho and Albuquerque Public Schools have passed resolutions calling on the state to slow down implementation of the evaluation system. Teachers called on the Los Alamos School Board to join that effort.
The issue is currently in the courts as well. A writ of mandamus was issued to the state’s Public Education Department, setting a hearing in regard to its new teacher evaluation system by District Court Judge Shannon Bacon to Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera. The court hearing is set for 10 a.m., Nov. 21 in Albuquerque.
The writ calls for cause why the department should not be compelled to cease and desist from implementing its new teacher evaluation system as opposed to conducting teacher evaluations under previously issued regulations.
As teacher after teacher came to the microphone in the Topper Theater at Los Alamos High School Tuesday night, a number of concerns were raised. One major concern was the amount of time teachers must spend coping with the paperwork required by the new system, trying to follow its directives and with trying to understand it.
“It comes down to time,” said Andrea Determan, fourth grade teacher at Barranca Elementary School. “We need time and we don’t have enough.”
Teachers spoke of spending 10-20 hours working outside their normal hours each week in order to comply with the complex standards (137 for first grade teachers) on which they are being evaluated, such as posting written lesson plans on the door of their classroom each day.
Ellen Mills, Mountain Elementary School Special Education teacher and Los Alamos Federation of School Employees (LAFSE) president put it bluntly. “This is a form of wage theft,” she said. “Teachers are putting in an enormous amount of time without being paid for it.”
Los Alamos is not alone in its concerns over teacher evaluations and burdensome regulatory paperwork, Mills said.
“It is time to step up and speak up as a district. Thousands of other districts are with you,” she said.
Heather Coy, a sixth grade teacher at Aspen Elementary School said she had to spend 10 hours completing everything required for her teacher observation.
“Teachers are already doing these things, so why spend so many hours documenting it. It should be optional to go into such depth,” she said.
“I thought this would be a good year,” LAHS social studies teacher Brian Easton said. “This is October and I’m December tired. I have not seen morale so low and stress so high in my career and this system is a lot of it.”
Easton and a number of other teachers expressed concern that the system was not ready when it was put in place.
“I just found out today what standards and benchmarks my students will be tested on for my one semester economics class. There’s no way to teach all of them in a semester class. Our students will be tested on things we don’t even teach,” he said. “The final standards will not even be available until November.”
When 50 percent of the teacher evaluation score is based on student test scores, this sets up both teachers and students for failure, Easton said.
“The state decided to build this plane in flight,” LAHS History Teacher Jonathon Lathrop said. “Tonight you’ve heard from all the screaming passengers.”
Kim Letellier, district music team leader spoke on behalf of the “specials” teachers. She questioned whether test scores are the best way to evaluate either students or teachers in classes like physical education, art and music.
“For many of our students, our class is the one place they don’t have the pressures of written testing and they can succeed even if writing is not their strongest skill,” she said, adding that she has just received her end of course exam specifications, eight weeks into the school year.
All of the School Board members present (Kevin Honnell was not at the meeting) expressed concern for the problems faced by the teachers and vowed to be part of the solution. The board followed the recommendation of Board President Jim Hall to issue a board direction to the district staff to set up a task force to identify what district requirements are “self-created” and can be minimized or put off and to identify the minimum requirements to meet statewide mandates. Calling the situation “a crisis,” Hall urged the board to instruct staff to put aside strategic planning to work on this issue.
The board concluded by asking staff to update the administration on its progress at the Oct. 24 work session and the board is shooting for the Nov. 12 School Board Meeting to draft a proposal letter to present to the New Mexico Public Education Department. The board wants to postpone its letter to PED until the district is certain what it is going to do, Hall said.
“If we believe that state mandates are unreasonable, we will not fulfill them at this time,” Hall stated flatly. “We all want a fair teacher evaluation system but I don’t think we’ve got it. It can be a start. We want to say that we’ve tried this and, this is what works and what doesn’t.”
Editor’s note: Information from the NM Public Education Department on the teacher evaluation system can be found at http://ped.state.nm.us/ped/NMTeachIndex.html.
Teachers and supporters dressed in red to show their support for Los Alamos educators at the Oct. 8 School Board Meeting. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com