House Education Committee Hears From Teachers

Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, center, presents House Bill 158 with her expert witnesses LAPS Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus, right, and Pojoaque Valley Schools Superintendent Dr. Mel Morgan at Saturday’s House Education Committee hearing at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Courtesy photo
New Mexico House Education Committee listens during Saturday’s hearing to teachers speak about their experiences with the state teacher evaluation system. Courtesy photo
More than 80 teachers line up to speak at Saturday’s special House Education Committee hearing at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Courtesy photo
Staff Report
In a Saturday committee hearing, members of the House Education Committee invited teachers from around the state to come down to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe to testify on the issue of teacher evaluations.
The committee was set to hear six different proposed bills to influence the teacher evaluation system administered by the Public Education Department.

This system has been the subject of much debate and controversy recently as Los Alamos Public Schools teachers took to school board meetings to protest the use of their sick leave as part of their evaluation.  

The committee wanted to hear feedback from teachers in the field, both on the proposed bills, but also on teachers’ experiences under the system. A teacher thanked Committee Chairwoman Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos for holding the hearing on a Saturday so she “didn’t have to get a substitute for her class” to come testify.

Public testimony lasted 3.5 hours as more than 80 teachers from as far away as Roswell spoke to the House Education Committee about the impact the state teachers’ evaluation system is having on their schools. Feedback ranged from praise for the classroom observation portion of the system to criticism about its punitive nature and questions about the lack of validity in the data used to determine teachers’ scores. Megan Lee of Los Alamos Public Schools, presented a survey conducted on more than 200 teachers at LAPS. She noted that 87 percent of teachers had found errors in the student data they received from PED on their final evaluation forms. Many Los Alamos teachers and one LAPS parent made the trek to Santa Fe on their day off in order to testify before the committee.

Following public testimony, the committee debated legislation intended to amend the controversial teacher evaluation system. A bill to prohibit the use of teacher sick leave as a punitive measure in the evaluation system passed the committee on a bipartisan vote.

House Bill 241, affectionately named the “Teachers are People Too” bill would allow a teacher to use up to 10 days of sick leave before it would count against them in their final evaluation score. This particular component of the teacher evaluation system caused an uproar in the Los Alamos teaching community last year as teachers discovered that they were being penalized for taking sick leave; a benefit in their contract. Teachers told stories of coming to school ill so that they would not lose points on their teacher evaluation system.

The committee also heard House Bill 158, sponsored by Rep. Garcia Richard, which seeks to allow for districts to pilot their own teacher evaluation system. LAPS Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus was the expert witness with Garcia Richard to help present the bill. A hearing on the bill began Saturday, however, final action was temporarily postponed to allow technical issues in the bill to be fixed.