Letter to the Editor: Pass Fair Teacher Evaluation System; Stop Standardized Testing Obsession

By STEPHANIE LY
New Mexico President of the American Federation of Teachers

Recently Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera admitted that the Public Education Department (PED) will not be ready to base most teacher evaluations on 50 percent of student test results for years. In the meantime, she will base teacher evaluations on a hodgepodge of calculations that apply differently to each teacher depending on how and when his or her students are tested. 

Teachers across New Mexico have protested Skandera’s new reforms. They have asked for guidance, clarification and a seat at the table so that they can work cooperatively with their districts to provide a logical evaluation system that gives meaningful feedback.

Instead, the PED has sent countless memos and directives making administrators and teachers frantic, and leaving them to reflect on piles of paperwork and uncertain guidelines rather than on teaching practices.  

The result is less real feedback for teachers, wasted time in administration, and more standardized testing of students. To date, the only winners are the private companies that were paid millions to administer Teachscape (the online tool used to upload evaluation material) and provide the standardized assessments that are to be used in teacher evaluations.The PED is now pressing for $2 million more to expand interim testing to the lower grades. 

Teachers are no longer being told to “teach their students,” they are being told to “improve their data.” As a mother, I have seen the daily discussion at my dinner table turn from what my children learned at school to what test they took. Teachers are frustrated. Many great teachers are looking at retiring or leaving the state. Our students are losing out as standardized testing is replacing a well-rounded curriculum.

The confusion and stress around the implementation of an evaluation system could have been avoided had the governor not vetoed SB 588a in 2013. SB 588a called for an evaluation system that complied with federal mandates and allowed districts to use measures of student achievement. It also allowed teachers and school districts to collaborate on what data would be used and how the data would be used as well as how the new system would be implemented.  

It is not too late to do something that works. We can revive SB 588a, and we can work with our districts to create a meaningful, professional and logical evaluation system and put the focus back on student learning.

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