Los Alamos School Board Continues To Grapple With Testing And Teacher Evaluations

Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus and School Board President Jim Hall ponder student testing and evaluations. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos American Federation of President Ellen Mills speaks against using attendence to evaluate teachers. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos Daily Post

Testing and teacher evaluation were back on the agenda at the Los Alamos School Board Work Thursday.

School Board staff has been gathering information on the options to the District under the Public Education Department’s (PED) Educator Effectiveness Plan. Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus updated the Board on their findings.

After a meeting with Educator Effectiveness and Development Director Matt Montano, Steinhaus came back with suggestions Montano had given him on possible changes to the way Los Alamos has been implementing the Plan.

The suggestion most popular with Los Alamos teachers is to change options for those who are currently evaluated twice, to three evaluations by the same person, Steinhaus said. to Steinhaus, since evaluation time is only 45 minutes per session, there is more chance for one observer to see all the categories of the evaluation take place, teachers feel. Several teachers speaking at the Work Session agreed with this.

Another of Montano’s proposals was to use teacher attendance for 5 percent of the evaluation and 5 percent from student evaluations rather than 10 percent from student as Los Alamos does now.

This proposal did not meet with the approval of teachers, Steinhaus said, and several spoke against it at the Work Session. Teacher and president of the local teacher’s union, Ellen Mills, called elementary schools “germ factories” that cause teachers to become ill more often than other workers.

“We have things in our lives that are not in our control,” she said. “As you compose your letter [to PED] I hope that you will think about whether we want to say that teachers have no right to a life outside the classroom.”

Discussion then turned to student testing, upon which 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is scored.

Many elementary teachers prefer MAP tests to PARRC, the new test instituted last year, because the results are in much sooner, Steinhaus said. The District will probably not receive the PARRC scores from the spring test until November. Both MAP and PARRC will be taken by all students) this year and are required, either or by the PED.

LAHS economics teacher Brian Easton called MAPS testing at the secondary level “useless and disruptive.” He also said the state’s “end of the year” did not reflect the material being taught in his class.

Board member Bill Hargraves wondered if MAPS testing could be eliminated at the secondary level through changes in law. Board President Jim Hall wanted to know how many hours would be saved in student time if PARRC or MAP tests were eliminated. Hall questioned the need to give students similar tests more than once.

“I think we could get 90 percent of the information we need with 20 percent of the effort,” Hall said.

He suggested allocating resources to investigate whether there are differences in outcomes with different tests.

“I think the current system is damaging our students and our teachers,” Hall said.  

Are we setting up teachers for a low score if they take on more difficult students, Hall wanted to know.

“School of Choice teachers say, ‘I know I’m going to get a lower score, but this is important so I’m going to doing it,’” Steinhaus replied. School of Choice is an alternative within Los Alamos High School.

Several board members questioned whether the PARCC statistics should be relied upon for teacher evaluation, since data is only for one year and therefore is not statistically robust.

“I’m upset that the State is using an unproven measure to evaluate teachers,” Board Member Jenny McCumber said.

The Board put forward the idea of sending a letter to the community on what they have been doing on teacher evaluation. They asked staff to have a draft of a letter for PED concerning testing for them ready to review at its September meeting.

“This is a big, hard problem and we’re ready to sink our teeth into it,” Steinhaus said.

In other business, Assistant Superintendent Diane Delgado announced that the total of students in the District is up by 70 over last year at this time. There are 3,550 students enrolled, she said.

Board members continued to grapple with the decision on which elementary school to remodel. The decision has been made to hold four community meetings on the subject 5:30-7 p.m., two each in White Rock and in the town site. The first two are set for Sept. 17 and 21 and information gathering in nature. The second two meetings are Oct. 15 and 19 to present findings.