ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It has been the source of legal fights, protests and much debate by lawmakers, but after hearing from educators around New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez said Sunday that her administration is making changes to the state's long-contested teacher evaluation system.
"Our teachers have spoken, and we've listened," Martinez said after a weekend stop at a charter school in Albuquerque. "These changes are for teachers and by teachers, and I know they'll help build on the success we're seeing in the classroom."
Under the revisions, the number of sick days allowed before teachers are docked on their evaluations will double from three to six and the weight of student scores will count for 35 percent of the evaluations rather than half.
Discord over teacher evaluations has been brewing for years. Unions have challenged the system in court, as the Martinez administration negotiated unsuccessfully with lawmakers to move the evaluation rules into state statute.
Sick leave became the focus of a veto standoff during the recent legislative session when the governor declined to sign into law a bipartisan measure that would have allowed teachers to take more than three days of annual sick leave without being hurt on their performance evaluations.
Martinez had argued that the bill threatened to reverse recent reductions in teacher absentee rates and would have increased the use of substitutes in classrooms, compromising school budgets and academic performance.
Supporters of the measure had argued that teachers should not be pressured to work while sick and that it was the place of local school boards to set sick-leave policies.
Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association-New Mexico, said the changes announced Sunday represent small improvements. But he still characterized the system as "a seriously flawed concept."
"We find it ironic that after years of saying 50 percent of a teacher evaluation must be based on student achievement, based mostly on test scores, that, suddenly, without any empirical evidence whatsoever, that number can suddenly magically be lowered to 35 percent," Bowyer said in a statement.
The union believes standardized test scores should have no effect on teacher evaluations, Bowyer said. The Public Education Department should find more appropriate measures of teachers' impact on student achievement, he said.
Officials with the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico called the changes superficial, saying teachers in the state will still be evaluated on student test scores at some of the highest levels nationwide.
The governor's office argued that Martinez has made education a top priority during her two terms and that as a result, graduation rates are improving and that New Mexico recently was ranked second nationally for growth in the number of students taking advanced-placement courses for college credit.
Under Martinez, the Public Education Department also has created new mentorship programs for teachers and principals.
The governor' office said the changes to the evaluations were proposed by members of Teach Plus, a national nonprofit organization that has a presence in New Mexico and nine other states.
Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera also went on a statewide listening tour to get teacher feedback. Early in the legislative session, she pushed to reduce the amount student tests count on the evaluations to 40 percent and increase sick days to five.
The governor's office suggested that the new changes will be kept for the next five years in hopes of creating stability.
From the office of the New Mexico Governor:
Commentary: Today, Governor Susana Martinez announced changes to the teacher evaluation system that were created with support and input from teachers across the state. Under the revised system, the number of grace days will double from three to six and the weight of student achievement growth will be set at 35 percent and observations will be increased. Teachers requested that these policy changes be kept for the next five years to continue to create stability.
“Our teachers have spoken, and we’ve listened,” said Governor Martinez. “These changes are for teachers and by teachers and I know they’ll help build on the success we’re seeing in the classroom.”
New Mexico recently saw record-breaking high school graduation rates. And it was recently announced that New Mexico ranked second in the nation for growth in students taking AP courses. New Mexico is also a leader in Hispanic students taking AP coursework and ranks fourth in the nation for providing AP courses to low-income students.
“The Department was glad to work with and listen to teachers across the state,” said PED Secretary Hanna Skandera. “When we work together with classroom teachers, we are able to accomplish great work for our students. This is a prime example.”
The changes in teacher evaluations are a result of informed teachers bringing their voice and recommendations to the Public Education Department. Specific changes were proposed by members of TeachPlus, an organization of educators.
Governor Martinez has made improving education in New Mexico a priority in her administration. Under her leadership, PED has started a teacher and principal mentorship program that’s showing great results, created the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory Council to keep an open dialogue with Secretary Skandera, and hosted the statewide teacher summit for teachers to collaborate and share best practice.