Lawsuit in New Mexico Challenging State’s Teacher Evaluation System

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On Friday (February 13) the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) posted a news release “Teachers and State Legislators Join AFT New Mexico in Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Punitive, Error-Ridden Teacher Evaluation System” in which it is detailed why New Mexico teachers, state legislators, AFT New Mexico, and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation are taking on New Mexico’s Public Education Department and the State’s Education Secretary-Designee, charging that “New Mexico’s current teacher evaluation system is harming teachers and depriving students of the high-quality educators they need to succeed.”

The actual lawsuit can be found here, in which the “numerous problems” with the state’s systems are detailed more fully. But in short, the key claim in the charge follows.

Throughout the state value-added measures (VAMs) comprise 50% of a teacher’s rating, with the other 50% coming from supervisor observations, student or parent surveys, attendance records, and the like. The charge is that all of the indicators are “riddled with errors,” not only in terms of the quality of the data inputted into the system but also, related and perhaps more importantly, the quality of the data coming out (i.e., the teacher evaluation output). Errors include but are not limited to: “teachers rated on incomplete or incorrect test data (for example, teachers matched up to students they never taught, students given tests on subjects or levels they didn’t know); teachers docked for being absent more days than they were actually gone from school, and some penalized for being absent for family or medical leave, bereavement, or professional development; missing data from student surveys; and teachers rated poorly on the student achievement portion of the evaluation, even when their students had made clear progress on tests.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten, commenting on this lawsuit said, “Last year, I called the VAM-based individual teacher evaluation system a sham based on how it was being used in places like Texas and Florida. New Mexico’s use of it is just as concerning.” Hence, New Mexico has certainly made it to the top of the list in terms of state’s to watch, although I would also add to this list the states of Tennessee and New York.

As I have written and said before, I believe the VAM-related “wars” will be won out in the courthouse. Hopefully this, as well as some of the other key lawsuits currently underway in these other states (see, for example, here, here, and here), will continue to take the lead, and even lead our nation back to a more reasonable and valid set of standards and expectations when it comes to the evaluation of America’s public school teachers. Do stay tuned…

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