The final day in the New Mexico’s Teacher Evaluation Lawsuit in Santa Fe was this past Thursday, October 8th. Unfortunately I could not attend day five (or day four) due to a prior travel engagement, but here are two articles that highlight the events of the final day (for now) in court.
The first comes from The Santa Fe New Mexican. This article captures some of the closing arguments on the plaintiffs’ side, primarily in terms of (1) the state model “incorrectly rating nearly 10 percent of the state’s 20,000 teachers,” (2) the state using flawed data, leading to incorrect results, and (3) attempts to convince Judge Thompson to suspend the provision that these teachers — who purportedly post low value-added scores — be put on “growth plans” that lead to termination. As per one of the plaintiffs’ two lawyers: “The mere issue of a notice that you are minimally effective or ineffective puts each district in a position where they can terminate these employees…These are the [high-stakes consequences and] provisions that need to be removed” from New Mexico’s teacher evaluation model.
The main attorney on the defendant’s side avoided talking about #1 and #2 above, and instead focused on #3, “that no teacher had reported losing a job, license or promotion as a result of the teacher evaluations”…yet. In other words, so the defense argued, the system in New Mexico has not (yet) caused “irreparable harm,” although how one defines that is certainly also up for debate (e.g., good teachers leaving teaching because of the system in and of itself might be considered “irreparable harm”).
This defendant’s attorney also focused on what it might mean for the state of New Mexico to lose its No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver, which by federal mandate requires New Mexico (and all other states) to have a teacher evaluation system in place as based on student test scores. However, the defendant’s key witness on this topic – Matthew Montaño, Educator Quality Division, New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) – evidently overstated claims about these purported threats while on the stand, after which an expert from Washington DC was phoned in to testify regarding the truth about New Mexico’s waivers; the truth being that approximately a dozen states are thus far not in compliance, and only the state of Washington has thus far lost its waiver. Washington, however, did not lose any federal funding as a result.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys other primary goal was to convince the Judge to file at least a partial injunction now, and then come back to court in April, after both sides have had an equal opportunity to examine the state’s data as per the state’s actual model and model output. The goal here would be to actually determine how the model is functioning and whether it is actually functioning as those on the side of the defense testified (or not, as some of information about the model’s functionality was oddly unknown to the state).
The second article coming from The Albuquerque Journal highlights more details regarding the NCLB waiver, as well as the defendant’s claims regarding “irreparable harm,” or rather that “the plaintiffs cannot show that they were harmed by the teacher evaluation system through loss of a job or reduction of salary…It has to not be theoretical (harm) to these plaintiffs.”
Judge Thomson is expected to present his findings/ruling by early November.