New Mexico’s Teacher Evaluation Lawsuit Underway

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You might recall, from a post last March, that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), joined by the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, filed a “Lawsuit in New Mexico Challenging [the] State’s Teacher Evaluation System.” Plaintiffs are more specifically charging that the state’s current teacher evaluation system is unfair, error-ridden, harming teachers, and depriving students of high-quality educators (see the actual lawsuit here).

Well, testimonies started yesterday in Santa Fe, and as one of the expert witnesses on the plaintiffs’ side, I was there to witness the first day of examinations. While I will not comment on my impressions at this point, because I will be testifying this Monday and would like to save all of my comments until I’m on the stand, I will say it was quite an interesting day indeed, for both sides.

What I do feel comfortable sharing at this point, though, is an article that The New Mexican reporter Robert Nott wrote, as he too attended the full day in court. His article, essentially about the state of New Mexico “Getting it Right,” captures the gist of the day. I say this duly noting that only witnesses on the plaintiffs’ side were examined, and also cross-examined yesterday. Plaintiffs’ witnesses will continue this Monday, and defendants’ witnesses will continue thereafter, also this Monday, and likely one more day to be scheduled thereafter.

But as for the highlights, as per Nott’s article:

  • “Joel Boyd, [a highly respected] superintendent of the Santa Fe Public Schools, testified that ‘glaring errors’ have marred the state’s ratings of teachers in his district.” He testified that “We should pause and get it right,” also testifying that “the state agency has not proven itself capable of identifying either effective or ineffective teachers.” Last year when Boyd challenged his district’s 1,000 or so teachers’ rankings, New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) “ultimately yielded and increased numerous individual teacher rankings…[which caused]..the district’s overall rating [to improve] by 17 percentage points.”
  • State Senator Bill Soules, who is also a recently retired teacher, testified that “his last evaluation included data from 18 students he did not teach. ‘Who are those 18 students who I am being evaluated on?’ he asked the judge.”
  • One of the defendant’s attorneys later defended the state’s data, stating “education department records show that there were only 712 queries from districts regarding the accuracy of teacher evaluation results in 2014-15. Of those, the state changed just 31 ratings after reviewing challenges.” State Senator Soules responded, however, that “a [i.e., one] query may include many teachers.” For example, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) purportedly put in one single query that included “hundreds, if not thousands” of questions about that district’s set of teacher evaluations.

In fact, most if not all of the witnesses who testified not only argued, but evidenced, how the state used flawed data in their personal, or their schools’/districts’ teachers’ general evaluations, leading to incorrect results.

Plaintiffs and their witnessed also argued, and evidenced, that “the system does not judge teachers by the same standards. Language arts teachers, as well as educators working in subjects without standardized tests, are rated by different measures than those teaching the core subjects of math, science and English.” This, as both the plaintiff’s witnesses and lawyers also argued, makes this an arbitrary and capricious system, or rather one that is not “objective” as per the state’s legislative requirements.

In the words of Shane Youtz, one of two of the plaintiff’s attorneys, “You have a system that is messed up…Frankly, the PED doesn’t know what it is doing with the data and the formula, and they are just changing things ad hoc.”

“Attorneys for the Public Education Department countered that, although no evaluation system is perfect, this one holds its educators to a high standard and follows national trends in utilizing student test scores when possible.”

Do stay tuned….

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