Students and educators rally in front of the Chaves County Courthouse, Wednesday afternoon. (Mark Wilson Photo)
Roswell Independent School District parents, students, teachers and other classroom staff rallied Wednesday in opposition to a teacher evaluation system that the New Mexico Public Education Department is rolling out this year.
The “Take It Back Day” rallies organized by the New Mexico chapters of educational staff unions National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers took place in 80 of the state’s 89 public school districts, according to Greg Maxie, UniServ director for Southeastern New Mexico.
UniServ assists in advocacy and training for NEA, which represents classroom staff in Roswell.
The rally, held in front of the Chaves County Courthouse, focused on what the 30 participants said was an excessive emphasis on standardized testing results in the new evaluation system.
Cynthia Gustamantes, who teaches fifth grade at Monterrey Elementary School, referred to the evaluation system as a “morale buster.”
“We hear too much about failure and our district here, we’re doing wonderful things,” she said.
Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, who instated the new system in August, referred to Wednesday’s rallies as “nothing short of extraordinary.”
She said the state could not afford to delay on the implementations.
“For too long, we’ve done too little for our students,” she said.
NEA-NM and some state senators have requested more time to implement new evaluations.
Thirty-three districts across the state have adopted resolutions in opposition to the current implementation of the evaluations, according to informal survey results shared by Floyd Municipal School District with other districts in a Nov. 19 email. Seventy-six districts replied to the survey, stated the email which was forwarded to the Record by Maxie.
District Superintendent Tom Burris said RISD has not passed such a resolution.
Despite protests, the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez indicated last week that implementation will continue as planned, according to the Associated Press.
Burris said he sees some benefits to the new evaluations. He said that in comparison to the previous evaluation system, the new system allows for greater nuance in assessing teachers.
“The old system was really, it was a good teacher or a not good teacher,” he said.
The new system categorizes teachers on a five-point scale from ineffective to exemplary, which Burris said gives the district greater opportunity to reward teachers for their strengths.
He attributes resistance to the new system to concerns about change.
RISD is one of several districts in the state with a customized plan for the evaluations. While under the statewide plan, 50 percent of a teacher’s rating is based on improvement in standardized testing scores of students, in RISD 35 percent of a score is based on test results.
Roswell rally attendees took time Wednesday to lament the general frequency of standardized testing in the district.
Two participants held signs that read, “More teaching, less testing.” Other attendees held signs with similar messages.
Roswell High junior Maryruth Gedde, 16, said the amount of testing students undergo is “overwhelming.” She said she would go through four bouts of standardized testing by the end of the school year.
According to Gedde, teachers “don’t get to invest as much time in learning as they do in watching us test.”
Her mother, Tamra Gedde, a Sierra Middle science teacher who is involved in NEA, complained about the observation portion of the new system.
She said she was shocked when she found she had received a three on the five-point evaluation scale. A three is equated with a rating of “effective.”
She said the rating tells her that her investment in high-level professional development “means nothing to the current evaluation system.”