Skandera fields questions, concerns about teacher evals

December 3, 2013 • Local News

New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Designate Hanna Skandera recently visited Roswell Independent School District headquarters to field questions and comments about the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

More than 50 parents and educators from Roswell, Hagerman and Lake Arthur, as well as Rep. Nora Ezpinoza (R-Roswell), attended the Monday forum arranged by PED and New Mexico Parent Teacher Association.

Skandera acknowledged concerns about the new system, telling the audience, “I don’t know of any system that’s perfect when it’s implemented that first year.”

She said the new system is necessary to ensure quality instruction of students. Since 2003, teachers across the state have received a total of $400 million in salary increases without corresponding improvement in “student achievement,” according to Skandera.

She said the evaluations should aid in professional development by providing teachers with more thorough feedback than the former system.

During the forum, local educators expressed wariness about what they said was excessive [auth] subjectivity in the observation component of the evaluation process.

Sierra Middle School science teacher Tamara Gedde said that she thought her score from a classroom observation was lower than it should have been, given the performance of her students.

“I used to be considered a rock star teacher,” she said.

Skandera responded by explaining checks and balances built into the evaluation system to prevent subjective judgements from hijacking evaluation outcomes.

She gave as an example a teacher who is ranked “ineffective” in observations conducted by district staff or school leaders, but receives a rating of “exemplary” when rated for improvement of students’ standardized test scores. In such a situation, she said, the teacher may request a second observation by an alternate observer chosen by the district from district or school staff or an outside entity.

Other teachers expressed concerns that the system may curtail creativity in the classroom by encouraging micro-management of teachers.

A Roswell teacher referred to the system as “Orwellian” in its requirement that teachers upload documents including lesson plans and other teaching materials to software application Teachscape.

Skandera assured the audience that only districts have access to files uploaded to Teachscape and that the tool does not require teachers to re-do lesson plans or otherwise change their teaching methods.

The state was required to roll out the new evaluations by this year so as to retain a waiver exempting PED from having to adhere to the No Child Left Behind Act, according to Skandera.

The new evaluations differ from the state’s previous rubric for rating teachers in that they include a wider range of ratings for teachers and take into account a greater breadth of data.

The new system categorizes teachers on a five-point scale from “ineffective” to “exemplary,” whereas the previous evaluation system ranked teachers only as “meets competency” or “does not meet competency.”

The state’s model for the new system bases 35 percent of a teacher’s score on improvement in standardized test scores. Teachers’ unions have said testing results are weighed too heavily.

Jean Snyder, a parent of two RISD high school students who works as a counselor at University High School, said at the forum that she worries the frequency of standardized testing in schools is depriving students of valuable time with teachers.

A portion of the meeting was set aside to discuss graduation requirements at high schools. Skandera presented a power point on requirements following discussions of the evaluation system.

The forum in Roswell was one of five planned by PED and NMPTA this week. Skandera was also slated to visit Albuquerque, Farmington, Las Cruces and Las Vegas. She toured Pecos Valley districts Monday and today visited another forum in Hobbs. The Hobbs forum was not part of the PED/PTA tour.

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