By Margaret Wright
— Around 50 educators and their supporters rallied last night at the Albuquerque Public Schools board meeting, expressing frustration and seeking answers following the state’s release of new teacher evaluations.
The Public Education Department, headed by Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera, has instituted a controversial combination of statistics, student standardized test scores, classroom observations and other factors to measure the effectiveness of public school teachers.
Jessica, a 10th-grade special education teacher, was among the dozens gathered outside APS headquarters. She declined to give her last name, saying she feared reprisals against her principal, whom she said had shared information about errors and inconsistencies in the rankings of teachers at her school. Among those errors: Jessica’s score was initially sent to the school where she formerly worked, to an administrator who’s no longer her supervisor.
Jessica said she was also awaiting answers about confusing details in her “effective” evaluation. Why did it include a blank field for her students’ Standards-Based Assessment scores, even though she had 10 years of them in her portfolio? Why was her evaluation—and the data that created it—still not available for her to verify on the state’s online teaching portal? Why did the PED tell teachers that student scores on new standardized End of Course Exams would be factored into evaluations when those tests haven’t been graded yet?
“It’s a mess,” said Jessica.
Also lingering outside the board meeting was Highland High School senior Giuseppe Deleers-Certo. He was being recognized for his role in a rigorous civics competition called “We the People.” Highland’s team had placed first in New Mexico, then tenth in the nation. Deelers-Certo said “an interesting paradox” stemmed from his experience with the state’s new high-stakes tests.
“I failed the Government End of Course Exam that was given to me by the state while simultaneously taking first place in the state competition concerning government.”
Deelers-Certo, who plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, said this illustrated how standardized tests can fall short when it comes to measuring what students achieve at school.
“Personally, I don’t think they’re the best use of resources or money. I think it would be more effective to, say, pay teachers more or add more materials to struggling schools.”
Wendy Simms-Small, a parent of three APS students who’d helped organized the day’s rally, said she started getting active after hearing rumors that hundreds of teachers were planning on leaving the school system.
“I got curious and wanted to find out why,” she said. “As a member of this community over many years, I have never seen the demoralization of professional individuals like this ever before.” She said the pressure of testing had also taken a toll on her kids.
“Private corporations reap great rewards when school systems implement standardized testing,” said Simms-Small, “so it’s my belief that they’re motivated financially to turn our children into pawns for profit.”
A Level-III math and science teacher from New Futures High School was one of nearly 30 speakers who urged the school board to take a stand against the new evaluation system. She said she’d received 17 years of exemplary evaluations until her recent score of “minimally effective.” The ranking, she said, was partially the result of sick days she’d taken as part of her negotiated contract, combined with other factors outside her control.
“My kids are really wonderful kids. They’re young parents, they have jobs, they’re going to school full time. But many of them are limited in what they can achieve because they are special ed and have disabilities.”
James Phillips teaches calculus to Advanced Placement students at Albuquerque High School. He described how the previous week had seen him publicly praised by board member Marty Esquivel, who called him the best math teacher in New Mexico. Just days later, Phillips was notified that the PED had also ranked him “minimally effective.”
He said his students received the highest AP math scores in the district, but since their performance on state standardized tests was just short of perfection, his evaluation suffered. Phillips said the state allowed high schoolers to take the Standards Based Assessment two years in a row, so his students—who’d already scored high as sophomores—weren’t as motivated the second time around.
“The PED promised teachers that students we receive who had already tested highly proficient, that their scores wouldn’t count against us as long as they remained highly proficient. Yet this is not true,” said Phillips.
Phillips later told the Compass that “there are too many nuances and variables to begin to comprehend how they can get valid numbers out of this system.”
The overall A grade the state awarded his school, he said, hinged largely on the fact that student performance on the math portion of the SBA ranked among the most improved in the district.
“The teachers that don’t teach a core subject—math, science or English—the majority of their evaluation comes from the fact that we’re an A school. But my kids go from a 95 to a 94, and I’m deemed minimally effective. The math teachers help get the school an A, but we get hurt the most.”
This was his thirteenth year teaching, said Phillips, “and it’s been my most frustrating.”
As of press time, representatives from PED had not responded to inquiries and requests for comment. Stay tuned for updates.