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New Mexico: Struggle halts unfair teacher evaluations

The writer is a grade school teacher in New Mexico and member of Albquerque Teacher Federation (AFT affiliate).

The people mobilized and their united voices forced New Mexico Judge David Thomson to issue a preliminary injunction halting the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system in the state. The injunction prevents the state from using the system in employment, advancement and licensure decisions until the judge hears all the evidence at a trial next spring. This is a milestone achievement for the teachers of New Mexico.

The injunction comes after a lawsuit was filed in February by the American Federation of Teachers as well as by five state lawmakers and seven teachers. The suit claimed the teacher evaluation system is too error-riddled to be a good measure of an educator’s effectiveness.

This initial victory would not have been possible if it were not for solidarity between teachers, students, and parents, nor without the support of the teacher’s union, which stated, “Educators can breathe a little easier and focus their efforts on providing the best education possible for our students without fear for their continued employment or career advancement.”

Just a week ago, before the court decision, I was undergoing my second observation of the Fall Term: anxiety ridden,  I knew very well just how much
was riding on this. I scrambled to do the best job that I knew I could, recalling a conversation I had with a fellow teacher recently. She has been teaching several years and was nearing time to complete her dossier so that she can move up from a Level 1 teacher to a Level 2. This is something mandated by our teacher contracts.

The dossier process is both laborious and expensive, but not completing it within a specific time parameter warrants a teacher’s license invalid. That is pressure enough, but most teachers have the drive to do it. However, the new teacher evaluation adds extra limitations. If a teacher receives a mark of “minimally effective” to “ineffective” on past evaluations, their ability to even go through the dossier process is voided.

As I spoke with Mrs. Regina, a fellow middle school teacher, she feared the inevitable loss of her license. You see it is possible, as Mrs. Regina has experienced, to get exemplary marks on your observations, but still get an overall “ineffective” score because of absences or from student standardized test scores on the PARCC, a test that is seen by many educators as itself ineffective.

Hanna Skandera, the NM Education Secretary appointed by Governor Susanna Martinez, thinks that this teacher evaluation system is here to stay and that the harsh consequences that an ill-conceived system demands will stand regardless of the judge’s order that they must be halted through the spring pending the full case.

This is not the first time Skandera failed to listen to the people. Last year students, parents, and teachers took to the streets protesting the new PARCC test that Skandera both had a hand in implementing and profiting from. She literally kept her door closed and did not answer to rallying cries from thousands of New Mexico students who walked out in protest, as well as superintendents, principals, and parents that rallied against the test which is a crucial part the VAM (Value-Added Measure) teacher evaluation system.

“Students and the teachers have spoken out against a system that is so rife with errors that in some districts as many as 60 percent of evaluations were incorrect,” Superintendent Weingarten said.

The fight continues with a call to action and another lawsuit, this time by the National Education Association-New Mexico. It is clear that the fight is not over as long as the people stand together.

The struggle forced the judge to recognize that the teacher evaluation system did not appear to be objective or consistent. The evaluation system is harmful for students and teachers, only serving the companies it was created by and their cronies. The continued solidarity and fightback of students, parents and teachers can move to win more victories this spring and beyond.

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