Teacher evaluations, graduation requirements draw fire from all corners

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Discussion about the new teacher evaluation system and high school graduation requirements packed the large conference room at the teacher's resource center for last week's Los Lunas Board of Education meeting.

Parents, teachers, students and school officials are struggling trying to meet the new requirements.

Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Bernard Saiz compared the new reforms to trying to build an airplane while flying it.

The new evaluations and graduation requirements are mandated by the New Mexico Public Education Department, and are a part of, along with the school grading system, the No Child Left Behind waiver obtained by the state almost two years ago.

The graduation requirements were originally initiated in 2008. At that time, PED started a transition from New Mexico High School Graduation Assessments to Standard Based Assessments. This year, the department made passing the SBA a requirement for graduation.

Students who do not pass the SBA are required to take an alternative exam, called the end-of-course test, to prove their competency in whichever subject area they failed on the SBA.

Many school administrators, teachers, students and parents are frustrated with the new requirements. The consensus is that the process is going too fast without a lot of thought or details figured out, said Mary McGowan, a Los Lunas teacher and co-president of the National Education Association.

"Teachers are all about doing a great job, but we need time for this," McGowan told the almost filled conference room.

The public was encouraged to fill out forms to address the board at last week's meeting, but only one parent, James Wanstall, did so.

"I understand that you, as administrators, are worried about administering," said Wanstall. "That's your job. I'm a parent here … and my concern is for the kids, and the fact that they're being ground under."

Parents and students are upset because some high school seniors have been required to take an end-of-course exam their senior year for a subject they took in their freshman year.

Parents are angry there are now more tests required of their children, especially since teachers don't even know what's on the tests.

"The price is being paid by our students," said Wanstall. "As administrators, you're paid to make this thing work. You have to pursue that course. I understand that, but there's nothing that says you can't address that constructively."

Board of Education President Charles Tabet said he didn't know if Los Lunas Schools should join forces with Albuquerque schools to try to slow the reform process down, or start their own effort, but that everyone who has children is affected.

Teacher evaluations are based mostly on student achievement — 50 percent of their evaluation is based on their students' test score improvement. Another 25 percent of the evaluation is observation of the teacher by the principal, and another 25 percent is on other measures, such as teacher attendance.

Principals must review each teacher and their lesson plans among other things, culminating in a 17-page report on each teacher.

"This 17-page report doesn't need to be 17 pages," said Los Lunas Board Secretary Sean Gibson.

Several teachers in the audience said 'Thank you,' in validation. Los Lunas Board of Education Member Georgia Otero-Kirkham received loud applause when she said, "The ones who are going to suffer the most is going to be our students."

School officials are also perplexed that the PED can't explain its formula for grading schools.

Saiz said the Superintendents Association have lobbied against the new requirements.

"And it's getting nowhere," he said. "I have been an administrator for the past 26 years and I have never seen public education in this much disarray. There is currently a lawsuit in District Court against (Secretary-designate Skandera) filed by the American Federation of Teachers, a teacher's union, and three legislators."

The hearing date is scheduled for Nov. 21.

Gibson said he can see "this is going to be a progressively worse train wreck."

Wanstall offered to help build a grassroots effort to find a constructive solution and get it into the legislative process.

"Basically, in 2008, the legislation passed the stuff that deals with the graduation requirements," he said. "We can get back in there and ask them, put a bill before them, and make them decide."

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the National Education Association wants to join the teachers federation in a lawsuit of its own to halt the implementation of the new evaluation systems for both teachers and schools.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.