BCS board: Delay needed in evaluations

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Belen Board of Education recently approved a resolution against New Mexico Public Education Department policy changes they say places an undue burden on district educators.

The board drafted the resolution in response to a state-mandated evaluation system that, among other things, base half of a teacher's evaluation on students' test scores and increase school administrator work loads by requiring more formal classroom visits.

Board members approved the declaration less than a week after about 50 teachers, students, support staff and parents participated in a protest outside of Belen School's administration offices. The protesters were gathered to voice their concerns over the state's policy changes.

The resolution urges state education officials to delay full implementation of the heavily-weighted evaluation system for one year and to reconsider some of the system's major tenets.

"We feel the Public Education Department is moving too fast on this," said Larry Lindberg, the board member who spearheaded the resolution. "Even the ones that had the pilot programs are recommending we go a little slower and this be delayed a year."

Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera said the state will make good on its No Child Left Behind waiver commitment and continue moving forward with the implementation of the new evaluation system.

"I heard a lot of folks say we are doing too much too fast and I would say we have done too little too long," Skandera said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Education granted New Mexico a waiver that allows the state to scrap key requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under the waiver, the state is allowed to forgo the requirement that all students show proficiency in reading in math by 2014.

But in lieu of those requirements, the state must meet certain conditions, such as creating a teacher and principal evaluation system.

Skandera said the system upgrades are badly needed as evidenced by the state's fourth grade-reading test scores.

She compares delaying addressing the state's education issues to dealing with a sick patient.

"We could argue it's like the analogy of having someone sick — you aren't going to sit around, you are going to bring solution and possibilities for getting better," she said. "Treating where we are not seeing the results that we know are possible for our kids, as quickly possible.

"I think folks would say that that is inhumane not to address what we can and should, if you take the analogy of the patient," she added.

In addition to urging state education officials too slow down implementing the evaluation system, the resolution also urges policy makers to use the delayed start to pilot or test out all components of the system.

So far, officials have tested out two components of the evaluation system that includes classroom observation and value-added statistical modeling.

Value-added statistical modeling uses statistics to control factors such as poverty and special needs that are "known to affect student test performance."

The modeling is supposed to provide a truer picture of a school's impact on student achievement by accounting for everything outside of the school's direct control and measure the "value" the school adds to a student's achievement, as measured by test scores.

Belen school officials opted to craft their own resolution rather than adopt the "Resolution of General Concern" that Albuquerque and Rio Rancho superintendents asked other school districts to adopt.

"The previous write-up was very similar to the Albuquerque Public Schools and Rio Rancho Public Schools and didn't necessary pertain to us," said Belen Superintendant Ron Marquez.

Last month, a district court judge dismissed a petition filed by state legislators and teachers unions to stop the state's new teacher-evaluation system.

School Board President Sam Chavez said he is concerned the judge's ruling sends the wrong message.

"I am kind of worried, the PED has taken that as a go-ahead to do what they want," Chavez said.

"I would really like for this resolution to get to PED so that they understand that they shouldn't be able to do as they want. They should be seeking input others from school districts."

An advisory council made up of six practicing teachers, three principals, three district administrators, as well as other members of the education community, helped devise the system.

New Mexico School Boards Association Executive Director Joe Guillen estimates that between 20 and 30 of the state's 89 school boards have passed resolutions asking the state education department to delay the evaluation system.

The most pervasive complaint isn't that the system is being improved, but that it is happening way too fast.

"It's not that school boards are against a evaluation system," Guillen said. "It is just that the window is too short and many segments of the evaluation system are not in place."

Skandera said the policy changes are the state's response to a 100 percent subjective evaluation system that had little to do with improving education.

"U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called our old system broke, and we agreed. So let's fix it and do something that actually champions great teachers and, most importantly, let's make sure we capture improved student achievement in this new evaluation system," Skandera said. "Let's bring art and science of teaching together."

A copy of the New Mexico School Board Association's resolution was included in its legislative packet at the annual NMSB Association convention this week, in hopes of convincing legislators to intervene and delay the rules.

New Mexico House Education Committee Chair Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) said the education committee will host meetings in Santa Fe so the education community can voice their concerns from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Jan. 25 and Feb. 1.

"In addition, I am working with others on bills and constitutional amendments to overturn the acting secretary's actions," Stewart said.

During the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers will hash out these and other education issues affecting the state's approximately 330,000 students and thousands of teachers.