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NM educators file suit against teacher evaluation rule

A group of educators and state legislators have filed suit against Hanna Skandera, the secretary-designate of the New Mexico Public Education Department, seeking to invalidate the department's teacher evaluation policies that Skandera enacted without legislative approval.

The suit was filed earlier in September in district court by state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, state Sens. Linda Lopez and Howie Morales, and a contingent of New Mexico educators.

When the state's teachers returned to school this year, they were subject to a new evaluation system linking teacher performance to student test scores. According to the lawsuit, the secretary-designate exceeded her authority in instituting the rule because the language conflicts with the New Mexico's School Personnel Act. According to the act, there must be a "highly objective uniform statewide standard for evaluation" of teachers.

While public school districts are required to use the new evaluation system, charter schools may apply for a waiver, creating distinctly different systems for evaluating teachers.

"Educators support teacher accountability and evaluations. As professionals, we want to learn and grow and provide all of our students with the best opportunities," says AFT New Mexico President Stephanie Ly. "But this rule isn't aimed at promoting useful professional feedback for teachers. Its aim seems to be to drive teachers away from public education by creating a false accountability system focused on shame and blame."

The new system would base half of teacher evaluations on students' academic performance. A recent poll by the Albuquerque Journal shows that the city's voters oppose that idea by a 46 to 41 percent margin.

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein told the Journal that the poll "indicates that voters are starting to understand the issues with these high-stakes teacher evaluations and how this skews what happens in the classroom to focus narrowly on a single test, rather than on the deep, well-rounded education that students deserve."

In 2013, educators and lawmakers worked to pass a meaningful evaluation system through the Legislature, but it was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. "Gov. Martinez and Secretary-Designate Skandera have ignored the voices of students, parents and educators," Ly says. "Meanwhile, educators are demoralized and are leaving the profession, and it is our students who are losing out."

[AFT New Mexico, Albuquerque Journal]

September 24, 2013