New Mexico Leading the Charge on Teacher Support & Evaluation

I, like most New Mexicans, had a highly varied experience with teacher quality as a K12 student in Albuquerque Public Schools. There are a handful of teachers who stand out, but broadly my reflections are “meh” or wonderment that I survived. (I had an “English teacher” in high school who showed no fewer than ten movies in one semester, including one of my all-time favorites Gattaca. Sooooo, thank you?)

Last week a report from the highly respected National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which has been the nation’s leading proponent of improving teacher preparation, took a deeper look at New Mexico and five other locales which’ve implemented teacher evaluation programs. (Go here for the NM-specific PDF.)

For much of the 21st century, states have put increasing energy into better understanding teacher development and quality. (Or, as wonks might say, “The inputs and outputs.”) Through expansive policy solutions and evaluation systems, there have been varying degrees of success in ensuring as many students as possible have highly qualified and effective teachers leading classrooms, particularly for historically disenfranchised students.

As part of New Mexico’s effort to raise the floor on teacher quality, while not lowering the ceiling of possibility, The Land of Enchantment put NMTeach in place starting in the 2013-14 school year. Since then, most public school teachers receive an annual rating, ranging from “exemplary” to “minimally effective”.

 
 

Contentious from the start, NMTeach was our first meaningful, statewide attempt at a standard evaluation of teacher performance incorporating student learning. The student learning piece remains the single most debated aspect of NMTeach. As noted in the report, NMTeach student growth originally accounted for 50 percent of a teacher’s rating but last year that was reduced to 35 percent.

Reading through the (brief) report a few things stand out:

  • Among the fifty states plus D.C., only NM articulates specific percentages for the five evaluation areas: (1) observations [40%], (2) student growth [35%], (3) professionalism [15%], (4) student surveys [5%], and (5) attendance [5%];

  • We are “the only state to specifically require that teacher absenteeism be included as part of a teacher’s summative evaluation rating”;

  • While most states have evaluation systems that place 90+ percent of teachers in the highest categories, “teachers in New Mexico earn ratings that are substantially more widely distributed across rating categories …which enables New Mexico to differentiate the resources and supports”;

  • More than most states, NM is able to ensure students needing more support are matched with proven effective educators: “More students of color in New Mexico — both a higher number and a higher percentage — are being taught by highly effective and exemplary teachers than nonminority students”; and

  • New Mexico must do a better job at identifying and directly supporting teachers. While ratings provide helpful information, districts, NMPED, and schools must better align targeted support to specific PD areas. Sometimes the deficiency is in practice, sometimes in curriculum, and other times with dysfunction school administration not providing meaning professional learning.

 

Ultimately, a rating is a rating, meaningless in vacuum. (Particularly in New Mexico where personnel decisions are not made based on a teacher’s rating due to a lawsuit from teachers’ unions.) What I listen for is a how districts, schools, and educators respond to evaluations. Their self-beliefs about growth and learning speak volumes about their approach to students.

I know “highly effective” teachers dissatisfied with their own personal achievement, determined to spread their wisdom beyond the four walls of their classrooms. Many of these same educators have valid critiques of and recommendations to evolve NMTeach forward. I respect these folks immensely.

I’ve also heard from educators who believe any attempt to tie student learning to their evaluation is a “sham”. Perhaps they’ve had a terrible experience with NMTeach or their district’s approach to it. Or perhaps they haven’t escaped the union echo chamber that shoots down genuine efforts to improve schools though accountability and choice at every turn.

New Mexico is leading the nation in developing a teacher evaluation system that is fair to both teachers and communities; an inevitable tension in this hard work. We should be proud of what we’ve built and have the fortitude to keep building on that foundation. In doing so we will continue to lead the nation and serve as models of what’s possible.