N.M. Teachers Fight the System

     ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – Teachers and lawmakers sued New Mexico’s Education Department, claiming the state’s new teacher-evaluation system is unconstitutional.
     Lead plaintiff state Sen. Mimi Stewart, one of five senator-plaintiffs, claim the standards instituted in 2012 are arbitrary and capricious, “plagued by consistent and appalling data errors,” dubious methods of categorization, and a rushed implementation that led to incoherent results.
     One school superintendent estimated that as many as 50 percent of her initial teacher evaluations had errors in 2014, the complaint states.
     Santa Fe Superintendent Joel Boyd told the Santa Fe New Mexican the Department of Education should “press the pause button and delay the use of standardized test scores as a high-stakes component within the evaluation system until we resolve the obvious problems.”
     Plaintiff Ron Lavandoski teaches students with learning disabilities and despite good ratings from his principal received a grade of “minimally effective” because of low scores on standardized tests that do not reasonably account for students with special needs, Lavandoski.
     Plaintiff Tracey Brumlik says she was downgraded for attendance because she took two weeks of federally protected to adopt a child. What’s more, she says, part of her score was not even based on teaching she had done at her current job.
     Other teachers claim they were held accountable for clerical errors that were not their fault, or told by their principal that there was no obvious explanation for why they received such a low grade.
     The Department of Education has defended itself by saying that the errors are the result of incorrect data submitted by school districts.
     But a late 2013 memo from the department’s Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera acknowledged that the system had not been completed when her department told schools to use it.
     The Department of Education has told teachers that the evaluations will not be used to determine pay or hiring or firing, though the department also has said that it will use the evaluations to determine those things, according to the complaint.
     The lawmakers, teachers and unions that represent more than 20,000 teachers in the state say the Department of Education had no authority to create the standards. They say the School Personnel Act allows the Department of Education only to set minimum objective standards for performance evaluations, and that school districts are supposed to create their own policies, guidelines, and procedures for implementing the broader standards. The plaintiffs say the new regulations rob school districts of their right to develop methods to serve their own students’ needs. They claim that since the department did not receive legislative permission to implement the new teacher evaluation program, it is illegal.
     They claim the department violated their rights to due process, the School Personnel Act and the Public Employees Bargaining Act.
     They want the department enjoined from using the system, especially as it affects licensure and pay.
     Their lead counsel is Shane Youtz with Youtz & Valdez.

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