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Third Lawsuit Takes Aim at Teacher Evaluations in N.M.

The latest teacher-evaluation dust-up comes to us courtesy of New Mexico, where two teachers' unions, teachers from seven districts, and a handful of state lawmakers have filed a lawsuit contending that the state's system has been riddled with errors and contravenes teachers' due process rights under the state constitution.

The lawsuit represents a new tack by the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which has been trying to alter the teacher-evaluation rules, so far without success. It was filed Feb. 13 in the Bernallilo County district court.

In the lawsuit, the union and its partners say that the system contains serious flaws relating to the student achievement portion of the reviews, which count for up to 50 percent of each teacher's rating. Among other problems, the union cites a lack of appropriate "value added" test-score-based data; scores being calculated based on missing or inaccurate data from test scores, teacher attendance, and student surveys; and districts who found the testing data so faulty that they appealed dozens of final ratings.

Teachers of tested grades and subjects were disproportionately given low reviews, the complaint said, showing that the system has not been applied consistently or fairly.

"The [state education department's] continued insistence on using the invalid system for complying with the statutory mandate is arbitrary and capricious," the complaint states. Not only does it jeopardize teachers' property rights in their employments, the system also infringes on teachers' due process rights under the state constitution, it argues.

The lawsuit also contends that the state system contradicts state statutes on teacher dismissal and on teachers' collective-bargaining rights.

The ATF's focus on substantive outcomes from the evaluation system marks a shift in tactics for the union and its allies. Before now, the ATF had argued the state didn't have the authority to craft such wide-ranging rules for the evaluation system. But its lawsuit to that end was thrown out by a district court and on appeal. (A second lawsuit on teacher evaluation, filed by the National Education Association, is still pending.)

State officials have dismissed the claims of new suit, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican, quoting education department Chief of Staff Ellen Hur: "This is getting ridiculous. Three separate times, three different courts in New Mexico have upheld our teacher evaluation system. It is a better system that uses multiple different types of information that we have to acknowledge our very best teachers and to provide support to all teachers to help them reach their full potential." 

Earlier this month, the National Education Association's Tennessee affiliate filed a lawsuit challenging its state's process for evaluating "non-tested" teachers on the basis of school-wide value-added scores. The NEA has two previous evaluation-related lawsuits pending in Tennessee.

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