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More States Mull Changes to Teacher Evaluation Systems

Since last year's passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, state lawmakers have had broad latitude in deciding how—and even whether—they evaluate their teachers. Before the new law, the Obama adminstration had been pushing states to adopt systems that were "in significant part, based on student growth." With their newfound freedom, policymakers spent 2016 rehashing how to rate teachers, often reducing the influence of students' standardized test scores in evaluation systems. Continuing that trend, 2017 is shaping up to be another big year in reforming how teachers are evaluated.

Even before the legislative session begins, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in New Mexico are putting forth bills that would revamp their teacher evaluation system—in which students' performance on standardized tests account for 50 percent, class observations account for 25 percent, and various other measures, including teacher attendance rates, account for the remaining quarter. 

Democratic state Sen. Howie Morales, an educator, has put forward a bill that would completely scrap the state's current evaluation system and empanel a council to come up with a new system. The bill has the support of the state's branch of the American Federation of Teachers. Union officials, who have been challenging the current system in the courts arguing that the system unfairly penalizes teachers for outside influences affecting students' test scores, hope the resulting system would reduce the weight placed on test scores.

"This council would actually look at all research and would make a decision based upon what is the weight, if you will, for each component of a good evaluation, how much for observation, how much for student surveys," Stephanie Ly, the President of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, told KOB4, the NBC-affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Republican state Rep. Jason Harper has proposed a much smaller change. He wants to eliminate a controversial attendance component of the current evaluation system. Teachers are penalized if they miss more than three days during a school year. Harper's "Teachers Are Human Too" bill would let teachers take all of their contractual sick leave, which comes to up to two weeks in most of the state's districts, before being penalized.

Any effort will require working across the aisle as Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, but any bill would have to score a signature from the state's Republican governor, who has expressed doubts about the need to scrap the entire system.

In Idaho, the state's teacher ratings are being placed under a microscope as a career lader system that will reward teachers based on those scores comes online. Prior to the career ladder initiative, which will spend $250 million over five years to boost teachers' pay based on their performance, many administrators around the state were neglecting to properly rate teachers. In more than a fourth of the state's districts, all educators just received the same score. Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News predicts that with so much money on the line, legislators will review the state's evaluation system during the 2017 legislative session.

Already this year, New Jersey policymakers have tweaked their system. They are cutting the amount of classroom observation time teachers receive: For first- and second-year teachers, observation time will be cut from 100 minutes a year to just 60 minutes. While the state says that adminstrators need just 18 minutes to evaluate the quality of a teacher's craft, officials from the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teacher organization, call the new rule, "perplexing."

"How can you really tell what a teacher is doing in two or three 20-minute snap shots," said union spokesman Matt Stagliano, reports NJ.com.  

New Jersey has been bucking a national move away from using student test scores to evaluate educators. A few months ago, officials there announced that they would triple the weight of test scores, from 10 percent to 30 percent, of teacher evaluations.


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