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Posted November 4, 2013

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Superintendent Responds to Newspaper Questions

The Albuquerque Journal asked Superintendent Winston Brooks to respond to questions on testing and teacher evaluations. We thought we’d share his answers with you.


1. How many end-of-the-year or other regularly scheduled tests are there? (The answer may differ for, say, seniors and juniors or 7th graders.)
SBAs: Students in grades 3-8, 10 and 11 take the state-mandated New Mexico Standards Based Assessment in the spring. The SBA serves as the high school exit exam.

EOC exams: Last year, high school students also took state-mandated End of Course exams in five subjects. This year, those exams have been expanded to more than two dozen subjects. The Public Education Department, which develops the tests, has repeatedly altered subjects and grade levels to be tested.

For example, on Aug. 29, as APS began preparing for our teacher and community town hall meetings on testing, graduation requirements and teacher evaluations, there were End of Course exams for 27 subjects in grades K-12.

On Oct. 4, the list was revised by PED. It included 28 subjects – a health education exam was added for middle school. However, students in K-3 no longer were to be tested in art or music (only PE).

On Oct. 7, the list was revised again by PED. K-3 students no longer were to take any End of Course exams and the test for middle school Spanish was eliminated.  
As of today, there are End of Course exams for 27 subjects in grades 4-12.

  • Tested subjects for elementary school: art, music and PE (grades 4-5)
  • Tested subjects for middle school: Algebra I (grades 7-12), health education, integrated science, art, New Mexico history, social studies
  • Tested subjects for high school: Algebra I, Algebra II, biology, chemistry, economics, reading (grades 11 & 12), writing (grades 11 & 12), general computer applications, health education, integrated math, art, music, New Mexico history, PE, Spanish, U.S. government, U.S. history, world history.

Other tests: In addition to state-mandated assessments, students also take college-prep tests (PSAT, PLAN, SAT, ACT, Accuplacer), Advanced Placement exams and finals. APS doesn’t use End of Course exams as finals for a number of reasons, a primary one being they are given in April, six weeks before the end of the school year.

Also, interim assessments are given throughout the school year at all levels to monitor student learning and provide feedback that can be used to improve learning.

2. Is this too many tests?
Yes. We believe that standardized testing plays a role in education. However, layer after layer of testing is interfering with learning. In addition, not all students – including some of our special education  and English Learners – do well on standardized tests. We feel  we should use a variety of measures – including portfolios, presentations, projects and more – to help determine a student’s success. As we prepare students for college and careers, we want them to learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills that aren’t easily tested. That’s what business and industry is telling us: We need students who can think on the run and be creative, not merely fill in bubbles.

3. Who came up with/developed the end-of-class exams?
The state Public Education Department. Though PED does give districts the option of creating their own end-of-course exams for untested subjects, we haven’t had the time, funding or manpower to dedicate that many hours outside the classroom to creating fair and appropriate standardized tests. This process would require bringing teachers for each subject together to agree on test items. Also, there’s a chance that PED will develop additional end of course exams that would replace any developed by the district.

4. How are the tests tied to teacher evaluations?
In the simplest terms, half of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student growth on state-mandated assessments. Which assessments depend on what subject(s) are taught. If there is no state exam for the subject taught, half of the evaluation is based on the state-assigned school grade, which is tied to SBA scores in math and reading. So, for example, if you teach high school physics, newspaper, graphic design, culinary arts or French (subjects that currently aren’t tested by the state), your teacher evaluation would be tied to SBA reading and math scores for sophomores and juniors.

Teacher Evaluations

1. What do they consist of?
This is a complicated formula that includes a combination of student achievement, observations, student surveys and other factors including teacher attendance.  

2. Are they fair? (Why? or Why not?)
No. We agree that the teacher evaluation system needs to be revised with more emphasis on observations and feedback. And we agree that student performance should be a measure of these evaluations. For quite some time, I’ve pointed out that only a dozen or so of our more than 6,000 teachers were on improvement plans last year. I’m sure many more of our teachers need improvement. That’s why we piloted an alternative teacher evaluation system at five of our schools last year that we felt was a much better measure of teacher success and also provided constructive feedback and assistance for teachers who were struggling. The process included additional observations and more dialogue between teachers and instructional leaders at the school. We asked that we be allowed to use this tested evaluation plan for all APS teacher this school year; the state denied our request.

3. How time-consuming are the evaluations, particularly for principals?
I went straight to the source, asking a veteran high school principal about how much time these evaluations were taking. From pre- to post-conference, each evaluation is taking on average three hours. Each principal/assistant principal at this particular school was evaluating about 25 teachers. Each teacher is evaluated three times a year. So each principal will spend on average 225 hours on teacher evaluations.

This, of course, varies tremendously depending on the school level, the experience of the principal, the number of assistants who can help, the amount of feedback and assistance a teacher needs and more.

And while I believe evaluations are important, you have to remember that a principal’s job entails so much more. They are their campus CEO. They deal with student issues every day. They deal with parents. They deal with discipline, facility care, budget, community outreach, scheduling. Oh, and by the way, they also evaluate support staff, such as custodians, secretaries, administrators, etc.

4. What is the process? (Who does the actual evaluating?)
Principals and assistant principals are responsible for the evaluations. Each evaluations involves:

  1. Pre-conference meeting with the teacher
  2. Classroom walk through
  3. Formal observation
  4. Review of paperwork (teacher lesson plans, rubrics, etc.)
  5. Written summary
  6. Scoring
  7. Sharing with teacher, who is allowed to provide feedback including rebuttal
  8. Post-conference
  9. Development of an improvement plan (if needed)

This is for the first observation which is expected to be completed by Nov. 1. The second and third observations will be more in-depth because they also will look at such areas as parent communication and professional development.

5. What is the status of the legal action challenging the Martinez administration’s authority to issue the new program?
APS is not a party in this lawsuit.

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