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Task force suggests changes to NMPED mandates

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Education> Teacher evaluation systems under scrutiny

By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos Board of Education recently received an update from the district as to what it’s doing to help the district’s teachers through what many see as a difficult time of change and confusion for teachers, not only in this district but across the state.

At the beginning of the school year, the New Mexico Public Education Department began a rollout of new programs known as NMTeach and Common Core.

NMTeach is a teacher evaluation system the state came up with during a waiver agreement with the federal government over the “No Child Left Behind” act. The program features a set of tools and evaluation techniques to determine if teachers are competent in their chosen specialty. Common Core is a national program that is designed to instill in school students across the U.S. the same basic understanding of math and English according to the student’s grade.

Teachers in Los Alamos as well as all over the state have been protesting the changes, stating that all the new testing, rules and requirements required to carry out the programs are overwhelming them as well as cutting into what they are originally there to do — teach children.

In recent weeks, the district and the board responded with a plan to alleviate some of the teachers’ burden by examining NMTeach and Common Core to see what parts of the programs they can either streamline, indefinitely suspend or discontinue altogether without incurring penalties from the NMPED.

At the same time, the administration and the board have been working closely with the NMPED and keeping them apprised of what they are doing.

At a recent school board meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn updated the board as to what they and a special taskforce of teachers, parents and administrators have come up with to help.

The draft report included a section listing actions that can be taken immediately to help. They were broken down into three areas that included “District,” “Schools” and “Classroom.”

Top three suggestions for the District included “Delay, reduce and/or phase in workloads of current/future district initiatives,” “For this year and 2014-15, return the district focus of the rollout of Common Core” and “Make Planbook.com optional”. Planbook is a piece of evaluation software the district has provided teachers to help create lesson plans.

For the “Schools” category, the top three suggestions were “Increase effort to protect staff preparation time by lessening interruptions,” “Review purpose of staff meetings to see if they can be eliminated/reduced/more focused” and “Review when SAT, IEP (Individualized Education Program, RTI (Response to Intervention) meetings occur.”

In the “Classroom” category, top suggestions included “Reduce classroom interruptions,” “Return to the fundamentals of Common Core — start making sure we have the resources/material/time.”

Also included in the report was a three-question survey that was sent out to teachers.

When asked what were the top three stress inducers, teachers listed NMTeach (Teacher evaluation system) as number one, “Teachscape” (evaluation software tool) as number two and Planbook as number three.

When asked about what are the top three tasks that have no contribution to student achievement, Teachscape was number one, Planbook was number two and testing was number three.

At the meeting, Schmidt indicated to the board, that they’ve already implemented some of these changes.

“Teachscape has been taken off the table,” he said, adding that lesson plans and Planbook is now optional.

While Board President Jim Hall generally agreed with the findings, he indicated he wanted to see these updates on the agenda so they could continue to track the changes. He also urged the staff at each of the district’s schools to see what they themselves can do to increase teaching time by looking at their own routines.

“There are some things going on at the schools that are very nice to do, but also take away from instruction time,” he said.

He also warned those in the audience that want to confront NMPED directly over its policies that that wouldn’t be a good idea, that it was far better to be doing what they’re doing now, implementing small changes and keeping the NMPED informed about what they did and why.

“I think we have to realize who we are, and some of the facts we’re faced with in the state of New Mexico, he said.
Hall went on to say it was far better to take the diplomatic approach since Los Alamos had a lot to lose if it didn’t.