- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A Santa Fe judge issued an injunction Wednesday against New Mexico’s teacher evaluation system amid an ongoing legal fight between teachers unions and the state.

State District Judge David Thomson ruled that the Public Education Department couldn’t use the newly adopted teachers evaluation system to punish or reward teachers until the lawsuit goes to trial in April. State officials said the system hasn’t been used to punish or reward teachers yet.

The ruling still allows New Mexico officials to continue collecting data from the new teachers’ evaluations that have drawn scrutiny from some Democrats and teachers union leaders.

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation had sought a partial injunction while their lawsuit against the evaluation system moves through the courts. They say the evaluation system is forcing veteran educators to retire or have their licenses jeopardized, and they want it thrown out.

“We feel this is the beginning of the end for the blame and shame game against teachers,” John Dyrcz, an organizer with the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, said.

The unions had previously sought a full injunction against the teachers evaluation but later amended its demands.

Public Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre said the ruling does little on how the state will evaluate teachers.

“Today’s ruling means that teacher evaluations will continue to move forward - period. Nothing changes,” McEntyre said. “This is simply a legal PR stunt by the labor unions after they failed to get a complete injunction. New Mexicans believe that every profession should be evaluated, and we will continue to evaluate our teachers, allowing us to praise our highly effective teachers and help those who are struggling.”

He previously said the suit was a “disappointing distraction” from the agency’s mission of providing a quality education.

The agency said in May that nearly 74 percent of New Mexico teachers rated “effective” or better last school year, based on the 2-year-old evaluation system that takes into account student achievement. That was a 4 percent drop from last year’s evaluation and largely came from a nine-point decrease in the number of educators graded just “effective.”

However, 24 percent were graded “highly effective” and around 2.5 percent were rated “exemplary” - both small jumps from 2014.

Earlier that month, around three dozen teachers burned their teacher evaluations as a sign of protest in front of the Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters.

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera told The Associated Press that the report on the evaluations was a “game changer” since it utilized data such as teacher attendance and surveys, although districts can decide how that information is used.

Under the system, district and charter schools develop their own evaluation plans but must use student achievement to count for 50 percent of evaluations if a teacher has three-year’s worth of student data on growth. After factoring classroom observation, districts can use surveys or attendance.

The use of attendance had drawn scrutiny because some districts were counting family and medical leave against teachers.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras

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