- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Facing a challenge from teachers unions, lawyers for the New Mexico Public Education Department are set to defend a teacher evaluation system and argue that any injunction will cause an unnecessary interruption to education reforms in the state.

Attorneys are scheduled Monday to defend the system before a Santa Fe County judge amid efforts to halt the use of student tests as part of evaluation.

American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation are seeking an injunction to halt the use of test scores while their lawsuit against the evaluation system goes through the court system.

The unions say the evaluation system is forcing veteran educators to retire or have their licenses jeopardized. They want the evaluation system tossed.

But Public Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre said the suit is a “disappointing distraction” from the agency’s mission of providing a quality education to every child.

“New Mexico’s accountability system made it possible for our state to get out from under the federal one-size-fits all No Child Left Behind law,” McEntyre said. “The union’s court challenge would undo that and leave our schools with less flexibility to meet the needs of each and every student.”

The agency said in May that nearly 74 percent of New Mexico teachers rated “effective” or better last school year based on the two-year-old evaluation system that takes into account student achievement.

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

Yet some teachers and administrators said the system still needs more changes.

Last week, Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent Joel Boyd testified that “glaring errors” have marred the state’s ratings of teachers in his district.

“We should pause and get it right,” Boyd said.

Education department records show that there were 712 queries from districts regarding the accuracy of teacher evaluation results in 2014-15, according to Public Education Department lawyer Jeffrey Wechsler. Of those, he said the state changed just 31 ratings after reviewing challenges.

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