State Sen. Howie Morales plans to challenge Gov. Susana Martinez's administration on its plan to rate teachers based in part on the results of student test scores in reading and math.
"This is the same approach that was used with the failed No Child Left Behind legislation," said Morales, D-Silver City. "There is no data that shows it works."
Hanna Skandera, secretary-designate of public education, said in an interview that standardized test scores are "a valid and reliable" measure of whether a student is learning.
She said her department planned to move ahead with an evaluation system in which 35 percent of a teacher's performance rating would be based on their students' test scores.
Skandera said three years of data would be used whenever possible, thereby lessening the chance of a teacher being treated unfairly based on short-term results.
Most important, she said, a teacher whose students show progress would be credited for it, even if the test scores were relatively low.
Martinez's administration pushed for this type of teacher evaluation system in a bill that cleared the House of Representatives 57-9 this year, but then was killed by state Senate committee. Democrats control the House, proving that the Republican governor's evaluation plan had bipartisan support, Skandera said.
But Morales said the governor's team now was sidestepping the legislative process in hopes of implementing a controversial evaluation system by departmental rule.
Morales offered a competing bill on teacher evaluations last session. His proposal reached the Senate floor, then died as time ran out.
He said the governor's plan is flawed, and he hopes to stop it, beginning Thursday with a hearing in Portales before a legislative committee.
"Educators livelihoods would be in jeopardy based on some things they may have no control over," Morales said. "Most educators do not even teach math or language arts."
Skandera said those who teach history, music or art would also, to a degree, be evaluated on tests or other measurements of student progress.
State Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the plan Martinez's administration is pushing would be anything but an accurate snapshot of how teachers are performing.
She said teachers in affluent districts or schools would have an enormous advantage in an evaluation system weighted on standardized testing of students.
Not true, Skandera said.
Low-performing students actually have made significant improvement on standardized tests. A student's socioeconomic status would put no teacher at a disadvantage, Skandera said.
She said she had tried during the last legislative session to forge a compromise with Morales, but he did not respond.
Asked why the Public Education Department was now moving to implement an evaluation system that did not receive legislative approval, Skandera said: "We just can't wait."
She also said the legislative session provided an opportunity to highlight the evaluation plan, but she believed her agency could put it in place with a law being passed.
Morales, though, said Skandera's move violates the spirit of education reform.
"In essence, what they want would bypass the legislative process," he said.
Morales and the Public Education Department agree on one point. The existing teacher evaluation system of "meets competency" or "does not meet competency" is not working.
Morales said his worry is that the plan sought by Martinez and Skandera would be destructive.
"States such as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and New York, to name a few, which have implemented similar systems, have had to revamp or retract these approaches because of consistent practices of teaching to the test," Morales said.
In some cases, he said, effective teachers were fired because they offered "more well-rounded educational opportunities to students."