Things BB Wrote Elsewhere: Hanna Skandera and the Steaming Crock of “Piecemeal”

Note: After six weeks of pondering, more pondering and even some Poi Dog Pondering, Better Burque has decided to get back to posting here on a fairly regular basis. BB will still look at bicycling and pedestrian matters here in the Duke City, perhaps more than anyone cares for, but will also get back to its bloggin’ roots with some K-12 education. 

Why? Because, well, for a bunch of reasons, one or two of which are touched upon in a piece written today for our friends over at Duke City Fix.  Also note that some of the obscure references below have links to other DCF stories and whatnot. Enjoy!

So I’m trying to follow my own advice this past weekend, “getting involved” by watching an archived NM House Education Committee hearing from last Friday.

Sometimes following one’s own advice can be painful. Painful, but enlightening.

The subject was, again, the NM teacher evaluation “system.” I’m using scare quotes around “system,” for reasons outlined below. Representative Debbie Sariñana is before the Committee advocating for her HB 163, which would address the impact of students with poor attendance on teacher evaluations. To be precise, she’s proposing a substitute version, revised and polished with the help of staff from the NM Public Education Department (PED).

She concludes her short remarks, around 9:03 a.m., when a sort of banal Hell breaks loose. The floor is opened for public discussion, and a guy in a suit stands up and says something the online listener can hardly make out. Two general things about this:

  1. While legislators have microphones, “public” does not, which makes hearing them online really, really hard.
  2. In the case of just about every education bill, “public” comment starts with everybody in the room looking over at a guy in a suit from PED. This guy invariably talks first.

Here’s what the PED guy said, almost inaudibly, regarding Rep. Sariñana’s bill, one PED helped craft:

“PED cannot support the (bill), as it is piecemeal legislation, and not part of a comprehensive teacher evaluation bill.”

What a steaming crock of “piecemeal.”

Several Republicans on the Committee then proceeded to state PED’s response was logical, while Democratic Representatives Rep. Linda Trujillo and Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton sharply rebuked the PED argument that “piecemeal” supposedly condemned HB 163 and other teacher evaluation bills.

Rep. Stapleton pointed out that PED under Secretary Skandera has, itself, been “piecemeal” since implementation  As any NM public school teacher can tell you, Rep. Stapleton is right. More to the point, and to add to the Rep.’s observation, PED has constantly changed and “improved” (more scare quotes) this “system” from the get-go back in School Year 2013-2014. Below are only some of the bewildering blizzard of switcheroos PED has foisted on teachers and school administrators since then:

2017 For this year’s legislative session, PED has announced plans to reduce student achievement from 50% of a teacher’s evaluation to 40%, and to increase the number of teacher absences that don’t “count” on evals from three to five.

2016 In the middle of the 2015-2016 School Year, we found out that PARCC testing would go from two sessions to one. A court also intervened to help PED decide the rule prohibiting teachers from “making disparaging remarks” about the test was dropped.

2015 For School Year 2015-2016, PED announced several changes, as seen below (note the number of “allowable” absences goes from zero to three):

2014 For School Year 2014-2015, PED announced it would no longer require “minimally effective” teachers to be put on what are called “performance growth plans,” giving districts leeway for these teachers, while those deemed “ineffective” would continue to have such plans required. This was also the year districts were given more choice with regards to “multiple measures” (e.g., graduation rate, student surveys) added to the evaluation formula.

Again, these are only some of the “piecemeal” changes. We haven’t mentioned the truly dizzying whipsaw alterations in evaluation measures like End of Course exams, nor have we brought up the state’s now ever-changing graduation requirements. We haven’t mentioned switching tests for elementary students, and even switching the entire online interface for the evaluation system.

Going through all the piecemeal changes is truly beyond even the limits of a blog, and certainly beyond almost anybody’s attention span, but let’s take a look at how teachers have often been “informed” by PED about such changes. Here’s a screenshot of a PowerPoint on 2016 NMTeach “improvements” from the “Public Education Deparment” (sic):

Yeah, they can’t even spell “Department,” but they can sure as Hell “piecemeal” everything. The simple truth is:

PED has just been making up all this teacher evaluation shit up as they’ve gone along


For the “Deparment” to hide behind “piecemeal” regarding legislative attempts to improve the teacher evaluation would be laughable, if not so painful to teachers and education in New Mexico. Atop all this hiding, of course, is the garbage-in black box that is the “Value-Added Modeling” VAM calculation itself, a black box PED hides within in a way strikingly like the “Wizard” behind that curtain in Oz.

As long as we still use VAM in teacher evaluations, all the piecemeal changes are only changing the color of the lipstick on the pig. Still, for PED to argue that the Legislature can’t change the lipstick, while the “Deparment” has been doing so over and over and over and over again, is nearly as deliberately disingenuous as the teacher evaluation “system” overall.

One thought on “Things BB Wrote Elsewhere: Hanna Skandera and the Steaming Crock of “Piecemeal”

  1. Great to see you back. Stay with it. I know it seems like no one is listening, but they are.

    I am reminded of starting to read the Seattle Bike Blog years ago. For the first couple of years, it felt like only me and a handful of anti-bike cranks were reading. But Josh stuck with it, and it really took off. It’s still a daily part of my day, and it has begun impacting decisions that politicians and bureaucrats are making. This blog can have that impact too, as readership grows.

    I’ve been telling people about this blog, and hopefully they have been telling people also.

    I have an article or three in mind. I’ll send it along when I can. Hopefully it will make a little difference.


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