Teacher evaluations roil gubernatorial race in New Mexico

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce recently told an audience that New Mexico's future teacher evaluation system could end up looking similar to the current one if he is elected, drawing criticism Thursday from Democratic Party and teachers union officials.

New Mexico's Democratic Party released a video of comments by Pearce to a conference of educators in which the GOP candidate describes his proposal to suspend and replace the teacher evaluation system with input from stakeholders including teachers.

In the late-July appearance, Pearce said some teachers see positive aspects in the current evaluations and that "we may use almost exactly the same evaluation system."

Citing the speech, Democratic Party Chairwoman Marg Elliston accused Pearce of supporting failed policies of outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who can't run for a consecutive third term.

Both Pearce and Democratic rival Michelle Lujan Grisham have promised to overhaul teacher evaluations that they regard as ineffective and unfair if elected governor. The system that incorporates student test scores has come under fire as New Mexico lags behind most states in student academic performance.

Mary Parr-Sanchez, vice president of the New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association, said she fears Pearce will we swayed by a small, vocal faction of teachers who support the current system.

"They are definitely in the minority," she said. "The overwhelming majority believe that the teacher evaluation system has harmed kids."

Pearce announced in June that he would immediately suspend the New Mexico's teacher evaluation system if elected and convene discussions to devise a replacement. He said the "current system has crushed the spirit of many talented educators and contributed to our state's teacher shortage."

On Thursday, he reiterated that teachers would have a true voice in the process.

"It is from the teachers I hear that there are aspects of the current one they find useful," he said. "But teachers will determine."

The Martinez administration has cited improvements in high school graduation rates and has been trying to clamp down on poorly performing schools. But across the state, just one-fifth of students in grades 3 to 11 demonstrated proficiency in math on the most recent annual standardized tests, while 29 percent were proficient in language arts.

Pearce spokesman Kevin Sheridan said the congressman wants to specifically address concerns that teachers are being punished in the evaluation process for working at schools with low academic performance.

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