By Joseph Kolb
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., June 18 (Reuters) - A New Mexico judge has denied a motion to dismiss a teachers union lawsuit that challenges the state's new educator evaluation system, delighting opponents who say the system is punitive and error-ridden.
"This decision makes the community aware of the fact the state's teacher evaluation system is flawed and that you can't label teachers with a flawed system," Stephanie Ly, president of the union, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said Thursday about the ruling that state District Court Judge David Thomson issued on Wednesday.
The lawsuit contends the system, known as NMTEACH, is based on "a fundamentally, and irreparably, flawed methodology which is further plagued by consistent and appalling data errors."
A spokesman for the New Mexico Public Education Department noted state courts had rejected previous attempts to undermine the teacher evaluation system.
"It's unfortunate that the union and their special-interest allies would rather spend resources on frivolous litigation in courtrooms than better instruction in our classrooms," said the spokesman, Robert McEntyre.
He added that the department continues to stand behind and improve the system, which he said recognizes the best teachers while offering support to all teachers.
No teachers have been fired because of poor performance under the system, which was introduced for the 2013-14 school year, but nearly a quarter of all the state's teachers have been placed on so-called growth plans, according to McEntyre.
NMTEACH rates teacher effectiveness based on observations by school officials, teacher attendance and the results of parent and student surveys. Half of a teacher's score is determined by student achievement.
The maximum score is 200 points and those with scores below 118 points are placed on growth plans.
Ly said that being put on a growth plan is a step toward dismissal, and it could hurt the job prospects for teachers in a state already suffering from an acute teacher shortage.
(Reporting by Joseph Kolb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Lambert)