Almost 74 percent of New Mexico’s 20,000 teachers were rated “effective” or better in the state’s latest evaluations, the Public Education Department said Monday.

Teachers can be rated as ineffective, minimally effective, effective, highly effective or exemplary.

More than 24 percent were rated highly effective, and 2.5 percent were exemplary.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, more than 22 percent were labeled minimally effective and 3.6 percent were rated ineffective.

The data are similar to last year’s results, though the number of teachers actually rated "effective" dropped slightly this year.

In the Santa Fe district, the state rated 1.71 percent of teachers exemplary; 22.15 percent highly effective; 49.08 percent effective; 25.09 percent minimally effective; and 1.96 percent ineffective.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd said his staff is reviewing those figures to verify them, but preliminary reports indicate his teachers scored slightly better this year than last. For example, last year only 0.85 percent of the district’s teachers were rated exemplary, and more than 30 percent were rated minimally effective.

Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera said Monday the evaluation system provides a “richer picture” of how teachers are performing.

Critics, including teachers union representatives and teachers themselves, challenge the use of student scores on standardized tests to account for 50 percent of a teacher’s rating.

“Every educator knows there will be many [who are] marked poorly as a result not of their own work and true contributions to student learning, but rather on the basis of a seriously flawed and ill-conceived evaluation system,” Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association-New Mexico, said Monday.

But Skandera said individual components of teacher evaluations are not tilting the system unfairly.

For example, she said, only 14 percent of the state’s teachers would be rated exemplary based just on observations of classroom practices. Twenty-three percent would be exemplary based on student achievement data.

“That is significant because that had a lot of teachers worried about that student achievement piece, but it is proving out. It does a pretty good job of identifying highly effective and exemplary teachers,” Skandera said.

She implemented the teacher evaluation system by departmental rule starting with the 2013-14 school year after state legislators declined to approve it.

Teacher evaluations are based on a number of factors, including student test scores and other achievement-growth measures, classroom observations by principals, and assessments on how teachers plan lessons and connect with students.

Some districts consider teacher attendance. Others, including the Santa Fe Public Schools, do not. Santa Fe’s evaluation plan includes student surveys on teacher effectiveness.

Districts are supposed to create professional development plans for teachers who fall into the bottom two categories. Those in the higher categories can take advantage of a pilot pay-raise initiative implemented this year.

The Public Education Department said Monday that 109 teachers across the state received “ineffective” ratings two years in a row. Patterson questioned whether those teachers are receiving professional development plans to help them.

Another 107 teachers were rated “exemplary” two years in a row.

The Public Education Department had to amend the initial release of its teacher evaluation reports last spring after inaccuracies were uncovered.

Santa Fe Public Schools, for example, said the state’s initial claim that only half its teachers were effective or better was based on incomplete data. Skandera’s department later agreed, and rated 67 percent of Santa Fe teachers as effective or better.

Skandera said Monday that her department gave the state’s 89 districts extra time to review this year’s data to avoid repeating such a mistake.

“I am excited and confident that we have done a really good job of giving districts the opportunity to make sure they have good, accurate data,” Skandera said.

Several state lawmakers and teachers unions, including the National Education Association-New Mexico, have filed lawsuits to stop the evaluations, calling them illegal and unjust. The state Court of Appeals has already rejected one of those lawsuits. Two others are pending.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.

Correction: Overall the number of teachers rated "effective" dropped slightly this year. The story originally said there was a slight increase.