Proposed Reforms Could Lead to Changes in Michigan Teacher Evaluations

New legislation being proposed in Michigan could result in a significant change to the way teachers are evaluated, potentially removing student test scores as a factor in the evaluation process. This would mark a shift in the state’s education reform efforts, which began nearly ten years ago.

Currently, Michigan state law mandates that standardized test scores account for 40% of a teacher’s performance rating. However, two proposed bills that recently passed in the Senate would eliminate this requirement. Instead, school districts would have the flexibility to use their own criteria for evaluating teachers, such as classroom observations, samples of student work, rubrics, and lesson plans.

The proposed bills would also reduce the emphasis on evaluations when it comes to districts’ decisions to terminate or demote teachers, as well as their decisions regarding teacher tenure. However, they would require districts to take action against teachers who fail to show improvement after repeated interventions.

The House Education Committee is scheduled to review these bills on Tuesday.

Here is some background information on the existing law and an overview of the new proposals:

Accountability drove the development of Michigan’s current law

The law in Michigan regarding test scores and teacher evaluations originated from a push for greater accountability in education that began in the 2000s. Advocacy groups believed that more rigorous evaluations would provide detailed feedback to enhance teacher performance.

In 2009, during the Obama administration, the federal government offered funding through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to states that implemented policy changes, which included revamping teacher evaluations to incorporate test scores.

In response, Michigan enacted a law in 2015 that required teacher evaluations to be 25% based on student growth, as measured by changes in test scores from one year to the next. This requirement increased to 40% at the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Increase in skepticism towards evaluation methods based on test scores

Teachers have long maintained that measuring their job performance through growth in test scores is unfair, considering the differences between cohorts of students.

In recent years, many education experts and policy analysts have also become more vocal in questioning the changes implemented in the 2010s.

By 2019, nine states had ceased requiring test scores to be a factor in teacher evaluations. Several other states have contemplated making similar changes.

Advocates for reverting to the previous evaluation method argue that there is no evidence suggesting that the current system benefits students. They assert that linking ratings to test scores contributes to teacher burnout, particularly during persistently challenging times when there is a shortage of teachers.

Critics express concerns that de-emphasizing student test scores could compromise teaching standards, particularly when students are still grappling with learning loss caused by the pandemic and require high-quality instruction.

Impact of the proposals on teacher evaluations

If the proposed bills become law in Michigan, it would bring back the evaluation system that was in place before 2015. School districts would gain more autonomy in determining their standards for evaluating teachers, including the criteria and timing of evaluations.

However, the proposals would still necessitate the establishment of a standardized rating system across districts. They also outline consequences for teachers who do not meet the required standards.

By July 1, 2024, school districts would need to implement teacher and administrator rating systems with four possible ratings: “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective,” and “ineffective.” Subsequently, districts would be required to include “developing” and “needing support” ratings as well.

Teachers given a “needing support” rating would receive individualized development plans from their districts, focusing on improving their performance within 180 days.

Districts would not have the authority to dismiss, deny tenure to, or withhold full certification from teachers with an “ineffective” rating. However, they would be obligated to terminate teachers or administrators who receive a “needing support” rating for three consecutive years. Teachers in this category would have the option to request evaluations of their performance.

Evaluation staff would be required to undergo “rater reliability training” conducted by their districts.

According to a Senate analysis of the proposals, local districts may encounter additional costs related to updating teacher and school administrator evaluations and incorporating collective bargaining agreements within the process. On the other hand, schools may experience cost savings from not having to calculate testing data and from conducting evaluations less frequently for consistently effective teachers.

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