Michigan Democrats loosen teacher evaluation metrics
- Michigan House Democrats vote to lower how much student test scores count on teacher evaluations
- Democrats set evaluation changes as one of the key education priorities for the year
- Opponents say the changes will weaken teacher accountability
Bills that would make Michigan teacher evaluations less reliant on how students perform passed the House Wednesday, and will now go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her signature.
The Democratically sponsored legislation went back to the Senate Thursday so that both chambers could align on the language they were passing.
The party line changes by the Democratic-controlled Legislature are a victory for the state’s teachers’ unions, which strongly opposed Republican-passed laws that tied evaluations to how students performed on tests. Republicans and other critics say the new bills free teachers from accountability for student achievement in a state where students are already struggling compared with other states.
- Michigan looks to soften teacher evaluations. Will it help or hurt students?
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The law currently requires 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student growth and assessment data. For teachers in core content areas, such as math and language arts, half of that portion must include state standardized tests.
Senate Bills 395 and 396 would reduce the importance of student test score data in evaluations, and also reduce the number of rating categories and the frequency of some evaluations during the school year.
The changes, approved by the House Wednesday night, would make student growth and assessment data just 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score and would eliminate the requirement on standardized tests for core content areas.
School districts would also have the option of subbing in teacher-created “student learning objectives” to count toward that 20 percent. Those objectives are described in the bill as “measurable, long-term, academic goals, informed by available data, that a teacher or teacher team sets at the beginning of the year for all students.”
The changes would start during the 2024-2025 school year.
Democrats set teacher evaluation changes as a priority this year as they took control of the statehouse and teacher unions are supportive of the legislation. Sen. Dayna Polehnaki, D-Livonia, a former teacher who sponsored Senate Bill 395, originally proposed completely eliminating student growth data from the required factors in a teacher’s evaluation.
Gongwer, a subscription news service, recently reported Whitmer had signaled she would not sign evaluation legislation that “removes student growth from the teacher evaluation process.”
State Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, another former teacher, called the current teacher evaluation system a "failed experiment" that punishes teachers "for the results of students filling in bubbles on a standardized test.”
Democrats argue it’s unfair to hold a teacher responsible for student test results because student achievement can be greatly influenced by factors outside of the classroom, such as a student’s home environment or economic circumstances.
Kids may come to school hungry or distraught about a parent's divorce, factors the current system does not account for, Koleszar said.
"Students gain nothing in the classroom from simple punitive measures levied against teachers, but if we provide really strong support for both long-term and short-term teacher growth, that provides the opportunity to improve outcomes for everyone involved," Koleszar said.
Teachers currently receive one of four rankings: “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective” and “ineffective.” But critics claim that teacher ratings don’t appear to be taken seriously, making it difficult to separate high-performing teachers from those who are struggling. During the 2021-2022 school year, for instance, 99 percent of Michigan teachers were rated highly effective or effective.
The bills passed by the House Wednesday night would change the rating system next school year to just three categories: “effective,” “developing,” and “needing support.”
Rep. Brad Paquette, R-Niles, another former educator, called the category changes "alarming," saying it would allow teachers who would be labeled as ineffective under the current system to be categorized as "needing support" next year.
During the 2021-2022 school year, 165 teachers in the state were labeled as ineffective.
"Parents simply will not be able to know anymore if their kid’s teacher is ineffective in their practice," he said. "That's a big difference that is being eliminated here, and it matters."
Michigan’s apparent move away from student growth to evaluate teachers is in keeping with trends in other states. A National Council on Teacher Quality analysis found there were 43 states which required objective measures of student growth as part of the evaluation process in 2015. By 2019, that number was 34.
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