A new teacher evaluation system isn’t likely to drum many sub-par educators out of the classroom. But if it works as planned, it won’t have to.
House bills 5223 and 5224, would turn Michigan’s much-maligned teacher evaluation system into one of the most rigorous educator reviews in the nation. Teachers would be graded in part on their students’ test scores, as well as on multiple, in-depth classroom observations by school leaders.
The cost: Somewhere between $16 million and $42 million.
It may be worth every penny.
“School leaders have been saying for years we need to get this done,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust–Midwest, a Royal Oak-based advocacy group. “God knows people want schools to get better in Michigan.”
The cost: Somewhere between $16 million and $42 million. It may be worth every penny.
Education is the economic engine of Michigan, and that engine is sputtering. Michigan kids rank 39th in 4th grade math and 30th in 8th-grade reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam. The state ranks 23rd in high school graduation rate and 36th in the percent of adults with a college degree.
“We’ve gone from being a slightly above average state to being a below average state, and new data shows we are continuing to fall,” Arellano said. “Teachers are very important to the learning in our classrooms. We should be investing in them, and one way is to make sure they get fair evaluations that hold them fairly accountable, and offer them feedback to improve their practice.”
Preparation, accountability and support for Michigan’s 101,000 teachers is a major issue for state residents, according to community conversations and polls sponsored by The Center for Michigan involving more than 5,000 citizens. Many teachers have less than five years of experience in the classroom, with an estimated one in six children being taught for at least part of the day by a teacher with one year or less classroom experience.
Historically, principals have performed only cursory evaluations of teachers, with virtually all teachers receiving positive scores. The result was that parents – and school administrators - had little way to identify which teachers were superstars and which were struggling and in need of help.
That would change if the bills now under consideration in the House Education Committee are passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
Tying evals to test scores
Under the proposed evaluation system, half of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on student growth. That growth would be measured by statewide standardized tests, as well as local, district-determined tests. The other half of the evaluation would be based on highly-structured and standardized classroom observations, completed at least twice a year.
Teachers rated as “ineffective” – the lowest of four grading categories – for three years in a row would lose their jobs. That’s not likely to happen often. Mentors will be assigned to struggling teachers to help them improve their skills.
New evaluations aren’t about teachers, but about kids. “Our No. 1 priority should be good teaching in the classroom,” said Grand Blanc High School Principal Jennifer Hammond. “That’s why we’re here.”
Hammond was part of a state task force of K-12 and college educators that released recommendations for a new state teacher evaluation system last summer. The bills introduced in January by Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, and Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, follow those recommendations closely. One change: Student growth will only account for 25 percent of teacher evaluation scores for the first three years the system is in place, to give schools and teachers time to adjust to new standardized tests (the MEAP is being ditched), the new Common Core standards, and the new evaluations.
Hammond said many school districts already have developed their own evaluation systems that include student growth as one factor, but “when you have 500 districts doing different things, we’re right back where we started. That’s why it’s important for the state to take some ownership, so educators are trained properly, and they know what a good assessment looks like, and how to write the assessments.”
The training for observing and evaluating teachers in the classroom – typically done by principals – will need to be completed this summer, so administrators are ready to start the more structured observations when classes begin in September.
Grand Blanc is already performing classroom observations similar to those that would be required by the new state evaluation system. With a school of 130 teachers, all of whom must be observed multiple times during the year, Hammond often conducts three or four classroom observations a day.
“It’s a big change of practice,” Hammond said. “It changes your schedule. But it puts your priorities in the right place: supporting teaching and providing feedback.”
Rigorous teacher evaluations have an impact beyond the classroom. “If we want to improve our 21st century economic outlook, which all members of the public should care about, we must improve educational achievement,” Zemke said in a Bridge Magazine Q&A.
Snyder mentioned teacher evaluation reform in his State of the State address in January, and called for state funding for training.
“It has been a bipartisan, highly-collaborative effort with dozens of stakeholders from the education management community - including both teachers' unions,” Zemke said. “We expect … this legislation to move in reasonable speed through the committee and floor processes. For the sake of Michigan students, teachers and administrators, I surely hope it does.”