Teacher evaluation bills aim to improve performance

It's been a long haul for the Democrats and Republicans who have been working their sides of the aisle on the issue of teacher evaluations. More than two years.

During the ongoing, end-of-the year legislative session known as lame duck, the two tie-barred bills that seek to make teachers more effective are not as high profile as the road repair funding issue that is expected to suck up most of the air in the capitol over the next week.

But in a legislature often criticized for partisan in-fighting, these two bills are among a slim few that have bipartisan support. Add to that nearly two years of research, millions in state money already spent, passage in one chamber (the House) and a nod from Gov. Rick Snyder and you can see why the sponsors are hopeful that these bills have a passing chance during lame duck.

At Issue

A Michigan Department of Education survey, "Educator Evaluations & Effectiveness in Michigan" found huge disparities in the quality of the teacher and administrator evaluation processes that Michigan's school districts adopted from 2011 until 2013. Those previous reforms required Michigan schools to implement evaluation systems and consider teaching effectiveness ‒ not just seniority ‒ when making decisions on teacher staffing and tenure.

The study found, for instance, that 97 percent of teachers statewide were rated effective or highly effective in evaluations - hard to reconcile in a state with student test scores ranked in the bottom rung of states nationally. The survey also found that evaluations are too often used to punish Michigan educators, not help them.

"Districts were less likely to use the evaluations to inform professional development support for new teachers and administrators than to use the evaluations for termination and/or removal," according to the report.

House Bill 5223, is sponsored by Rep. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, who was one of the sponsors of the 2011 teacher tenure reform laws. O’Brien’s bill would reduce the impact of standardized test results on teacher evaluations, though test results will still be heavily counted. Under the bill, 25 percent of a teacher's evaluation would be based on student growth on tests next school year through 2017, with test scores increasing to 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in 2017-18. Current law calls for 50 percent of an evaluation to be determined by students' growth on tests. Multiple classroom observations of the teacher would also factor in.

The bill would have school districts across the state use one of four selected teacher evaluation tools, or a locally designed model that is approved by the Michigan Department of Education. This requirement would do away with a patchwork of evaluation models used by local school districts; the older models have been criticized for being too cursory or subjective and failing to provide teachers with insight into their weaknesses or a roadmap on how they can improve in the classroom.

House Bill 5224, sponsored by Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, calls for similar changes for evaluations of school administrators, requiring that management skills are adequately measured and training provided. Observers would be required to be trained every three years.

The bills attempt to remove some of the punitive sting from current evaluation processes by also identifying $15 million for training to help educators improve. And they require the state to use standard definitions for grading teachers.

The Politics

The bills were approved in the House last May and sit in the Senate education committee, which is not scheduled to meet during lame duck ‒ so far. Sen. Phil Pavlov, chair of the education committee, did not respond to Bridge's request for comment.

Supporters include political leaders from both parties and teachers. Gov. Snyder supported the 2011 tenure reform law that created the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, an appointed commission led by Deborah Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. The MCEE made recommendations to the state about the evaluation process. He also supported the $6 million, year-long pilot study of four different evaluation tools, which according to the MCEE were all shown to improve teacher evaluation over the old, locally based systems. The new bills are based largely on MCEE and the pilot study results.

Stephanie Bogema, legislative director for O'Brien, said the major hurdle now is getting the bills out of committee. "I know my boss, the Speaker and the Senate majority leader are committed to helping get it out of committee," she said. "With all of the time and energy put into getting these bills where they're at, I think a lot of people would be disappointed," if they don't move.

Zemke called the bills a step towards putting school districts on more equal footing. Current law allows districts to design an evaluation process for themselves and as a result districts with more resources have been able to develop better evaluation systems, while others have not, the research found.

"This is the type of policy that will bring up the bar and educators in all schools. And it will really help the schools that struggle the most," Zemke said.

He said legislators and educators from both parties recognized that the current evaluation system is unfair and lacks structure. "I think the reason this has so much support is because we started in a bipartisan fashion," Zemke said. "Without structure, support and identified resources that are necessary to provide training, these bills probably wouldn't have bipartisan support."

Estimates vary widely on how much the these new systems of evaluating and training teachers would cost, with the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency putting the statewide bill at $16 million to $42 million.

Steven Cook, the president of the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, a group that has been wary of evaulation reform, praised the bills, saying the fact that O'Brien and Zemke sponsored them "is proof that education reform is both good policy and good politics for both parties."

What we know

The legislature will become more conservative when the newly-elected lawmakers take office in January. Conservative Republican lawmakers have traditionally sought to preserve more local control for school districts, suggesting that these teacher evaluation reforms may have an easier time passing in lame duck. However, with so much money and time invested in developing effective educator evaluations, both sponsors said they anticipate the bills will still have a shot later even if they don't get a vote during lame duck.

The Education Trust-Midwest, an education reform group based in Royal Oak, said in a statement released Monday that the educator evaluation bills top the list of education issues that may arise during lame duck. The new system is "essential to elevating Michigan's teaching profession; for setting clear expectations for educator performance; and for giving educators the feedback they need to excel," the group said.

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Lou Ann McKimmy
Fri, 12/05/2014 - 11:14am
Those truly interested in improving education in Michigan should definitely read John Kuhn's book, Fear and Learning in America, a book by an educator in the profession.
Cindy Komblevitz
Fri, 12/05/2014 - 5:36pm
Did you used to live in Cadillac - quite a while ago? I have been following most of the issues in education even though I am no longer teaching. I think we have a l-o-n-g way to go before we get to the standard of excellence in public schools. And I believe that our legislature has been going at changing education incorrectly. I could go on and on - and on!
Charles Richards
Fri, 12/05/2014 - 1:47pm
I am not at all sure that Representative O'Brien's bill is an improvement on the current law. It would reduce the weight given to tests that measure student growth from 50% to 25% before bringing it back up to 40%. Why? Student Growth is what we are trying to achieve. I would have liked a fuller, more informative explanation of the sentence: "The survey also found that evaluations are too often used to punish Michigan educators, not help them." What is too often? What did the survey's authors regard as the appropriate ratio of punishment to help? Given the fact that Michigan's "student test scores ranked in the bottom rung of states nationally." isn't it likely that a significant proportion of Michigan's teachers are not sufficiently talented to make "help" a productive investment? On which side should we err? The teachers or the students?
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 12/07/2014 - 8:18am
Standardized test scores are meaningless measures of learning growth. Problematic since they ignore context completely. They also suffer from the Ghost of Pythagoras, a beleif that you can assign a numerical value to everything.
Mon, 12/08/2014 - 3:16pm
I don't understand linking a standardize test score from a student that could care less what they get on the test because it means nothing, to a teacher's evaluation. And what are you using to show growth from a standardize test? These test in high school are not given every year. So are we comparing 2013's juniors class score to 2014's juniors class score. Well that's comparing apples and oranges. You are testing different students each year. They don't all start out at the same level as juniors. The state of Michigan couldn't afford to pay for all the tests needed to show growth by testing every student grades 3-12 every year.
Bob Balwinski
Mon, 12/08/2014 - 3:43pm
Doug, Do you think we'd have enough money for actual "measuring growth" tests at every grade level if money wasn't siphoned from the School Aid Fund for community colleges and universities?
Bob Balwinski
Fri, 12/05/2014 - 2:27pm
In my 23 years as a classroom teacher of high school Mathematics, I never once objected to the idea of measuring growth in student learning. Students would test day one and then again at the end of the term on a similar measure. Growth in learning could be ascertained, of course, but additional questions arise. What about the student or students who signed up one day for the class I taught and never returned? What about the students with "unexcused" absentee rates of 50% or higher? What about the students who transferred in to my class from another high school near the end of the term and didn't take the pre-test nor really have much time under my teaching? Am I accountable no matter what else may be the issue in a student's life keeping him/her from attending and learning? That's the part that seemed then and still seems today to be unfair to me.
Eugene Golanda
Fri, 12/05/2014 - 3:07pm
Continuing attempts to combine formative and summaries evaluations are doomed to fail. Teacher effectiveness will improve only when teachers are convinced that someone with actual knowledge of teaching skills that work with students who really wants to help the teacher improve takes the time and makes the effort to help. The teacher must be able to trust that whatever is observed during these interactions will not be included in the formative evaluation, including weaknesses or lack of skills, Such attempts to improve teaching skills, which should translate into improved student learning, might best be performed by other teachers working in the same building, and not the principal responsible for summative evaluations. When we are serious about improving teaching skills, we need real coaching to occur.
Ann Perrigo
Sat, 12/06/2014 - 11:11pm
You've definitely got the right idea! Experienced teachers should be mentoring their colleagues, without fear that sharing tips will elevate younger teachers to "highly effective"" status. Also, allocating $15 million to give teachers extra training is such a waste! My husband has taught for many years, and I've never known him to come home from a continuing education session talking about how much he learned. Even now, he is taking one last college course to fulfill his continuing ed. requirement, and he hasn't learned anything new that will help him be a better teacher. Mentoring may be the answer!
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 12/07/2014 - 8:26am
Amen! Your thought reinforced by the teachings of Edwards Deming, Douglas McGregor, Margaret Wheatley, John W. Gardner, Joseph Jaworski and others.
Sat, 12/06/2014 - 8:44am
If you really want school improvement here are three things to do. First, let administrators do their job of leading and supervising instead of filling out a myriad of state required reports and documents that only collect dust on some ISD shelf. The hours of time spent on such useless things like P.A. 35 and P.A. 225 reports could be better spent working with young teachers. Second, pass legislation that says, "No person under the age of 18 shall be allowed to enroll in driver's training or be given a learner's permit unless they have earned enough high school credits to be considered a high school junior and have also maintained a 2.0/4.0 grade point average." Talk about incentive!! Third, replace Michigan's MEAP program with the ACT. MEAP was put into place for political reasons and continues to be used so. Stop using our children as political footballs and start giving them what they really need. Think of it this way, those of us older folks who's time wasn't wasted by having to study for the MEAP instead of working on what we really needed are way better off and have accomplished more than the state-abused children of today.
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 12/07/2014 - 8:27am
Thank you!
Sun, 12/07/2014 - 12:43am
“The new system is “essential to elevating Michigan’s teaching profession; for setting clear expectations for educator performance; and for giving educators the feedback they need to excel,” the group said.” That statement makes me question the understanding of the evaluation process by all involved. When people talk about an evaluation process being essential to the teaching profession they at best are deluding themselves and/or trying to manipulate the legislature and the public. A whole profession isn’t judged on the evaluation of individual members, it is judge on the positive impact the professionals as a group has on society. Teaching is a well-respected profession, it is programs and organizations that are of concern, not the teaching profession. If the supporters of this legislation are promoting passage under the guise that student learning will significantly improve because of an evaluation process, they are risking further loss of the public’s trust in the educational ‘experts’ and the legislature and the system as a whole. When 97% of the individuals being evaluated are rate well and system results are still disappointing then the programs, systems, and organizations should be brought into question and should be place under scrutiny. I don’t read in the article any suggestion of that being included in the legislation. I have seen the harm and lost opportunities when program and organizational evaluation tools are focused on the individuals. Evaluations are not about fault and blame, they are about conformance to protocols and the support system. Expectations and results are determined by program, system, and organizational accountability and about performance metrics. Individual performances, in this case teachers, is best addressed by those who do the hiring, those who administer (locally) the programs, systems, and culture. This is different than an evaluation process for programs and organizations. Evaluation programs do not set expectations they are designed to analyze practices and how they conform to the program and protocols. Expectations are usually about results, it is programs and organizations that are established to deliver those results. In the case of Michigan education it should be the community establishing expectations (they must live with the results and they are the ones paying for the programs and organizations). "The study found, for instance, that 97 percent of teachers statewide were rated effective or highly effective in evaluations – hard to reconcile in a state with student test scores..." This statement makes an experienced program evaluator suspect that the this is all about using blame to avoid scrutiny of the prgrams, cultures, and organizations.
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 12/07/2014 - 8:40am
As already provided to the legislative committees and my representatives: Effective and Meaningful Performance Review Process Materials Required: Blank sheets of lined paper three hole punched. Binder to hold sheets. Pencil. Eraser. Process: Place direct reports name at the top of the sheet. No more than six direct reports. Once daily look at each direct reports sheet and if any comment comes to mind write down the date and your comment. No more than fifteen minutes to review all sheets. Allow that specific direct report to view their sheet (only theirs) and add any comments they might have. Take necessary action based on information gathered – don’t wait. Expectations: Avoids unintended isolation of a direct report. Lowers stress at formal performance review time. (formal may not be required if evaluation takes place continuously) Capture information as close to the actual event as possible. No surprises. Issues can be identified and problems corrected early. Accurate information and balanced dialogue over time. Irrefutable documentation to support any action taken. Outcomes: A productive performance dialogue focused on children learning. Increased productivity, timeliness, fairness and proactive behaviors. Employees need a continuous dialogue with leaders and peers on a daily basis in order to continually improve their craft. The process outlined above requires leadership demonstrate a daily discipline with the willingness to listen and observe, not rank, rate or grade. We really do need to stop recycling the old prescriptions over and over again and look at what really supports children learning - letting the children learn, following their lead with coaching, mentoring and positive, not judgmental, reinforcements. We must let teachers teach. Our current system of education is not capable of producing learning outcomes. It is structured and designed to produce uniform and compliant individuals steeped in linear thinking. It is a system that severely punishes those that deviate from that purpose. We can start the long process of paradigm shift by taking the time to observe and listen to those shaping a meaningful learning journey with our children. We can start by asking the children and really listening to what they say. We can start by stopping the prescribing and the dictating, standardized testing and judgmental approach to education.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 12/07/2014 - 12:45pm
In this system would the Meap or Smarter Balanced test have to be given at the beginning of the school year and at the end? How would that evaluate teachers not teaching classes related to Meaps or Smarter Balanced? Value Added Model (VAM) has been discredited by most all education and statistics professionals. More standardized testing, more time dedicated to teaching to the test, and money diverted from teaching would not lead to better teaching or student learning. Professional educators and mentors evaluating and encouraging teachers to improve their craft would work, but the evaluators have to be trained and given the time to do the job. Student learning and teaching need to be improved, no doubt, but education reformers and politicians have no idea what they are doing. I also doubt most teachers support the kinds of teacher evaluation that are coming. In Tennessee many of the best teachers have lost their jobs or gotten out of education and the teachers who teach to the test to raise test scores are rewarded. Test scores and student learning are not synonymous. This new evaluation system would also not help districts with fewer resources. Just the opposite. Poorer districts are more likely to teach to the test with skills and drills and have trouble attracting the best teachers. The best teachers are punished for teaching in a district where their chances of raising test scores are least likely. Those are the good teachers who will leave. Getting the best teachers (more difficult to quantify than anyone realizes) into higher poverty districts and supporting those students would help them much more than any evaluation process. Teacher evaluation is needed, but the way our legislators (democrats and republicans) are going will cause more harm to students than good.
Mon, 12/08/2014 - 1:48am
Chuck, Thank you for the link. I clicked to many of the articles and I was reminded of my limitations or my lack of understanding what are educational purpose is. In all the articles I read in the link I did not notice any reference to student learning. It seems they were about teachers, about controling behavior, managing the day, etc. Can you show me what I overlooked? Otherwise it appears that the students are only an excuse for organization such ASCD to exist. I read nothing about how teachers or organizations activities related to the learning. They talked about how to control behavior , but they didn't say how that impacts learning. Maybe I am sensitized to that concern since I was well behaved through out K-12 and was a poor learner. In any case the articles in the linked site did not build any confidence.
Chuck Jordan
Mon, 12/08/2014 - 9:29pm
The link was meant to show the whole picture - that tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations is wrong headed. As it says there is no research based data that supports the link between test scores and teacher effectiveness or teacher preparation programs. Meap tests for example compare this years students to last years students and to that grade students to other schools. Standardized tests are not bad in themselves if used as one measure to show what the student knows which tells the teacher what the student is not learning and that he/she needs to find another way to teach the knowledge or skill. Being a good teacher is all about student learning. Tests and evaluations/assessments that help the teacher understand the student and find ways to improve student learning are the way to go. Believe it or not teachers want to facilitate student learning and all these education reforms are diverting attention away from effective teaching practices and student learning. Taking time away from teaching to prepare students for a test that means nothing to them, doesn't matter to them or their grade/passing the class is a waste of valuable time.
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 10:09pm
Chuck, I agree, my point was that all of it is about control not learning. The proponents are about the macro control and not about the individual student. The most effective teachers I have known were the ones who adapted to the individual, seeking ways to keep them interested, and to allow them to shine and bend in as the moment required. These are not things that can be standardized and managed from Lansing or even the principals office. Teaching seems to be able coaching each student so they are engaged in learning, it is about creating the support system/programs/protocols that they can drawn as they find the needs they fit, it is about finding success, learning (why and how) about the success, and sharing what success looks line so others can adapt it to their situations. I am always skeptical of the 'experts' when they make pronouncements and don't make the effort to explain the why, the how, and the risks associated with their prevailing wisdom. This seems to be true of every profession.
Donna Anuskiewicz
Mon, 12/08/2014 - 10:33am
I'd like to see only probationary teachers evaluated every year and experienced teachers evaluated on a rotation every 2-3 years and as needed. For example, if parent and/or student complaints increase or if there are questions about the teacher's performance. Requiring annual evaluations of every teacher places a burden on administrators, often making it impossible for them to find the time to help teachers in crisis.