Michigan bill rolls back test scores in teacher evaluations

Michigan bill rolls back test scores in teacher evaluations

(Mich.) Pressed by the state’s teacher union, Gov. Rick Snyder signed last week that will roll back the weight of student test scores in teacher evaluations – which were set to jump to 50 percent of the overall score.

Supporters of SB 103 say it will allow Michigan legislators more time to create a better tool for measuring student growth and may provide districts a better understanding of how evaluations should look.

“This is going to put a lot more detail into that law and clean it up a bit,” said Jennifer Smith, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards. “It is a lot clearer in what these evaluations should look like, how they should be conducted and how it can be used.”

Michigan’s existing teacher evaluation law was, adopted as part of the state’s unsuccessful 2010 Race to the Top grant application, called for student assessments and growth in achievement to account for half a teacher’s evaluation in the coming year after incidentally requiring test scores to account for 25 percent beginning in 2013-14.

Michigan is just one of a number of states that overhauled its teacher evaluation system in order to receive the federal grant. Changes included the use of evaluations to inform decisions regarding promotion, retention, professional development and tenure decisions, much to the chagrin of teachers unions around the country, which argued that student growth is dependent on too many factors outside a teacher’s control.

And student test scores, they argued, would be lower due to widespread adoption of new college and career curriculum and assessments.

Evaluations were to include specific goals, improvement plans and targeted training designed to help educators improve their individual issues.

Under the new law, which will go into effect early next year, test scores and gains in achievement will again only count for a quarter of the overall evaluation process. The rest will be based on the results of at least two classroom observations and other measures chosen from a state approved list or developed at the local level.

Allowing districts to choose which tools best fit their own teachers and community can be beneficial, according to Smith, but the rules surrounding locally developed measures were not understood by all.

“Under other versions of this bill you had to use one of the tools the state mandated, and this was clarifying that you could use a tool you were already using, or one the state had on their list,” Smith said.

Prior to adopting changes to its evaluation system, 98 percent of new teachers were being rated as effective or better in Michigan, with similar numbers found in states such as Florida and Tennessee. Studies suggested that teacher evaluation scores across the country were inflated, and that many evaluation systems were flawed.

After including some recommendations from the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, known as the Ball Commission, Sen. Phil Pavlov introduced SB 103, which immediately got support from the state teachers union and the American Federation of Teachers.

“While this legislation took a considerable amount of time to work its way through the Legislature following the Ball Commission report, it was worth the wait, as it represents a big step forward and a major improvement over the present haphazard process in evaluating teachers and administrators,” Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, said in a statement.

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