Is the new Teacher Evaluation Bill a Step in the Right Direction?

 

On November 5, Governor Snyder signed into law Senate Bill 103 which overhauled the old Teacher Evaluation Law. Among its changes, some significant adjustments have been made, primarily around the tool used to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness. Currently, teachers are rated on a scale of Highly Effective, Effective, Minimally Effective, or Ineffective, and that part of the legislation has not changed. Teachers will still be rated using that scale. What has changed with the new law is how that rating is agreed upon. In an effort to provide some clarity, consistency, and fairness to the teacher evaluation process, the Senate and House generated a new bill aimed at helping districts better evaluate their teachers. Among the changes in the new bill:

  • Student growth counts as 25% (not 50% like under the old bill) of a teacher’s evaluation for the next three years. Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, student growth will count as 40% of a teacher’s evaluation.
  • Standardized test scores can only count as 50% of student growth measures. The other growth measures should come from local/district assessments.
  • Districts are allowed to use their own evaluation tool or modify one of four evaluation tools “approved” by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). Districts must use the same evaluation tool across all schools in the district.

There are a lot of positive changes in this evaluation bill. For instance, reducing the weight of student achievement data on a teacher’s evaluation score helps alleviate some of the pressure to “teach to the test.” Additionally, balancing standardized test data with more localized and district-wide assessments helps to ensure that student data will more accurately reflect what a student truly knows, not just what one test can measure. Working in a district with a high percentage of Free and Reduced Lunch, there are a lot of external factors affecting students’ achievement data. So, having a wider pool of assessments to evaluate will help teachers be able to focus their instruction more effectively and, ideally raise the students’ test scores.   

There are still a lot of areas of concern, most significantly the teacher evaluation tool. In a perfect world, we would have one measure for all schools across the state. Then, it would be very easy to make comparisons across schools and counties. It would also make training all evaluators a streamlined and cost-effective process. The Michigan Department of Education could host several training workshops and videotape them. Then, any new administrators could access these videos and veteran administrators would have them as well to refresh their memories. While funding for training is included in this bill, the funding traditionally has been given to the ISDs. Not all ISDs are created equal in terms of providing adequate PD. Additionally, if every school district within an ISD’s jurisdiction has a different evaluation tool, how effective and focused could training really be? For example, there are 12 public schools and another 10 public school academies that the Ingham ISD supports. That’s potentially 22 different evaluation tools the ISD would need to provide training for.

I applaud the legislators for reaching across the aisle and working together to produce a truly bipartisan bill aimed at improving student achievement through clearer expectations for teachers and administrators. Reducing high-stakes testing and providing more localized control to districts moves away from a one-size-fits-all measure that doesn’t always feel appropriate for all schools. However, there are still areas of concern, as I mentioned. These struggles will need to be addressed at some point. When that time comes, it is my hope that the legislature will reach out to educators who understand the nuances of teaching and evaluation to provide feedback on this law. Positive school change can happen, but it must be a joint effort from all stakeholders, not just the legislature.

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