Michigan Legislature Passes New Teacher Evaluation Bill

Written by: Dave Reid

Primary Source: Green & Write, November 2, 2015

The Michigan Senate recently approved legislation that puts in motion changes to Michigan’s teacher evaluation laws. The bill, which is the culmination of years of work dating back to the creation of the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE) in 2011, includes changes to observation frameworks and the amount and type of student assessment data that will be included in teacher evaluations. The new legislation offers improvements to the old system of evaluating teachers, but falls short by not following the strong recommendations made by MCEE.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Charles Watson

Photo Courtesy of Brian Charles Watson

The Changes

The bill calls for many changes to the process of evaluating teachers. Some of more notable changes include; (1) 25% of a teacher’s evaluation will now be based on student assessment data (for the next three years – this percentage goes to 40% beginning in 2018-19); (2) this student assessment data can include a combination of state standardized test data and locally collected student data; and (3) local districts to can their own teacher evaluation observation tool or use a modified version of one of the state recommended tools.

Additionally, beginning in 2018-19 schools will be prohibited from assigning a student to an ineffective teacher in the same subject area for two consecutive years. Teachers rated ineffective on three successive evaluations will be dismissed automatically (but keep in mind that only about 0.5% of teachers throughout the state are rated as ineffective for three consecutive years). In most cases, multiple observations of teachers must be conducted and teachers and administrators will receive training on the evaluation tool their district choses to use. To support educational leaders implementing these changes, the bill provides $14.8 million for districts to train teachers and administrators with these new evaluation systems.

Coming to an Agreement

As was previously written on Green & Write, changes to Michigan’s teacher evaluation system were supposed to take place beginning in the 2013-14 school year. However, these changes were delayed as the House and Senate went back and forth with different versions of the bill. These delays persisted until late in the summer of 2015 when it appeared the House and Senate were coming close to an agreement. Now, after more than two years, the bill awaits Governor Snyder’s signature.

Supporters and Critics

The approved version of this new teacher evaluation legislation is not without its critics. While many people, including President of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) Steven Cook, support the improvements to the law, other people have voiced concerns that the new law is a “watered down” version of the recommendations made by MCEE in 2013. These critics say too much weight is given to local education agencies (LEAs) and the new bill lacks the appropriate oversight and accountability measures to ensure these LEAs are providing students with quality teachers.

What Does Good Teacher Evaluation Policy Look Like and Does Michigan Have It?

Researchers, foundations, and education experts have all weighed in on what makes a good teacher evaluation policy. While individuals have their own definitions of the most effective ways to evaluate teachers, several characteristics are commonly considered “smart” policy. These characteristics include; (1) using multiple measures in the evaluation process (e.g. classroom observations, student assessment data, parent and student surveys); (2) weighting these measures evenly (e.g. 50% to student test scores and 50% to observation scores); and (3) observing teachers multiple times with multiple observers.

While questions still remain about how individual districts will decide to use these evaluation systems and how exactly the student growth component will look (particularly the part that is not tied to state assessments), it appears Michigan is moving towards a better system of teacher evaluations that is consistent with what research considers smart policy. This new bill has the potential to help schools identify effective teachers, help less effective teachers improve, and remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. Overall, I believe this bill should be good for teaching and learning, but also believe an opportunity was missed by not including all of MCEE’s recommendations.

Contact Dave: reiddav1@msu.edu

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Dave Reid
Dave is a doctoral student in Educational Policy and Teacher Education. His current research interests include how teachers make sense of and interact with the policies they are asked to implement. Prior to returning to graduate school, Dave was a 7th and 8th grade special education teacher and also served as an instructional coach for elementary and middle school teachers. Dave earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from Franklin Pierce College and an M.Ed. in education from Arizona State University. - See more at: http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/green-and-write/who-we-are/#sthash.DLSaPTbe.dpuf