How Michigan teacher evaluations would change under proposed reforms

A teacher grades papers in an empty classroom.
Teacher evaluation reform bills in Michigan would put less emphasis on student test scores. (Leren Lu / Getty Images)

Proposed legislation in Michigan that would eliminate student test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations would represent a victory for teachers if it passes, and a turnabout in an education reform effort that began nearly a decade ago.

Current state law requires that student scores on standardized tests count for 40% of a teacher’s performance rating. Under two proposed bills that passed the Senate last week, that requirement would go away, and the districts would be able to use their own criteria for evaluating teachers, such as classroom observations, samples of student work, rubrics, and lesson plans.

The bills would also de-emphasize evaluations as a factor in districts’ decisions to fire or demote teachers or deny them tenure. But they would require districts to take action against teachers who don’t improve after repeated interventions.

The House Education Committee is expected to take up the bills on Tuesday.

Here’s some background on the current law, and highlights of the new proposals:

Michigan law followed a push for more accountability

Michigan’s law on test scores and evaluations grew out of a push for greater accountability in education that began in the 2000s. Some advocacy groups theorized that more rigorous reviews would generate detailed feedback that could be used to improve teachers’ performance.

In 2009, under the Obama administration, the federal government offered money from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to states that made policy changes, including revamping teacher evaluations to include test scores. 

In response, Michigan passed a law in 2015 requiring that teacher evaluations be 25% based on student growth, as measured by changes in test scores from one year to the next. The requirement went up to 40% at the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Skepticism of test-based evaluations has grown

Teachers have long argued that growth in test scores is an unfair way to measure their job performance, because it compares the performance of two different cohorts of students.

And in recent years, many education experts and policy analysts have become more vocal in questioning the changes that were made in the 2010s.

By 2019, nine states had stopped requiring that test scores be considered in teacher evaluations. Many other states have considered making the same change.

Proponents of returning to the old evaluation method say there is no evidence to suggest the current system benefits students, and that tying ratings to test scores contributes to burnout amid persistent teacher shortages.

Critics are concerned that de-emphasizing student test scores could lower standards for teachers while students are still struggling to recover from pandemic learning loss and need high-quality instruction.

How the proposals would change teacher evaluations

The bills proposed in Michigan would be a return to the system that was used before 2015. Districts would have more power to set their own standards to decide how and when teachers are evaluated. 

But the proposals would still require districts to set up a common rating system, and they prescribe some consequences for teachers who don’t measure up. 

School districts would have to start using teacher and administrator rating systems by July 1, 2024, that include four possible ratings: “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective,” and “ineffective.” After that, districts would have to add “developing” and “needing support” ratings as well.

Teachers rated “needing support” would get individualized development plans from their districts to improve their performance within 180 days.

Districts would not be allowed to fire, deny tenure to, or withhold full certification from teachers rated “ineffective.” But they would be required to terminate teachers or administrators who are rated “needing support” three years in a row. Those who receive that rating could request reviews of their evaluations.

Staff who conduct evaluations would have to take “rater reliability training” from their districts.

A Senate analysis of the proposals said local districts might face some new costs to update teacher and school administrator evaluations and to incorporate collective bargaining agreements as part of that process.

On the other hand, it says, schools could save money by not having to calculate testing data, and by evaluating consistently effective teachers less often.

Hannah Dellinger is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering K-12 education. Contact Hannah at hdellinger@chalkbeat.org.

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