Michigan teacher evaluations won’t rely more on test scores — at least for another year

Michigan educators who had been bracing for student test scores to have a larger influence over their annual evaluations can breathe a sigh of relief — at least for now.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills Tuesday that will put a one-year pause on a law that would require districts to base 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores. For now at least, that figure will remain at 25 percent.

The bills passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, with only one state representative voting against it.

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will agree next year to permanently limit test scores to 25 percent of evaluations. If nothing is done by the end of the 2019-20 school year, the 40 percent requirement will kick in again.

Republicans on the House Education Committee have said they supported the change because they want more time to look at the issue, though the chairwoman of the committee made clear that delay is one-time only.

Many educators worry that test scores don’t accurately represent the learning that takes place in their classrooms, pointing out that absenteeism and poverty — which they have no control over — have been shown to hurt students’ test scores.

“As I continue to visit schools across the state, nearly every educator says the same thing: they are forced to spend more time on testing than actually teaching their students how to learn,” said Whitmer. “We know that test scores are only one piece of the puzzle and not the whole story.

Opponents of the change argued that tying evaluations to test scores would lead to more accurate data about which Michigan teachers are most effective. That information could be used, for example, to pair the most skilled teachers with the most needy students.

Almost every teacher in the state is currently rated “effective” or “highly effective.”