Senate bill would alter process for teacher evaluations

By Lauren Gibbons
MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

LANSING — As school teachers and administrators prepare for year-end evaluations that rely more heavily on student test scores, some Michigan lawmakers are working to revert to the previous threshold for incorporating state and local assessments into a school official’s overall grade.

Since Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation in 2015 enacting a new framework for teacher evaluations, 25 percent of a teacher or administrator’s year-end score has been based on student growth and assessment data. Starting the 2018-2019 school year, that category is set to increase to 40 percent of the overall evaluation score, with half of that measurement coming from standardized test scores and half from local assessments.

But many teachers have balked at the prospect of seeing their annual reviews become more closely tied to student test scores. Some local school districts have had trouble coming up with local assessments to accurately measure student growth in certain grades, advocates say, and state standardized test scores might not even be relevant to teachers of subjects like art or music.

Senate Bills 122 and 202, sponsored by state Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, would continue the 25 percent assessment threshold through the 2018-19 school year, although he said he hopes lawmakers will ultimately make the change permanent. Legislation to base 25 percent of evaluations on student growth into perpetuity passed the House 105-5 last session, but didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.

Horn said the increasing reliance on student growth as a major part of teacher evaluation is “unethical and unfair to both the student and the teacher,” and suggested deregulating the system at the state level could bring up student growth numbers on its own.

“We’re feeding the system deep-fried cheese and blocking the arteries of the education system,” Horn testified in committee. “Our teachers can barely push their talent and their passions through these arteries.”

Horn’s bills were reported from the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee Tuesday. To change the evaluation system for the current school year, the legislation would have to be signed into law by early May.

The bills would have to be passed by the full Senate, full House and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.

Bob Kefgen, legislative director for the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, said if the bills don’t pass, teachers and administrators could have a significant chunk of their evaluations be based on assessment data that’s at least two years old. He said the new evaluation system has caused “tension and fear” among the school employees he’s spoken with.

“They are more likely to be evaluated not for what they did … but for factors outside of their control,” he told lawmakers.

Oftentimes, children are bearing witness to or experiencing trauma at home — and teachers’ efforts to help them in the classroom aren’t necessarily reflected in the test scores, Tammy Daencer of the Michigan Education Association told lawmakers this week.

“Teachers are being told to teach to the test, and they’re really struggling with their ability to balance academic needs with social and emotional needs,” she said.

Some groups are opposing the legislation, including the Grand Rapids and Detroit Regional Chambers of Commerce and Business Leaders for Michigan, on grounds the new 40 percent number should stand.

In testimony presented to the committee, Brian Gutman of the Education Trust-Midwest wrote the legislation would “weaken the framework” of the state’s evaluation system enacted in 2015, arguing the nation’s most effective education evaluation systems are rooted in hard data.

“Michigan still has a ways to go for providing all educators with relevant and timely feedback, and greater support for improvement,” Gutman’s statement reads. “But lessening the use of data is a mistake and ultimately holds educators less accountable for student learning.”

Teacher evaluations gained importance under teacher tenure reform laws adopted in 2011, which implemented annual evaluations to determine whether a teacher was highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective. The law requires those rated ineffective for three years in a row be terminated.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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