By Dave Reid
In Michigan, teacher and administrator evaluation polices (HB5223 and HB5224), which were initially scheduled to take effect in the 2013-14 school year, are officially dead. There was hope that during the 2014 lame duck session these bills would make it through the Senate, but this effort fell short.
The need for a new, unbiased, consistent, and accurate teacher evaluation system is evident by the initial bipartisan support of HB5223 and HB5224. However, the House and Senate could not reach an agreement on these bills; a disappointing end for supporters of teacher evaluation reform in the state.
Delays like this in the House and Senate are becoming too common. The Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE) was formed in 2011 to tackle teacher and administrator evaluation reform. MCEE submitted their recommendations in the summer of 2013. At that time, president of the State Board of Education, John C. Austin said, “My hope is that these recommendations can be quickly advanced through legislation that will help all Michigan educators improve their craft, and enhance student learning and achievement.”
This hasn’t happened yet.
Why the Delays?
There are several areas of contention between the House and Senate, including how much evaluations should be tied to student test scores and what tests should be used to determine student achievement. More recently, disagreements over teacher evaluation rubrics have surfaced, with the Senate now suggesting the type of rubric used should be a decision made by Local Education Agencies (LEAs), rather than limiting the rubric to one of the four originally recommended by MCEE.
HB5223 and HB5224 called for teachers and school administrators to be evaluated using a “rigorous”, “transparent”, and “fair” system that required a clear approach to measuring student growth. Both bills were a dramatic improvement from the 2011 legislation which stated that the district and school administration had sole authority over how teachers were evaluated and to what extent, if any, student test scores were used.
HB5223 and HB5224 instead required school districts to use the same criteria for all teachers in a specific district. The bills also required districts to hold principals accountable for doing the hard work of managing and developing their teachers.
Even though this language was once agreed upon by both the House and Senate, a new bill proposed by the Senate has changed much of the wording which, if passed, would significantly alter the course of teacher evaluation policy in Michigan.
A New Bill from the Senate
On February 12th Senate Bill 103 was released, outlining a new trajectory of teacher evaluation reform. Among the proposed changes to the current law (and to HB5223/HB5224) are reducing the amount of a teacher’s evaluation that includes student growth and allowing districts to choose their own evaluation system (not necessarily one of the four models recommended by MCEE). In general, the bill gives more discretion to LEAs to design and implement their own version of a teacher evaluation system, a much different approach than trying to standardize the evaluation process throughout the state.
Impact on Principals and Teachers
Many teachers supported HB5223 and HB5224. Teachers want evaluations to be fair, unbiased, consistent, and actually measure how they are doing as an educator. Evaluations are now even more important because now teachers can be fired for being evaluated as ineffective and employment is not guaranteed based on years in the classroom.
Right now schools, principals, and teachers are at a loss of how the evaluation process works. Last year, teachers went home for summer break, thinking up to 40% of their evaluation would be based on student growth. When they came back in the fall, they found out it would actually be 25%. If the House and Senate cannot reach an agreement this spring, teachers will once again leave for summer break not fully understanding how they will be evaluated in the fall.
MCEE, HB5223 and HB5224 provided a clear way forward for improving educator evaluations, including better training for principals on how to use new evaluation instruments, better observational rubrics, and the use of student data to improve instruction. Now, this effort is in jeopardy.
The hard work is done. MCEE has put in hours and hours developing a multiple-measure teacher evaluation system and now should come the easy part of implementing its recommendations and reforming teacher evaluations in Michigan. However, the legislation continues to tinker with the evaluation system, while trending towards ignoring MCEE’s recommendations. As a result, principals, teachers, and students are all losing.
Right now the Michigan legislature should be labeled ineffective.