Lawmakers weigh standards to evaluate teachers and administrators

By DANIELLE WOODWARD

Capital News Service

LANSING — Local teachers and administrators would soon be evaluated using statewide standards under recently proposed legislation.

The legislation sponsored by Reps. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, and Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, looks at teacher and administrator performance through tests and evaluations developed by the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness.

A good teacher backed up by a good administrator is critical for a positive educational experience, Zemke said.

“Every time I speak with students. I ask them about school and what inspires them. Their first answer usually pertains to their friends but when you dig a little deeper, they always talk about their teacher,” he said.

However, some representatives are hesitant about a statewide law.

Some superintendents are already struggling and have no resources to follow a statewide program, so Lansing may not be able to decide what’s best for every school in Michigan, Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, said. He is a member of the House Education Committee.

The Grand Rapids Public School District has been working to develop an evaluation model in line with the legislation

“We don’t believe there should be a one-size-fits-all state mandate without some flexibility for local school districts,” said John Helmholdt, executive director of communication for the district.

“We do think there should be statewide consistency in teacher evaluations so that students moving around the state experience a consistent value of professionalism in their teachers,” said Sharon Pitts, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

School districts are required now to evaluate their teachers, but local districts decide how to do it, said Bill DiSessa of the Department of Education’s communication office.

The Department of Education is still reviewing the legislation and does not have a stance on it, DiSessa said.

“Right now, we just don’t have any good reliable information on teacher or principal performance, said Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust Midwest, a statewide education policy and advocacy organization. “Every district comes up with its own measures and standards. It is unclear what a common definition of great teaching looks like.”

Studentsfirst, an organization that lobbies about public school education, gave Michigan a B- for teacher evaluation methods in its 2013 policy report card, placing Michigan sixth in the country.

“We’ve definitely seen encouraging progress in support of education reform, but as the report card indicates we still have a lot of work to do,” said Ross McMullin, Midwest regional press secretary for Studentsfirst.

“We’re working hard to support the legislation proposed.”  It takes “a set of really good ideas and see them through to the benefit of students,” he said.

Evaluations would measure student growth and observe teacher performance.

Student growth would be measured with state assessments of core subjects, local assessments of non-core subjects and school-wide assessments.

O’Brien said, teachers and administrators would have input on the tests used for student growth assessments. They would assess college readiness, be appropriate for their grade level and have a consistent scale every year.

Arellano said, “If you are a struggling teacher, the first point in getting help and helping you improve is getting diagnostic data.”

If the legislation passes, 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on student growth from 2014-17 and will increase to 50 percent for 2017-18.

For the rest of the evaluation, districts would be able to choose one of four methods for observing teachers or adopt one that is locally developed.

For administrators, evaluations would also include parent and student feedback and the district’s progress towards meeting goals.

Based on these evaluation standards, teachers and administrators will be rated highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective on a yearly basis. Three ineffective ratings will result in that teacher being fired.

The legislation is pending in the Education Committee.

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