Education, Michigan, Teachers — December 26, 2013 at 10:23 am

Educators help legislators understand that evaluation systems must help teachers improve, not just punish them


Educators provide insight on teacher evaluation to members of the Michigan House Education Committee

Gary Abud, Jr. is the 2013-14 Michigan Teacher of the Year

Teacher evaluation is a topic that has received a lot of attention in 2013. Earlier this year, the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE) offered their recommendations and findings in a commissioned project on teacher evaluation in Michigan. According to their website, the MCEE was “created by Governor Rick Snyder and the legislature in 2011 as part of the state’s teacher tenure reform efforts.”

The Council worked for 18 months to pilot and document several teacher evaluation processes in K-12 schools around the state as a means to offer recommendations for a statewide evaluation system of Michigan public school teachers. The MCEE offered its final report (pdf) and recommendations to the state this summer. In the report, and subsequent Executive Summary, the MCEE outlines how best to develop a fair, transparent, and feasible evaluation system for educators in Michigan, based on rigorous standards of professional practice and of measurement.

While the MCEE recommendations have been formally presented, no action has been taken to codify them into law. The current legislation regarding teacher evaluation is based on the 2011 tenure reform act, which requires that teacher evaluation be based on two main areas: observation of teaching practice and student growth on standardized tests. Currently, half of the evaluation is to be based on observation of teaching practice, one quarter is based on state standardized tests, and the remaining quarter is based on locally determined assessments. These three parts comprise an overall rating of teacher effectiveness. The current rating system includes four categories of overall effectiveness: “ineffective,” “minimally effective,” “effective,” and “highly effective.”

The overall effectiveness rating of teachers has been a demand of our state accountability system in Michigan, but it is lacking in robust feedback and a sense of security in that feedback. If a teacher evaluation system is ever going to accomplish the goal of helping teachers continue to develop professionally and improve as needed, then a process that distinguishes it from a punishment system will be necessary. To achieve an evaluation system that is done for teachers, and not done to them, legislators and educators will need to come together and share ideas for this common cause of supporting teaching to support student learning.

The Rochester Community Schools hosted a site visit last month with Representative Tom McMillin (45th House District, R-Rochester Hills) a current member, and former chair, of the House Education Committee. I organized and facilitated the visit along with Rochester Education Association president Doug Hill and the Rochester Schools administration, to provide an opportunity for educators to engage the legislature and offer input on teacher evaluation to the House Education Committee.

Part of my work as Michigan Teacher of the Year seeks to engage policymakers in dialogue with educators to collaborate on what will best serve Michigan’s public school students. The full day tour of the school district included two-hour visits at an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. At each building I facilitated a roundtable discussion between teachers, administrators, and Mr. McMillin on the topic of statewide teacher evaluation. After the round table discussion, building administrators led a tour of some in-session classrooms to add context and showcase effective instruction.

In total, about 50 educators from all three buildings gave up their planning period, time typically used for planning lessons, providing extra help to students, or evaluating student work, to take part in the roundtable discussion. The current tenure reform legislation and the MCEE findings served as the framework for the conversation about evaluation.

Throughout the day, the discussions were productive and constructive, but most importantly they were centered on students. Everyone involved at each point in the day made it clear that teacher evaluation legislation needs to have students in mind, but that the focus on students should not be overly simplified. Teacher after teacher expressed a strong desire to do their best for students, meet their needs in a humanist yet academic way, and be highly effective at their practice, despite what some of the negative perceptions out there might suggest.

At each site, the conversation revealed more and more details, nuances, and considerations of classroom teaching, which re-emphasized the importance for taking a measured and sophisticated approach to teacher evaluation. Considering each individual student and their needs as unique in learning means that we cannot expect every student to “grow” the same amount in the same amount of time. Just as students have physical growth spurts at different times, learning also progresses in a non-linear fashion. Learning does not just happen during the school day at school, it happens throughout the daily life of a student. Many factors impact students in and out of school, and it can be complicated to determine the exact impact that a teacher’s teaching had with just one multiple-choice standardized test on one day.

Teachers were very much in support of the idea that there should be accountability for teaching based on student-learning outcomes, and that we should ensure that high-quality instruction is taking place all the time for all students in all classrooms. However, every teacher offered insights into the pragmatics of classroom teaching, revealing how teaching and learning are more complex than meets the eye.

Here are some of the main points offered to Rep. McMillin and the House Education Committee on teacher evaluation:

  • Teacher evaluation should not have a punitive focus, but rather promote professional development of teaching practice; tenure reform was enacted in 2011 to address the removal of ineffective teachers, the evaluation process should not be made to be another tool to accomplish that end.
  • The fraction of evaluation based on state and local assessments should be left up to local districts to set on a sliding scale, where the sum of state and local assessments percentages would make up half of the teacher evaluation, but that they do not both have to be equally weighted at one-quarter of the evaluation score.
  • Value-added modeling should not be used to tie an individual teacher’s effectiveness rating to student scores, especially in the case of teachers who do not teach a given subject, because there are too many factors to clearly identify a single teacher’s impact on student learning.
  • If the state is going to mandate a teacher evaluation tool, they should not select only a single tool for all schools, but rather provide all four options recommended by the MCEE and allow individual school districts to choose. Many schools have been working with one of the four piloted teacher evaluation systems recommended by the MCEE for years, making a single selection for the entire state would put some districts at a head start while others would be behind in implementing that evaluation system.
  • The four options for evaluation systems should include:
    1. Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching
    2. Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model
    3. The Thoughtful Classroom
    4. The 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning
  • School districts know their students best and should have as much local control flexibility in their teacher evaluation process as the legislation could grant latitude.
  • Evaluators need to be keenly trained on identifying best practice instruction. Observation of teaching practice can be more objective than some might think. Research has shown what some of the most effective teaching strategies are and the MCEE piloted evaluation tools that focus on these best practices.
  • Objectivity in teacher evaluation can be obtained using observation and rubric scoring of teaching practice, and that professional practice should not be underestimated.
  • Interim, or ongoing, assessments should have the ability to count in a teacher evaluation for the student growth portion, which constitutes the locally determined assessment component, because it gives more timely feedback to teachers and students to inform practice and learning outcomes than state assessments.

The discussion with teachers and Rep. McMillin was illuminating for all involved. There are so many considerations for student success with learning outcomes that we cannot expect this to be a simple situation that is easily measurable. Sharing the pragmatics of classroom teaching revealed how measuring the effectiveness of teaching with a single standardized test is more complex than it is made to seem.

Overall, Mr. McMillin communicated that all ideas are still up for consideration in the House Education Committee with regard to teacher evaluation legislation. He was receptive to the ideas and suggestions, as well as the concerns and questions, offered by teachers throughout the day. He took back ideas to his fellow legislators from educators in support of building in as much local control flexibility as possible into the evaluation legislation, providing options for an evaluation tool to districts, avoiding value-added modeling, and ensuring that districts would make the teacher evaluation process a means for supporting teaching practice, not punishing it, for the benefit of students.

Ultimately, all individuals involved in the day had the opportunity to engage in productive discourse centered on ensuring that high-quality teaching and learning happens for Michigan students. Everyone agreed that the tenure reform of 2011 created a punitive means of accountability and that teacher evaluation should not be another punishment system. The teacher evaluation legislation will be a complex undertaking for lawmakers, but by taking into account the findings of the MCEE, the insights of classroom teachers and ideas of school administrators, we can develop an evaluation process that supports the development of teachers, promotes the learning of students, and does not reduce education to a simple input-output algorithm.

Photo credits: Gary G. Abud, Jr.