Principals still rate more than 99 percent of Michigan teachers in large districts “effective” or “highly effective” this year despite low student achievement, a recent survey shows.
“It’s very consistent with what we’ve seen from around the country, and it’s very much why we’ve seen this big push to overhaul teacher evaluation requirements,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president for the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Under a 2011 law, Michigan is implementing new, mandatory teacher evaluations. Beginning in 2013, administrators must include student performance as part of the evaluations. This year, teachers received one of four ratings: highly effective, effective, minimally effective, or ineffective.
The Education Trust-Midwest surveyed schools and found 99.6 percent of teachers were rated at least “effective,” and only two in 1,000 were rated “ineffective.”
‘Unfair to Teachers’
“They ended up that way for a couple of reasons,” said David Zemen, director of communications for Education Trust-Midwest. “A lot of these districts that we surveyed have not had a lot of experience putting together a sophisticated teacher evaluation system.”
If school administrators had more detailed descriptions of what each rating meant from the state, Zemen said, they could have evaluated teachers more effectively—and consistently.
“If you’re an administrator or principal, your idea of what ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’ means might be different,” he said. “That’s unfair to the school district, and that’s unfair to teachers, because they’re all coming up with their own definitions.”
Administrators to Blame
School administrators should also take evaluations more seriously, said Michael Van Beek, director of education policy studies at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“It’s disappointing,” he said of the findings. “Evaluating teachers accurately is beneficial for everybody involved—teachers included, obviously. It’s evidence that school districts are not meeting that need.”
Teacher evaluations are intended to help teachers improve in the classroom, Zemen said.
“This isn’t about getting tougher on teachers or using this as an opportunity to fire teachers. This is about helping all teachers get better,” he said.
Counting Student Performance
In 2013, student performance will be a mandatory part of teacher evaluations, constituting 30 percent of 2013-2014 evaluations, 40 percent in 2014-2015, and finally 50 percent in 2015-2016. School administrators will decide whether to use tests or grades to measure student performance, and which tests to use, Van Beek said.
“That will sort of automatically create a better system than the rubber stamp that this one appears to be,” Van Beek said. “That said, those can be done very poorly as well.”
A competitive environment would give administrators greater reason to evaluate teachers more realistically, Van Beek said, making them benefit more for identifying top-performing teachers.
“It’s really important that Ed Trust-Midwest has shown a spotlight on where districts are now, so that we can see how far they have to go to be in line with the new law,” Jacobs said.
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