Ed Trust-Midwest Report Pushes for High-Quality Teacher Evaluation System

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A new Education Trust-Midwest report, “Good for Teachers, Good for Students,” finds that Michigan’s local districts and charter schools are struggling in their efforts to better support teachers in building the skills they need to raise student learning. High-quality teacher evaluation systems provide that support, but, sadly, they are a rarity in the state.

During an examination of 28 local teacher evaluation models in use across Michigan in the 2011-12 school year, Ed Trust-Midwest discovered the models all lacked at least one important research-based component, such as reliability. The subjects were local evaluation models developed by districts and charters of varying sizes, income levels, and demographics. Some of the selected models had been labeled as among the best in the state by the Michigan Department of Education.

The findings underscore the vital importance of the state’s new effort — expected to be completed by the spring — to create research-based state standards to guide local evaluation models; ensure teachers are being evaluated fairly and soundly; and establish a statewide value-added growth model for all schools as one measure among many in all local evaluation models.

Governor Rick Snyder and the legislature will soon decide where to make important state investments in the coming year. Ed Trust-Midwest urges these leaders to make Michigan’s new educator evaluation and support system a top budget priority and invest in the supports research shows are needed by school leaders to do this work well.

“Never before have Michigan teachers been held so accountable for their performance,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan Education Trust-Midwest. “That’s a positive step forward, as we know how important teachers are to student learning.”

Unlike states that are leading in this arena, the state of Michigan has so far neglected to make major investments in building teachers’ ability to teach students to high standards.

The months-long analysis underpinning the new report found:

  • Problems of reliability and validity: State law requires part of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on how much students learn during the school year. Yet none of the 28 models we surveyed contained a technically sound student growth measure. Some schools even failed to apply the same performance criteria to all teachers, undermining the reliability of their evaluations.
  • The need to empower master teachers and address capacity challenges: Smart evaluation takes time that many school administrators lack. Michigan must develop new roles for high-performing teacher leaders to assist administrators with evaluations and provide feedback and more support to young and struggling teachers. We also need to recognize and reward high-performing teachers.
  • The lack of clear methods and developmental feedback for teachers: Many districts or charter networks use checklist-style observation forms that provide teachers little useful feedback on how they might improve. Also, most systems have not successfully determined how to combine student growth and other important measures of teacher performance — a step that is critically important as teachers may not get fair evaluations without proper scoring frameworks.

Ed Trust-Midwest’s recommendations include:

  • The legislature and Snyder Administration must allocate proper funding to building a high-quality, reliable K-12 teacher evaluation data system.
  • The state must craft rigorous state standards for those local districts and charters that seek to use their own local model. The state must also provide feedback and oversight to ensure evaluation is done reliably, fairly, and constructively, particularly in the first few years of implementation.
  • The legislature needs to approve the work being led by University of Michigan School of Education Dean Deborah Ball, chair of the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, by June of 2013.

“It is imperative that Michigan better supports, evaluates, and coaches its teachers,” Arellano said. “It’s important to teachers, who put in long hours and never stop trying to get better. And most important, it’s essential for our students, whose academic futures are inextricably tied to teacher performance.”