MCEE recommends teachers be evaluated on student growth, classroom practice

MICHIGAN — Almost two years and $6 million later, the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness delivered its recommendation on Wednesday for a statewide teacher evaluation system, tying teachers' ratings to classroom performance and student test scores.

Gov. Rick Snyder and the legislature commissioned the six-person council of education experts to recommend a statewide student growth assessment tool and evaluation tools for teachers and administrators. Snyder and legislators now will review the recommendation and hold hearings on the topics before taking action to potentially implement a statewide teacher and administrator evaluation system.

The MCEE selected four top teacher evaluation models for 14 K-12 school districts across the state to pilot during the 2012-13 school year; 13 districts completed the pilot, which entailed additional teacher evaluations and student testing in order to provide more data for the council. Big Rapids Public Schools was one of the districts involved in the pilot, testing the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model.

"Every child in Michigan deserves skillful teachers, not just some of the time, but each and every year," wrote MCEE chair Deborah Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, in her preface to the recommendation. "And every teacher deserves the opportunity to develop and continue to refine his or her professional skill — to receive targeted feedback and professional learning opportunities to improve instruction. Our commitment to this goal animated the work of the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness."

By the 2015-16 school year, the council recommends having 50 percent of a teacher's rating based on their practice, as recorded through classroom observation and other locally-determined factors. The other 50 percent of the evaluation will be based on student growth, as measured by state assessments in the core subjects, other assessments for elective courses and whether students meet learning objectives. Michigan law already calls for 50 percent of the evaluation to be based on student growth by 2015-16.

Reed City Area Public Schools Superintendent Tim Webster, who had 17 years of experience evaluating teachers from his time as Reed City Middle School principal, is in favor of the MCEE's proposal, as long as the tools used to measure teachers' effectiveness are fair.

"In theory, it sounds great, but I'm always concerned about the fairness of the student growth aspect," he said. "I haven't seen a system that does that (accurately)."

Webster also raised concerns that the proposed evaluation system ignores outside factors that affect student learning, placing the sole responsibility on teachers.

"Don't get me wrong, good teachers can take all of their students and help them learn," he said. "But there are so many variables that affect student learning. It's a little more challenging than taking pieces off an assembly line and checking them for quality."

The MCEE proposed the state provide Value-Added Models of student growth, based on a three-year average of students' performance on standardized tests. VAM accounts for factors beyond on the teacher's control that may affect student learning, such as socioeconomic status, gender, race, ethnicity, special education needs and whether English is the student's primary language.

"Considerable work within the existing system will need to be done to tie student assessments to educator evaluation," the MCEE's report states. "This will include coordinating with the student assessment offices, aligning policies for testing students with timing that will allow for judgments concerning specific teachers, checking rosters of which students were in which teachers’ classes and how long, handling the grade levels and content domains that are not tested and coordinating with (local district)-level decisions."

Under the MCEE's recommendation, teachers would be rated as "professional," "provisional" or "ineffective." Two years of ineffective ratings would be grounds for dismissal. Teachers' salary and raises would be not be tied to their ratings, and results of their evaluations would not be publicized.

Most of the MCEE's recommendation was what Deb Tyson, BRPS curriculum director, expected after participating in the pilot program in the past school year. The biggest surprise, she said, was the proposal to link teachers' professional certification to their evaluations.

Previously, teachers could move from "provisional" to "professional" certification by logging hours of professional development, attending various workshops or earning additional endorsements or higher degrees. Once at professional status, teachers do not have to renew their certification as often, and higher degrees can lead to salary increases, depending on the school district's pay scale.

The MCEE suggested that teachers cannot apply for professional certification until they have three successive years of "professional" ratings on their evaluation or three non-successive years of "professional" ratings plus a recommendation from the building principal.

"Within our (pilot) group, there was never discussion of anything changing there," Tyson said. "That's a lot of very specific direction with connecting whether a teacher goes to a professional from a provisional certification. ... It's never been directly connected to their evaluation. It would be a big change in the certification system."

Tyson would like further explanation of the three ratings teachers now can receive. Ideas in the rest of the proposal already have been discussed with BRPS staff, she said, and the district had a generally positive experience implementing the Marzano Model.

"I think they've done it the right in that they've given us time to get to that 50/50 (teacher practice and student growth components)," she said. "We kept our staff well-informed. We've been talking about it together for three years. We've gotten some good feedback on (the Marzano Model) from our teaching staff. I think they want to know more. We want them to have buy-in and be comfortable with the model we use."