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 the recommendations and findings of their 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 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.
Educators Offer Ideas and Experience to the Legislature
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 had the opportunity to organize and facilitate this site visit along with Rochester Education Association president Doug Hill and the Rochester Community 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 this year as Michigan Teacher of the Year is 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 Rochester school district included two-hour visits at an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. At each building, a roundtable discussion was held with teachers, administrators, and Mr. McMillin on the topic of statewide teacher evaluation. After the round table discussion, building administrators led us on a tour of some in-session classrooms to add context to our discussion of teacher evaluation 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, and 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 from child to child. Learning does not just happen during the school day at school, but 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. Thus, it was encouraged that multiple measures be included in a statewide evaluation system.
Teachers were very much in support 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 that revealed that teaching and learning are more complex than meets the eye.
Photo Credits: Gary G. Abud, Jr.
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