House Examines Teacher Evaluations

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Two bills that propose changing the way teachers are evaluated ran into some tough questions and stiff opposition in its committee hearing Wednesday morning.

House Bills 5223 and 5224, sponsored by Rep. Margaret O'Brien (R-Portage) and Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor), respectively, would decrease the weight of academic assessments on teacher evaluations.

"The current system doesn't work. What we are proposing is growth based on the individual," said O'Brien. "We're trying to marry good policy with also gaining the momentum we need for implementation."

Currently, student performance on standardized tests makes up 50 percent of teacher evaluations. The proposed bills would cut that percentage in half for the next three years, before bringing it up to 40 percent for the 2017-2018 school year.

The remaining 60 percent of the evaluation would come from administrator evaluations and other district-generated ideas.

"We have worked hard to make sure kids were put first," O'Brien said. "Whatever is best for kids education will make a better environment for teachers and the administrators. And it will help us move the education system along."

O'Brien and Zemke faced a heavy barrage of questions and skepticism from committee members, many of whom say they'd like to see the Michigan Educational Assessment Program reformed before using it in evaluations.

"Most of my superintendents are concerned we're putting the cart before the horse," said Rep. Ray Franz (R-101).

Rep. Ellen Lipton (D-27) questioned the percentage of the MEAP to be used in evaluation, which she said "started from a flawed number."

Stan Kogut, superintendent of the Ingham Intermediate School District hesitantly called the bill a good start to better evaluation, but said the MEAP needs to be fixed before moving forward. He would be in favor of two tests -- one in the fall and one the spring -- to measure student growth.

Members of the Michigan Federation of Teachers said Wednesday that standardized testing isn't the best method of evaluation.

"I think we're all kind of worried about the standardization of these tests being a determining factor about a teacher's performance when they don't consider the poverty of our children, they don't consider the class sizes, they don't consider the resources we have available to us technology or otherwise, but it's put in our laps to be miracle workers," said Janise Robinson, a special education teacher in Taylor. "When you look at the numbers of how much a teacher actually affects a kid's learning and development, we don't 50 percent. I'm not their parent."

"I don't believe in standardized testing, I don't believe anyone is a standard. I believe in teacher assessment and authentic assessment," agreed Heather MacPhail, a parent from the Taylor area. "What our concern is is that this test is a one, two, three day measurement of a child, just at this time."

Lawmakers agreed to revisit the legislation at their next meeting. That could be as early as next Wednesday.

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