Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed two state Senate bills — SB 395 and 396 — into law, which effectively change Michigan’s public school teacher evaluation system. These bills reduce the significance of student performance on standardized tests in teacher evaluations and eliminate the use of evaluations in administrative decisions related to promotion or retention. The legislation does allow for teacher dismissal in instances of repeated poor evaluations.
Lara Dixon is an assistant professor in K-12 education administration in Michigan State University’s College of Education, where she also serves as the director of educator preparation and accreditation. Dixon is an expert on how government, industry and education leaders can advance a country’s achievement and economic prospects. She answers questions on what Michigan’s new teacher evaluations could mean for educators.
Why were Senate bills 395 and 396 signed into law?
In July 2013, the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness recommended an improvement-focused evaluation system that is “fair, transparent and feasible.” Public school teachers have called for change for a long time, and the Michigan Legislature took up this issue in response, with the bills being signed into law on Nov. 22, 2023.
What changes do the bills address?
The current evaluation system is not aligned with the majority of teachers’ curriculum and performance. Instead, it significantly ties evaluations to state testing data, like the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP, that does not accurately reflect students’ learning and teachers’ ability to instruct, connect with and inspire students. The system also requires annual evaluations and the generation of excessive paperwork and reports, taking agency and time away from administrators and teachers to use evaluations meaningfully and focus resources on those new to the profession and in need of additional support.
Educators want an evaluation process that is supportive, focused on learning, provides timely, impactful feedback and measures teachers on what they do in the classroom.
How will these changes impact students and educators?
An evaluation system that mentors and supports teachers’ and administrators’ continuous improvement will increase their ability to help students achieve more. There is no detriment to an evaluation practice that is improvement-focused and provides agency, timely feedback, support and growth.
How might the reduced reliance on standardized test scores impact teaching methods?
Testing, in and of itself, does not improve performance; it helps us understand our current state and may guide future decisions. A reduction in the use of standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness will not impact teaching and learning. But encouraging teachers to use formative assessment data will significantly benefit students. Teachers continuously gather and use in-the-moment evidence (formative assessment) to understand the depth students are learning and to determine what to do next. Reflection, adjustment of instruction and specific, timely feedback and guidance promotes student engagement, understanding, ability and success.
Will the new standards attract more educators?
People thrive when they are seen, known, supported, given agency, are appropriately challenged and respected. The new evaluation system provides mentors to new teachers and administrators, gives a platform for educators to be assessed on their work and allows successful veteran educators a three-year evaluation cycle. These improvement-focused changes are a step in the right direction toward making the teaching profession more attractive.