Don’t separate teacher effectiveness from student achievement

Apr. 23, 2024  PLYMOUTH VOICE.

Plymouth Michigan News




By:  Molly Macek

Repealing reforms will only hurt students


School boards across the state have their work cut out for them. Leading a school district is hard enough, and now they must prepare to bargain with teachers’ unions over subjects that have been off the table for more than 20 years.

That’s because several reforms enacted in 2011 and earlier were officially repealed on Feb. 13. Those reforms prohibited unions from engaging in collective bargaining over teacher performance evaluations, placement decisions, merit pay, discipline and layoff procedures. And they required a teacher’s job performance to play a significant role in these decisions.

But not anymore. With those reforms repealed, school boards must return to the bargaining table and face union pressure to renegotiate their contracts. But they should know that they don’t have to revert to pre-reform policies. Nor should they.

As a former administrator and high school teacher of nearly 20 years, I can say with confidence that the 2011 reforms paved the way for improving student learning outcomes. They did this by tying teachers’ job performance —not their seniority to compensation and personnel decisions such as placement, discipline and layoffs. The reforms helped ensure that students learned from the best teachers, not just those who had been in the classroom the longest.

The reforms also required teacher effectiveness to be measured by an evaluation system that considered student achievement over time. Student assessment and growth data represented 40% of the evaluation. Data on teachers, primarily from classroom observations, represented the remaining 60%. By including both student and teacher performance data, evaluations gave a comprehensive assessment of the teacher’s impact on student learning — and the primary goal of teaching is to help students learn.

Now that the 2011 reforms have been repealed, the rules dictating how school boards evaluate teachers and make personnel decisions have changed. Personnel policies are now subject to bargaining, meaning students could lose ground if district officials succumb to union pressure to return to antiquated, pre-reform policies. Such policies would make it even harder for districts to improve student achievement because they would downplay teacher effectiveness in favor of seniority.

Teacher quality matters— a fact well-documented by research and supported by my years of evaluating and supporting teachers in their professional growth. An effective teacher influences student achievement more than any other school-related factor.

The value added by a quality teacher cannot be disputed, and it cannot be measured by the number of years climbed on the pay scale or degrees earned. Those things don’t lead to better student outcomes. The best way to determine teachers’ effectiveness is to measure their impact on student achievement over time as part of a robust and comprehensive evaluation system.

School boards must understand the best practices in teacher evaluations as they approach contract negotiations. Only then can they adopt policies that best support student learning.

The best evaluations are composite systems that measure a teacher’s impact on student achievement by using data on both student and teacher performance. The evaluation ratings are most reliable and accurate when they’re based on at least three different data sources, and student assessment data is weighed as heavily as date on teachers, if not more.

But a new state law reduces the role of student assessment data from 40% of teacher evaluations to 20%. That’s if student assessment data is used at all; what type of student data is used is now up for grabs in collective bargaining. But if districts don’t include standardized student assessment data in teacher evaluations, they risk introducing too much subjectivity into their decisions. Evaluations would become a waste of time and resources for everyone.

With 20% of the evaluation based on student data, most of the remaining 80% will likely be based on classroom observation data. New state law requires all evaluators to participate in rater-reliability training, which is important for reducing subjectivity and increasing the evaluation’s reliability. Observing each teacher multiple times per year is another way to increase the evaluation’s accuracy.

School officials can also require evaluators to provide timely feedback to guide teachers’ professional development. A thorough evaluation system will help evaluators identify areas where teachers need to improve and help them develop strategies to address deficiencies. It also ensures the best teachers — not just the most experienced ones — are retained and rewarded for their performance.

By learning about these changes and prioritizing the best practices for evaluating teachers, school boards can avoid adopting bad policies that would harm student achievement.



Dr. Molly Macek is the director of education policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. She holds a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) from Johns Hopkins University. Prior to attaining her doctorate, she earned a Master’s in Teaching degree from Johns Hopkins University, and a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the PLYMOUTH VOICE.

This article originally appeared in The Detroit News March 24, 2024.


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