Michigan Senate OKs delay in change to teacher evaluations

State Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth

LANSING — The Michigan Senate on Wednesday voted to delay a key change in the state’s evaluation system for teachers and school administrators, in the latest sign of unease with what critics call an overemphasis on standardized testing in K-12 education.

Senators unanimously approved bills that would halt — at least for a year — a requirement that student growth and assessment data be given greater weight in educators’ year-end performance evaluations. Such information now accounts for 25 percent of an evaluation but is scheduled to rise to 40 percent this academic year under a 2015 law.

Under the legislation, the change would be delayed until the 2019-20 school year.

The main sponsor, Republican Sen. Ken Horn of Frankenmuth, said basing 40 percent of an evaluation on student testing is “flawed,” especially considering a new requirement that half of the growth component be measured using state assessments. The delay, he said, would “give us a little bit of breathing room” to closely study the value of standardized testing. He said too much time is spent on test preparation and Michigan’s test, the M-STEP, “is not a good way to evaluate students or to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers.”

The bills are supported by teachers unions, school districts and groups representing administrators. They will be considered by the House next. Horn said the deadline to enact the measures into law is May 1, and he expects business groups to become neutral on them after legislators pursued the one-year delay rather than permanently keeping intact the 25 percent component.

State Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a Livonia Democrat and former teacher, said “it is imperative that this is the beginning and not the end of addressing this issue.” Using students’ growth on assessments does not fairly assess teachers, she said, because it is difficult to show significant growth with high-scoring students while low-scoring students are affected by outside factors such as being poor.

“Outside of the SAT in grade 11, which factors heavily into college acceptance, students have little motivation to perform optimally on tests like the Michigan test — the M-STEP,” she said. “So, many teachers must rely on a student’s intrinsic motivation to do well on a test that can affect teachers’ and administrators’ livelihoods.”

Under the evaluation law, the remainder of an educator’s annual review centers primarily on their performance as measured by a scoring tool chosen from a state list or developed locally, including a classroom observation component.

At least two classroom observations must be conducted of teachers not rated as effective or highly effective on their two most recent evaluations.

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