Michigan Senate votes to delay teacher evaluation rules

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan state Senator Ken Horn.

Lansing — Michigan's Republican-led Senate voted Wednesday to delay new teacher evaluation standards that had been set to take effect this school year, temporarily backing off plans to more closely tie performance reviews to student testing results.

A 2015 law signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder after intense legislative debate requires that 40 percent of a teacher’s year-end evaluation be based on student growth and testing data by 2018-19.

The bipartisan legislation, now heading to the House, would instead leave that rate at 25 percent for another year as lawmakers reconsider the earlier approach.

The delay was partially inspired by ongoing concerns over the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, otherwise known as the M-STEP, which “is absolutely the wrong way to evaluate student growth and then evaluate teacher effectiveness,” said sponsoring Sen. Ken Horn.

The Frankenmuth Republican said the legislation would “reset the shot clock” and allow for further debate over the summer and fall without the new standards kicking in.

“We have general consensus that 40 is wrong,” he said, referencing the percentage of teacher evaluations that would be based on student performance under the 2015 law. “I don’t want to go to 40 and then go back to 25, so we’re just going to delay it and talk about it and do a long-term fix.”

Several public education groups have backed the delay legislation, but the proposal faces opposition from business organizations and the Education-Trust Midwest advocacy group.

The 2015 law created “a statewide framework for educator feedback, education and support” that could help improve Michigan’s K-12 education system, Education-Midwest said in a letter submitted during committee hearings.

“Lessening the use of data in evaluations would weaken this framework,” the group said.

The legislation passed the Senate unanimously, however, and Horn said he is hoping that a one-year delay would allow lawmakers to hear arguments on both sides of the teacher evaluation debate.

Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a Livonia Democrat and former teacher, said the current evaluation law could penalize teachers with high-performing students who have little room for growth and those with at-risk students whose testing aptitude could be impacted with factors beyond their control, including homelessness.

“It is imperative this is the beginning and not the end of addressing this issue,” Polehanki said in a floor speech. “The impact of a classroom teacher cannot be fairly evaluated using state-prescribed weights for putting student growth into teacher ratings.”

The legislation was referred to the House Education Committee for further debate.