by Amber ArellanoThe Detroit News

Think about five people who have made a difference in your life. Chances are, at least one is a teacher. Every student deserves a great teacher every year. And we know from research and personal experience that great teachers make all the difference. Indeed, research shows the quality of classroom instruction is the most significant in-school factor for improving learning.

Far too often, however, Michigan teachers have been asked to do more, and do better, without helpful guidance or support for improvement.

Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law that could change that. Enjoying near-universal support from state Democrats and Republicans, a new educator evaluation law provides the beginning framework for Michigan teachers to get useful, high-quality feedback and support.

If state leaders develop and implement the new system well, it would help identify educators’ strengths and weaknesses and, over time, significantly improve Michigan’s teaching and learning as such systems have done in high-improvement states such as Tennessee.

The new also law provides Michigan’s first performance-based pathway for the state’s top teaching talent to be recognized as master teachers — a distinguished status that should be reserved for the state’s best educators.

It will be up to the state Department of Education to ensure the new system is properly structured to be effective and trusted by all stakeholders. Local districts have struggled with developing strong growth data and reliable evaluation ratings.

The MDE should fill the expertise void by providing local districts at least one common reliable growth measure; a voluntary second growth measure that districts can utilize; a rubric that districts can use to help them evaluate educators much more fairly and consistently; and training on the use of data and research-based observations.

State leaders have struggled to do such systems change well. In part, that weakness has led Michigan students to become among the lowest achieving children in the country. Just last week, the national assessment showed Michigan fourth-graders fell from 38th to 41st in relative ranking for fourth-grade reading.

The evaluation system, along with new career- and college-ready standards, are an opportunity to change that. When Tennessee began to move toward a high-quality system of educator evaluation and support in 2009, many educators were skeptical of the new system.

Today, not only is Tennessee the fastest improving state for education, but also two-thirds of its teachers now say that evaluations help improve teaching. If once low-performing Tennessee can change so dramatically, Michigan can, too.

Amber Arellano is executive director of Education Trust-Midwest.