Today Sarah Lenhoff, director of policy and research, and Jason Mancini, director of government affairs, of The Education Trust-Midwest, testified to the Michigan Senate Education Committee on the importance of educator evaluation and support. Their testimony follows.

Thank you for giving us the chance to speak to you today about Michigan’s statewide system of educator support and evaluation. I am Jason Mancini, director of government affairs at The Education Trust-Midwest (ETM). With me today is Sarah Lenhoff, our director of policy and research. ETM is a nonpartisan, data-driven, education research, information and advocacy organization. We work to serve as a source of nonpartisan information and expertise – and a partner to state leaders, educators and others – about Michigan education and achievement gap closing.

First, we’d like to thank lawmakers for your leadership on the development of this new system focused on raising teaching and learning in our schools. From the very beginning of this system’s development in the 2011 tenure reforms, the legislature has been a leader on the issue of raising teaching quality.

Clearly, Michigan desperately needs this new system. Today, Michigan is at or near the bottom for student learning and improvement among all 50 states in most subjects and grades. In key subjects, like 4th grade reading, our students are actually learning at lower levels today than they were ten years ago. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The state of Tennessee provides us a good model of how a teacher evaluation and support system can help dramatically and quickly transform our schools – and Michigan students’ learning levels.

Tennessee has been far outpacing Michigan – and the national average – in student improvement since 2011. Indeed, it is now the nation’s leading state for student improvement, according to the national assessment. These gains are being made not just for white students but for African-American students, too.

Tennessee’s leaders attribute this extraordinary improvement to their implementation and investment in their statewide educator support and evaluation system, along with higher standards. In fact, none of the leading education states have improved student achievement without holding teachers accountable and supporting their improvement.

Today we’d like to highlight just a few of the reasons why Senate Bill 103 could be a game changer for Michigan educators:

  •  No Statewide Standards for Evaluating Teachers: Presently Michigan has a patchwork of local systems and student growth models. This means some teachers are getting fair evaluations, while many others are not. In fact, ETM’s 2012 study of local evaluation systems found that most of those systems do not use sound measures of student growth, and many of them underestimate the impact of their teachers on student learning. SB 103 would make progress in addressing this problem and ensure that all districts are playing by the same rules, even if they opt to develop their own systems.

We urge this committee to consider requiring, rather than encouraging, that evaluation systems meet certain minimum standards. In addition, we recommend that the legislature include a requirement that, within two years, the state develop a statewide student growth model based on state assessment data that districts are required to use for teachers in tested subjects.

  • No definition of what effective teaching is in Michigan: Like other professions, educators need clear goals to work toward, and they need to know what excellence looks like. Right now, every Michigan district, school, teacher prep program and sometimes even every educator, makes up their own definition. This is a disservice to both students and teachers. SB 103 would begin to fix that by requiring certain components to be part of any final evaluation rating. But Michigan also needs clear, common definitions for effectiveness, linked to evaluation ratings and student growth results. In order to get a “highly effective” rating, for instance, a teacher should have to meet a certain threshold of high student growth. Having a common definition and understanding of what effective teaching is in Michigan will advance our teaching profession – and help the public understand why great teaching should be valued and respected.

Language could easily be inserted into SB 103 to make these definitions more clear.

  • No voluntary model for districts that need or want one: Good, reliable evaluation systems are costly – and they require resources and expertise that few districts can afford or readily access. Leading states provide a model that local schools may opt to use, along with state-provided training and student growth data based on the state assessments. Such investments have been key to Tennessee’s success, according to state leaders there. This legislation would allow the state to offer a list of optional, research-backed evaluation tools districts could use if they chose.

Districts should be required to use an evaluation tool that meets research-based criteria for evaluating educator performance.

  • Practically every Michigan teacher is considered “effective” or “highly effective” – while Michigan risks marginalizing our true master teachers: About 97 percent of our teachers were rated Effective or Highly Effective in the 2013-2014 school year. Meanwhile, MDE regulations define master teachers based largely on credentials and getting “effective” ratings. Research shows credentials can be weak predictors of teaching quality. These practices risk marginalizing our truly masterful teachers. By ensuring that evaluations are more fair and accurate, SB 103 will help Michigan identify our most effective teachers, who can be developed into master and mentor teachers to support their peers.

 We recommend the legislature include a meaningful definition of master teachers for Michigan’s truly masterful teachers.

  •  Responsible transition to student growth, based on new standards and assessments: We recommend waiting two years to incorporate data from our new state assessments into teachers’ evaluations. This will give teachers an appropriate amount of time to transition to our state’s higher standards and new assessments.

But this does not mean waiting to implement the evaluation system or to hold teachers accountable for student learning. In fact, local districts should continue to incorporate local assessment and growth data into evaluations.

 Michigan should not factor state assessment data into teacher evaluations until the 2016-17 school year.

As Tennessee and plenty of leading states demonstrate, educational improvement can start with good policy, but it needs investment and sustained implementation to make it soar in classrooms.

Thank you for your time today.

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