News Story

Less Than Half of Students 'Proficient,' but 97 Percent of Teachers Rated 'Effective' or Better

Effort to create meaningful teacher ratings in Michigan bogged down by bad incentives

Michigan recently administered a new series of tests to public school students between grades three and 11, covering the four separate subject areas of English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. With one exception, more than half the students were rated less than “proficient” for their grade level.

(That exception was third-grade English, where precisely 50 percent of students scored “proficient” or “advanced.”)

This poor performance is reflected in other findings as well, such as a 2013 analysis of state scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress published by the Urban Institute, which ranked Michigan’s public school system 44th in the U.S.

Yet, in annual teacher assessments required by state law, just 0.5 percent of all teachers in Michigan’s conventional public school districts were rated in the 2014-15 school year as “ineffective.” That’s just 413 ineffective teachers out 90,665 teachers statewide. And 2 percent (1,811 teachers) were given the second-lowest “minimally effective” rating.

In contrast, fully 42 percent of teachers were given the top “highly effective” rating, and 55.5 percent fell into the category of “effective.”

Of the 8,892 teachers in Michigan’s charter schools, 71.5 percent were rated “highly effective,” 18.4 percent “effective,” 8.4 percent “minimally effective” and 1.6 percent "ineffective.”

Gary Naeyaert, the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, says the teachers’ ratings in conventional public school districts are not consistent with the student performance on the state’s standardized test scores, known as M-STEP.

"It appears there is a greater distribution among the four teacher evaluation categories when looking at charter public schools compared to traditional public schools, which we attribute to the merit-based environment in the charter sector," Naeyaert said. "We look forward to the ability of using individual student growth data as a more important criteria to inform the teacher evaluation system.”

A state law passed in 2011 required Michigan public schools to assess their teachers, but allowed districts and charters to create their own systems for judging effectiveness. It also required a system be in place by the 2014-15 school year to base at least 50 percent of the assessments on actual student progress, but the effort bogged down. Earlier this year, a new law was passed pushing the deadline back another four years.

Brenda Resch is the chief of staff for Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, who chairs the Michigan Senate’s Education Committee. Their office has been closely involved in the effort to devise a meaningful teacher rating system, and she offered some possible explanations for why so few teachers are rated below average while so many students fail to attain proficiency in core subject areas.

Resch said the 2011 law made it easier for school districts to remove the least effective teachers, which is why so few “ineffective” teachers remain. “It's also likely the feedback from newly implemented evaluations has helped teachers improve,” Resch said in an email.

“We also know that more districts began using off-the-shelf (teacher rating) tools in anticipation of a new evaluation law, and we've been told the scoring rubrics in these tools may favor certain categories over others. This was one reason Senator Pavlov believed strongly that districts must have flexibility to choose tools that work best for them and not be forced into using cookie cutter state-mandated tools.”

The percentage of public school teachers (including charters and intermediate school districts) rated "highly effective" has increased every year. In 2011-12, it was 23 percent of the teachers who were rated highly effective and that percentage grew to 33 percent in 2012-13 and 38 percent in 2013-14. The overall total was 42 percent in 2014-15.

The trend for more teachers receiving higher ratings over the past four years under locally-devised evaluation methodologies also appears to refute union claims of bias in those systems, Resch said.