News Story

Audit: School Districts Failing To Rate Teacher Effectiveness, As Law Requires

State education department says the law should be changed

A recent state audit of 20 school districts found that 17 of them could not demonstrate they had set specific performance goals, as required by law, for 36% of their teachers.

A review of the 11 districts having first-year teachers found that four of them could not produce documents showing they had provided each of them with midyear progress reports, also a legal requirement. Roughly one in four new teachers (24%) did not receive those reports.

Auditors also looked at a sample of reports on evaluating teachers and administrators in the 20 districts. The districts had documents for 94% of the educators reviewed, but some of those documents lacked legally required components.

Under state law, 75% of a teacher’s annual evaluation is supposed to be based on classroom observations made by an evaluator. But auditors found that 13 out of the 20 districts failed to document these observations, which happened in 21% of evaluations they reviewed.

Of the 20 districts in the sample, 11 had no proof that the evaluations were based on student growth and assessment data, accounting for 67 out of 396 evaluations. State law requires that 25% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on this data.

Under an evaluation system, teachers are rated in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, minimally effective, and ineffective. According to data from for the 2018-19 school year, 41% of teachers in Michigan were rated highly effective, 58% effective, 1% minimally effective, and 0% as ineffective.

The Michigan Department of Education admitted, due to what it calls “resource levels,” that it does not have a process to ensure school districts have proper systems for evaluating teachers. Although department officials said they will strengthen procedures to get more compliance from districts, they also said in the audit that they do not support the current law’s requirements and would lobby to see them repealed or reduced.

The audit covers the years 2015 through 2018.

The issue of teacher evaluations is complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many schools have stopped giving in-person education. The federal government recently denied a request from the Michigan Department of Education that it waive a requirement for schools to administer standardized year-end assessment tests. John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools, told WZZM-TV that using standardized tests this year would be harmful: “40% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student growth. This is not the time for us to be using this unreliable and invalid data for evaluations.”

The requirement for schools to place teachers into one of four performance categories went into effect in the 2011-12 school year, and some districts have a history of turning in questionable results. For example, some rated all their teachers in the same category: effective.

In 2013-14, the Detroit Public Schools Community District rated 8 out of every 10 teachers as highly effective. As of 2018-19 (the last full year before the pandemic), 48% of Detroit’s teachers were rated as highly effective, and 50% were rated effective. The district rated 2% of its teachers as minimally effective. Only seven of its 3,019 teachers were rated as ineffective, which was statistically the same as 0%.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.