News Story

Michigan’s Broken System For Rating Teacher’s Classroom Effectiveness

Current law, a failed bid to grab Obama-era federal education money, was never fully implemented

Southwestern Classical Academy, a high school in Flint Community Schools, has among the lowest student test scores in the state of Michigan.

The average (mean) SAT score of students attending this high school in the Flint district was 764.5 in 2018-19, the last year for which test results have been released. By comparison, the average SAT score for students in the Detroit Public Schools Community School District came in at 847.6. The statewide average was 985.1.

A report card compiled by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which adjusts raw test scores to reflect students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, gave the school building an F.

There were 33 teachers at Southwestern Classical Academy in the 2020-21 year. In annual assessments that schools must perform under state law, 17 were rated “highly effective” and 15 were rated “effective.” One teacher was rated “minimally effective.” No teacher was considered “ineffective.”

Over eight years of teacher evaluations, Southwestern Classical Academy’s administrators have issued eight “ineffective” ratings compared to 68 “highly effective” ratings.

The Flint high school is just one example of what appears to be a disconnect between how Michigan public school teachers are rated and how students perform. A 2011 law requires that 50% of teacher assessments be based on measures of student learning, with the target phased in over time. But after multiple postponements of plans to increase the role played by student achievement, only 25% of teacher ratings are based on how much students in a teacher’s classroom learn.

Currently, state legislators are being asked by the Michigan Education Association union to suspend teacher evaluations due to the pandemic.

In addition, both Democratic and Republican legislators have introduced bills that would eliminate any role for student achievement in teacher evaluations.

The state requirement to evaluate teacher effectiveness has its origins in a competitive federal grant program promoted by the Obama administration. Legislators eventually passed and the governor signed into law bills to establish the current system.

In the first years that followed, many school districts put almost all their teachers into one of two evaluation categories: “highly effective” and “effective.” They classified very few as “minimally effective” or “ineffective,” two other categories specified by law.

For example, in 2011-12, Bloomfield Hills Schools rated 477 of its 480 teachers as “effective,” with three others “highly effective.” In 2012-13, it rated 618 of its 620 teachers as “effective.” The district didn’t rate a single teacher as “highly effective.”

Not much has changed since then. From 2017-18 through 2020-21, nearly all teachers in the state have been rated as either “highly effective” or “effective.” About 40% of all Michigan teachers are rated “highly effective,” and 59% are rated “effective.” The remaining 1% are rated “minimally effective.” Statistically, 0% of teachers have been rated as “ineffective.” (In the pandemic year of 2019-20, many schools did not perform teacher evaluations.)

A 2019 U.S. News evaluation of state public school systems ranked Michigan 32nd nationally.

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.