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The state of Michigan, after years of inadequate teacher evaluation, just might be getting it right. According to the Detroit News Associated Press Lansing — “The Legislature on Tuesday finalized a new state framework for evaluating Michigan’s teachers and schools administrators, with annual evaluations based partly on state standardized test scores and students’ improvement over time.” The key word is over time.

In the past teachers could have a year of very low achieving students, do everything right to teach these students, yet still not be able to get them to pass the tests that determines whether they are effective or non-effective teachers. Thus, because their students failed, they failed as teachers. Most if not all of these teachers feel a great responsibility and do not need an assessment to tell them they failed. They feel guilty that they could not reach these students thus, they feel like failures themselves.

Basing teacher evaluation on student test scores has no correlation in any other business. When discussing teacher evaluation with teachers nearly all say basing their evaluation on student test scores looks only at the outcome of the tests. Dentists are not evaluated based on how well patients maintain their teeth; mechanics are not evaluated based on how well drivers maintain their cars; and farmers are not assessed on well they grow crops each year. In each of these cases it is understood the patient, the driver, and in the farmers’ case the weather play a major part in the outcome. The responsibility for maintaining healthy teeth remains the patient, for maintaining a safe car ultimately remains with the driver, and whether a farmer has a good year of crops depends more on the weather than on what the farmer does.

Yet with teachers, little if any responsibility is placed on students, to say nothing about parent involvement. Teachers can only do so much; then, at some point in the exchange of knowledge, the student must impart what the teacher has taught. This is why evaluating teacher performance based on student test scores over time is so important.

In educational circles teachers are deemed facilitators enabling students to learn by imparting ideas and concepts in an environment conducive for learning. When all these factors are in sync, students learn without a hitch. However, when there is a glitch in any part of this educational milieu, the ability for the teacher to teach and the students to learn is compromised, and the result is teacher failure to show student has learned the concepts taught.

So, while the state of Michigan appears to be heading in the right direction for evaluating teachers, it still needs to look at other factors. Such as factors as cognitive ability. As much as we may not want to admit it, not all children have the capacity to learn at the same rate, and some may never be able to achieve at levels expected of them. Days in school, and migrations from one school to another also affect student learning, but these factors do not show up on test scores, only the results of the test scores do. Yet they have a significant impact on teacher evaluation.

Michigan state senator David Knezek has it right when he said, “Measuring student growth based upon multiple factors rather than just test results provides a more accurate picture of student learning and teacher effectiveness.” (Detroit News)

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