A bill with bipartisan support that would keep standardized test scores from taking on even greater importance in the lives of teachers and students in Michigan passed out of the House Education Reform Committee on Thursday.
Hundreds of educators and parents have contacted legislators in support of House Bill 5707, a measure that would keep the percentage of an educator’s evaluation that is tied to student growth measures at 25 percent instead of jumping to 40 percent this school year.
Livonia social studies teacher Craig Barker is one of those people who contacted his legislator about the bill following an MEA Call to Action over the summer.
“HB 5707 is critical because while test scores are an important component of looking at teacher effectiveness, we know that they are a piece of the puzzle and not the whole story,” Barker wrote in a letter to Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor), who is minority vice-chairman of the House Education Reform committee.
Barker said he taught a U.S. History class with 33 students enrolled last fall in which students averaged 8.9 days absent for the semester. “The simple reality is that I can’t teach students that are not there, but my evaluation score is still tied to their achievement,” he said.
It’s not a system designed to spur great teaching, he said: “Tying teacher evaluation so heavily to a test score incentivizes all the worst practices in teaching and does not help students, parents, or teachers get the best learning experience.”
Zemke said lawmakers who support the bill continue to push for its passage, given the “significant amount of angst” many are hearing about the scheduled increase of student growth measures to 40 percent of educator evaluations.
“These are not willy-nilly concerns that people are sharing,” Zemke said. “They make a lot of sense.”
Changes to the state’s educator evaluation system in 2014 were intended to be constructive and not punitive, aimed at improving teaching and learning, Zemke added. Research shows observation and feedback from a well-trained evaluator is best at helping educators improve their practice, he said.
“We shouldn’t be basing half of a growth score on a state assessment which has – in the eyes of the student – very little value,” Zemke said. “This is what we hear. Students don’t have any incentive to do the right thing on the test.”
Ann Arbor science teacher Amie Snapke also contacted her legislator this summer to say that not only teachers are stressed in the current environment.
“Today’s students are more stressed and anxious than they were when I started teaching,” the 15-year veteran said. “We need more mental health supports for students, not more testing and focus on testing.”
Time that could be spent working with students is used for testing, preparing for tests, and filling out dozens of pages of evaluation forms – all in pursuit of “a single data point,” Snapke said. “Our students need us to spend time with them, work with them on areas where they are struggling, and listen to them.”
Kelly Hilgendorf, an elementary teacher in Davison, said many students are facing difficulties at home that affect their performance in school.
She had a student last year who was homeless, and another who lost his father. Classroom teachers do not control many outside factors that influence a child’s performance on a standardized test, she said.
In her district, students take a reading assessment several times per year, but only the first and last are used to calculate teacher evaluations. Last spring, she said, “I had three students who completed the last test of 34 reading questions in about 15 minutes and had terrible scores.”
Basing evaluations in part on student test scores is “frustrating” and “disheartening,” she said.
“PLEASE do something to help Michigan teachers!” she wrote in an Action Network letter to her representative over the summer.