New Michigan law refocuses classrooms on student growth—not the highest test scores

By Kyle Kaminski

November 29, 2023

A new state law signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will cut ‘red tape’ in public schools and ensure teachers spend more time teaching their students instead of teaching to the test.

MICHIGAN—Democratic-led legislation signed into law last week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is designed to provide Michigan students with more personalized, face-to-face learning with teachers instead of burying kids in lessons designed exclusively for standardized testing.

“Today’s bills take important steps to further cut unnecessary red tape and reduce government bureaucracy in schools to ensure that educators can spend more time teaching students the fundamentals they need to succeed,” Whitmer said in a statement last week. “We must continue to find ways to boost student outcomes so that every child has an opportunity to succeed.”

In Michigan, teachers are evaluated on a regular basis to determine their overall performance in the classroom. Under a framework that has been in place since 2011, student scores on standardized tests have served as the primary metric for determining each teacher’s rating.

Under the current law, 40% of a teacher’s overall performance rating is based on test scores.

Senate Bills 395 and 396—which were signed into law on Nov. 22 and will take effect in February—drastically reduce the importance of test scores when evaluating teachers, ensuring no more than 20% of their overall evaluations on student performance are based on tests.

Under the law, the rest of teachers’ performance would be evaluated “using multiple rating categories that take into account student growth and assessment data or student learning objectives,” with each school district and teachers’ union left to determine the precise metrics.

Democratic lawmakers said the overhaul will more fairly and effectively measure teacher performance, and lead to more constructive evaluations—namely by ensuring that educators stay focused on individual student needs instead of teaching lessons based entirely on testing.

“We all want our students and teachers to be their best. Years of data show us that an over-burdensome, over-regulated educator evaluation process isn’t delivering that,” co-sponsoring state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City), said in a statement.

In addition to reducing the weight of student test performance when evaluating teachers, the new laws also reportedly eliminate the use of teacher evaluations in making decisions to grant tenure to, promote, or retain teachers—though they can still be fired for poor evaluations, specifically if they score in the lowest, “needing support” category for three consecutive years.

Also under the new law: Teachers who receive the highest “effective” scores for three consecutive years would only need to have their performance evaluated every three years. State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) said the shift will allow principals to focus their time on teachers—and their students—who are found to need the most assistance in the classroom.

“As a public school teacher for nearly 20 years, I saw firsthand that we needed to free up time for school administrators to focus on guiding new and developing teachers,” Polehanki said.

The legislation was supported by the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Association of School Boards, the American Federation of Teachers, and other statewide education groups.

“The important changes Gov. Whitmer signed into law today will help our state better develop world-class teachers who can prepare Michigan students for long-term success in college and the workplace,” MEA President Chandra Madafferi said in a statement. “Instead of having a punitive teacher evaluation system based largely on standardized test scores, our local schools can focus more on meeting students’ individual learning needs and helping our kids grow.”

READ MORE: New ‘Filter First’ laws to protect Michigan kids from dirty drinking water

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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