Still Widgets?

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One would think we've moved closer to the new frontier in terms of evaluating teachers since TNTP's Widget Effect came out way back in 2009. Not so fast. EdTrust Midwest's interesting and relevant look at districts across Michigan shows that 99.36 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective despite deplorable rates of student achievement: only 35 percent of Michigan's fourth graders are proficient or higher in math, 31 percent in reading.

Michigan has made teacher evaluation a real priority, passing not one but two bills on the subject in the past three years. The 2009 bill left it up to districts to develop their own growth measures for evaluating teachers. The 2011 bill provides far more guidance on how to carry evaluations out. University of Michigan dean Deborah Ball is currently spearheading efforts to produce a state-wide model that districts can use off the shelf.

Without a state model to guide them, Michigan's districts are scrambling to comply with the 2009 law. So while it's discouraging that Michigan districts still can't identify truly effective teachers, it isn't surprising.

Once the state's evaluation model is established, that 99.36 percent effectiveness figure is likely to fall, and the real variation in teacher effectiveness will become apparent. Transparency can be discomforting -- but it should enable districts to devise strategies for retaining their best teachers and helping all teachers get better.

--Sarah Brody