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Posted on Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 5:56 a.m.

EMU professor says new teacher tenure reform laws could result in teaching to the test

By Kyle Feldscher

The teacher tenure reform signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder last month will formalize the performance-based evaluation systems many Michigan school districts already have in place but could lead to "teaching to the test," a local expert said.

James Berry, a professor of educational leadership at Eastern Michigan University, said the legislation, which was passed in the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate in June, would add more accountability to the teacher evaluation process by taking student achievement into account on a much broader scale — eventually making up 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Berry said one of his concerns about the legislation is that this pressure to improve student achievement may lead teachers in Michigan to “teach to the test,” teaching so kids perform well on standardized tests and not necessarily doing all the other things that make a teacher successful.

“Trying to evaluate good teaching is more than standardized tests,” Berry said. “You have to wonder, will teachers teach to the test? Will testing become the main criterion under which a teacher is evaluated? This drives us down that road to a point.”

The new teacher tenure reform laws will lengthen the time it takes for a new teacher to be granted tenure from four to five years while making it easier to fire teachers who have had poor reviews. Teachers who are still in the probationary period can be fired at any point.

The exact criteria for what will make up a teacher’s evaluation isn't specified in the bills signed by Snyder. Instead, the legislation allows the governor to establish a commission to determine the specifics of what will be included in the evaluations.

The exact timeline for forming the commission and having it decide on the specifics of the legislation also remains unclear. The new teacher evaluations are set to take effect in the 2013-14 school year, when student achievement will make up 25 percent of a teacher's or administrator's evaluation. That amount increases to 40 percent in 2014-15 and 50 percent in 2015-16.

Teacher tenure reform stories

Here are a few stories chronicling the tenure reform process:

Berry said the most difficult thing the commission will have to examine is what exactly makes up a teacher’s quality. Is it simply giving facts to improve test scores? Or is it managing a classroom and students, while tailoring education to individual kids? He said the latter option is extremely difficult to examine in simple evaluations between a principal and a teacher.

“Parents are going to say, 'I want my child to end up with a real knowledge of the Three Rs,'” he said, “'but what I really need is someone who understands my child, heads off bullying by saying the right things at the right time, can manage the classroom in such a way that the teacher is aware of what’s going on in the classroom to not have discipline or management problems.' That’s really hard to quantify and put into evaluations.”

The ideas in the legislation aren’t entirely new.

Berry said lawmakers and education experts have tossed around performance-based teacher evaluation systems for at least two decades. He said many school districts throughout the state have already adopted some form of performance-based evaluations.

“This reminds me of the performance-based teacher evaluation systems that have been kicked around for 20 or 25 years,” Berry said. “What Michigan is doing is formalizing what many school districts already do. It’s a system of performance-based evaluation and tying in accountability with student achievement.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.


greg, too

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 12:16 a.m.

I've seen the first wave of the No Child Left Behind and standardized test era in my college classrooms and it isn't pretty. They can take tests, but ask them to think out a problem and they are lost. If we are looking to train people to do menial tasks, then this is the way to go. If we are looking, as we are told the goal is, to train future leaders and innovators, we are going in the complete opposite direction with forcing teachers to teach to tests.

Elle Dgee

Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 2:03 p.m.

You get the education you pay for (deserve). If you choose not to invest in your country and citizens (taxes = investment) then you will not get any returns.

greg, too

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 3:57 a.m.

That's not true. Our children don't pay a dime in taxes and we are paying out the yang and our kids are getting the shaft. We are paying for a world class education and getting far less than that.


Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

haha, it's funny because teachers invented tests


Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 3:39 a.m.

Why is it whenever there's a change in policy you have these folks coming out with doomsday views occuring as a result of the change. Berry, as a professor of education leadership, should be concentrating more on factual issues like the rampant "teacher cheating" occuring on those standardized tests that the students can't pass because their teachers can't teach, won't teach, are burned out on teaching, got their teaching credential by cheating, and can't be fired because they have tenure or the union makes it so difficult and expensive for the district, instead of concentrating on "what if's". That's why the kids can't pass the test and the teacher solution is to cheat for them. It's the kids being cheated and leadership like Berry is exhibiting is part of the problem. He must have tenure at EMU because from his comments I'd say he needs to further his education in reality. I wonder how he feels the cheating teachers in the Atlanta schools, in addition to Pensylvania,and Florida schools performed, should be evaluated? Probably "no comment" which is a strategy he should have followed for this article.


Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 1:59 a.m.

If you believe that teaching to the test hasn't already been going on, then you are wrong. Teachers have been pressured to do test prep already. It was a miserable situation for my own kids as well as for me as a teacher. Now, it wil be worse because the stakes have been raised. It is time that the education deformers be discredited and the true reformers (educators and school administrtors) be brought to the table to discuss what will really make a difference in the education of children.


Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 12:24 a.m.

Why not ask the students and parents.....the customers? Seems simple enough. If you cannot connect with the kids they won't learn. Ask any counselor and they'll tell you which teachers are requested and which ones are avoided. I'll also bet that in general the "avoided" ones will have lower scores while the "desired" ones will have better results. I have a sister in law in Florida and she says they "teach the test" to make sure their evaluations are good. Looks like we're heading in that direction, doesn't surprise me since the job of the union is to protect the teachers interests. How's that working out by the way?


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 4:11 p.m.

The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Maybe we should go back and teach the basics. A better idea would be to go and study Dexter. For some reason the Dexter HS students want to excell in shcool. Unfortunately the majority of school districs are happy with babysitting kids.


Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 2:03 a.m.

Well consider the zip code. One of the most significant factors in student achievement is determined by where they live. How much poverty is there in Dexter as compared to Willow Run, or Ypsilanti. Trying to educate children who are hungry, have families that are working so many hours at minimum wage jobs they are not present, single parent families, parents in jail, etc. Comparing Dexter kids to some others is not like comparing apples to apples.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

I think that having half of a teachers evaluation based on the performance of their basic duty, teaching, is fair. Actually it's probably too low. The other 50% of the the grade is based on all the things a GREAT (as opposed to a competent) teacher does well such as class management, individual attention, "babysitting", etc. The basic job is educating, not social interaction. That's what needs to be evaluated. The other stuff is very nice to have but, ultimately, not as important. Having a teacher who is loved by their students is useless if that teacher can not teach their subject properly. Then you really do have a high-priced babysitter!


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 11:11 p.m.

And this is exactly why people who don't have a background in education should not be making education policy . . . they just don't get it!


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

Why do high school and elementary school teachers need tenure of any type? They don't need protection to ensure freedom of speech. They're supposed to be teaching math, science & literature NOT politics. Getting rid of tenure would be a great first step in ensuring we can retain the good teachers and get rid of the bad teachers. That's what tenute really does, it ensures employment for incompetents.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

Yeah, let's removed any type of protection from senior workers, I mean the bosses at companies would never fire a person without due cause. Cutting senior workers with higher salaries so they can hire new entry workers at 1/5 the cost would never happen. That would just be plain wrong. My brother's best friend was fired from Lowe's this past spring. He worked there for ten years. He was the most senior non-manager in the store. He also had the highest hourly wage. A new manger came in, took an immediate dislike to my brother's friend, and fired him a week later because "his sales were down." They weren't. My brother's friend knew more about the products and the staff than anyone one else in the store. He was well liked. Yet, he was pushed out the door after ten years without a proper farewell or a real explanation for his termination. He was replaced by a guy making minimum wage.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

In corporate america, when there are cuts those with larger salaries are often targeted ... that is how it works (fair or unfair) in the real world and those workers have no protection! Out with the old (expensive) and in with the new (cheap) has been a part of business since the beginning of time! Teachers think they are different from other workers to the point they need special protection?

Mich Res and Alum

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

When districts are in debt and looking for every possible cut, why not fire the excellent teacher that makes 20K more than the inexperienced teacher? That's the biggest reason tenure is required, in my opinion.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Dumb parents like it better when you teach to the lowest common denominator........


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

Although you may be correct, I think parents are to trusting that their school system is working to the best interest of the student. Unfortunately in many schools in this area, the administration is trying to get by and be politically correct. In a local school distric teachers were told they could not fail the students. When the Administration does not support teachers they eventually learn to just get by and not create waves.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

As to the so-called &quot;Governor's Council,&quot; it will be made up of five voting members: three nominated by the Governor, one by the Speaker of the House and one by the majority leader of the Senate. The State Superintendent serves as a non-voting member. The elected State Board of Education plays no role in this, despite the constitutional requirement that it be in charge of education matters. Though the particular evaluation &quot;tool&quot; is not specified, the legislation does require that &quot;at least&quot; 50% of the evaluation must (after a phase-in) be based on measures of student achievement, which it defines as &quot;student growth.&quot; The context makes it clear that this 50% or more will be determined by results on &quot;objective measures&quot; like standardized tests. The legislation also requires that this portion of the evaluation be a &quot;value added&quot; model, which is, ideally, a complex statistical model of the contribution of a particular teacher to a particular student's &quot;growth.&quot; My organization opposed these bills, largely because of the impact of this evaluation provision, which was added to one of the bills very late in the game. Since no new resources are being made available, it seems likely that money-strapped districts will rely on test scores for the bulk of their evaluation (test scores must be &quot;at least&quot; 50% but there is no upper limit). While other considerations must be included, no minimum weight for them is listed. Classroom visits are required, but they need not even be for an entire class period. We are very concerned that a well-thought-out system such as that AAPS has been working on will not meet the very narrow rules set forth in the legislation. Moreover, only fully operational systems that were in place by mid-July would be allowed as alternatives to the mandated state system. See our articles here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

Mr. Barry, have you been in touch with Gov. Snyder to make sure your concerns are taken into account by the Commission? It seems to me that ultimately the makeup and decisions of this commission are going to be far more important than the law that forms and empowers it, so we need to make sure that the right people get in and that they hear concerns from people like Mr. Barry (and Mr. Satchwell, for that matter). It seems like many people are just trying to fight the legislation rather than trying to work with it and see where it goes.

Chip Reed

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

Shoot, let's just get rid of all the smart people. It worked pretty good for China in the 60's and Cambodia in the 70's.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

To those lawmakers in Lansing plus those in the tea party and other conservatives; be careful what you wish for. These reforms will merely turn education into a curriculum of standardized testing and lead to the scandals like the one in Atlanta where teachers cheated in grading standardized tests to keep their jobs. Education should be more than teachers force feeding standardized testing to their students.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 3:01 p.m.

Well said!!

Basic Bob

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 10:42 a.m.

If teachers believe that teaching &quot;to the test&quot; will gain them successful evaluations, they are wrong. Employee evaluations by nature are partly subjective, and this kind of minimum standard performance will be noticeable. Good teachers will do what they do best, gain the interest of their classes and instill in their students a desire to learn.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 6:10 p.m.

You obviously don't understand how teaching evaluations work. Is a principal going to have time to make a &quot;subjective evaluation&quot; of all the teachers at their school? No. It's not possible. Even department heads are way overworked managing a their own classes, planning curriculum for their department and overseeing anywhere from 6-12 teachers. That doesn't leave enough time to eat lunch usually, let alone sit in on enough classes to make an evaluation. Principals and department heads are going to use two things to evaluate 1) Test Scores 2) Complaints about the teacher, thats it! All this tenure reform will do is take all the fun out of the classroom and drive more good teachers out of the field

Douglas Braun

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

Where has Prof Berry been hiding/teaching?? Since &quot;No Student Left Behind&quot; was legislated &quot;teaching the test&quot; has beeen the norm not the exception. With educational money trickeling down from Washington the burden of student SAT scored, percent graduating, etc the teachers have had no choice but teaching the tests Teachers need to return to Teaching the Subject. Then we will have students that know where our state capital is, can add &amp; subtract without having to use a calulator and even know the difference between Lincoln's Gettsburg Addess and the Bill of Rights


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

It's not an all or nothing approach, this will affect teaching and not in a good way, you can already see a huge gap in the students when I was in high school and now (10 years) because of the increase in testing.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 10:34 a.m.

we should replace the phrase &quot;teaching to the test&quot; to &quot;producing stupid kids&quot; to get the point across of how much of a failure this is.........


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 10:12 a.m.

This is were Brit and the AAEA need to get their teacher evaluation system to the right people in Lansing and get something balanced in place. It would be time better spent than trying to find 804,000 signatures.