(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - A first look at how effective teachers are across the state provides a clear picture of just how far school districts must go to have strong evaluation systems in place that give teachers the kind of feedback they need to improve.
The new state data find that about 97% of the state's 96,000 teachers were rated effective or highly effective during the 2011-12 school year -- the first year districts had to assign one of four ratings to teachers. Those ratings were: highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective.
Some of the state's worst-performing schools doled out favorable ratings to teachers: 48 of the state's 146 priority schools -- so named because they are in the bottom 5% academically -- rated all of their teachers in the top two categories. Several said all of their teachers were highly effective.
But state data also show that more teachers in priority schools were rated in the bottom categories than other schools.
The data isn't surprising given that it was the first year districts had to report the effectiveness ratings, said Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education.
The ratings will likely change, she said, "once there's a more common system and a common measurement."
That common system will come via the work of the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, a panel working to develop a statewide system for evaluating educators, as well as guidelines for districts that opt to develop their own system.
The fact that few teachers were rated ineffective makes the work of the council crucial, experts say.
It tells the council "that districts need a lot of support and assistance in how to move forward," said Sandi Jacobs, vice president and managing director of state policy for the National Council on Teacher Quality.
That point is also illustrated in a report out today by the Education Trust-Midwest, which analyzed the evaluation systems in 28 school districts and found few of the systems met a set of standards they say research indicates are necessary for a strong system.
"All of them fell short on at least one component. Many fell short on all of them," said Drew Jacobs, a data and policy analyst for the Education Trust-Midwest, a Royal Oak-based nonprofit education policy organization.
Among those standards: having annual observations; using state test data in evaluating teachers for whom the data is available; providing specific directions on how to score all criteria that teachers are evaluated on, and having a sophisticated observation process.
The observation process -- in which an evaluator comes into a teacher's classroom to observe -- is where schools tend to struggle, said Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University.
What's missing, he said, are resources. Teachers should be observed multiple times by an evaluator, but that's often difficult given the amount of time that goes into multiple observations.
"The system we have -- and Michigan is not unique -- says it's really important ... but the system does not invest resources in making that happen," Floden said.
Those resources are crucial, however.
"In order for this to have the kind of impact educators and families want to see ... there needs to be a significant amount of investment so teachers really benefit and grow as educators," said Nate Walker, a policy analyst at the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan.