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Michigan Radio's special week-long series on teacher education in Michigan.There's wide agreement among education experts that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in how well students perform in school. So how are Michigan schools of education doing when it comes to turning out effective teachers?

Oops… reporting error leads to perfect review of teachers at state’s largest online school

SpecialKRB / flickr

More than 2,800 students log online to attend Michigan Virtual Charter Academy. The state’s largest virtual school is also one of its worst performing districts. Yet every single teacher was rated “highly effective” for the last two years, according to data recently released by the state.

All K-12 public school teachers are evaluated in Michigan, but each district has its own evaluation system. “Highly effective” or “ineffective” labels can mean completely different things depending on where you teach.

Overall, 38% of all Michigan teachers were rated highly effective last school year. 

There are nearly 30 districts that rated all of their teachers highly effective. But most of them are tiny, with just a few teachers.

Michigan Virtual Charter Academy is an outlier, reporting 221 highly effective teachers. All four administrators are reportedly rated highly effective too.

It’s also an outlier because of student performance. The cyber school is a “priority” school. Most districts that report 100% highly effective teachers also have pretty good student outcomes.

“Priority” schools are in the bottom 5% of the statewide Top-to-Bottom School Rankings. The rankings take into account data on student achievement, improvement, and achievement gaps in standardized test scores.

But it turns out, the data the district reported to the state were inaccurate.

An attorney for Michigan Virtual Charter Academy says someone accidently reported the data incorrectly to the state.  Turns out, the district only had 135 teachers. Someone accidently included a bunch of non-teachers in the count. Only eight are highly effective after all. That’s 6% of the teaching staff. All four administrators are actually rated “effective.”

At this point, it is too late to correct the data in the state’s system.

Connie Morse is with the Center for Educational Performance and Information. CEPI collects data schools supply the state. Much of it, including the teacher effectiveness ratings, is displayed on MiSchoolData.org.

Morse says analysts at CEPI regularly run data through a computer model, looking for anomalies. She says this case is an example of that.

When the data just don't look right, Morse says CEPI contacts the person who sent it in. The head of the school district is also contacted, she said. There is no mandate that the districts respond or attempt to fix the data, if it is incorrect. She says they do it as a favor to districts to try to prevent this kind of mistake.

K12 Inc, the for-profit company that manages the cyber school, referred media questions to Jean Broadwater, the district’s head of schools. The charter district’s attorney said Broadwater was not authorized by the school board president to comment on this story.

Broadwater wasn’t at Michigan Virtual Charter Academy in the 2012-13 school year. So the attorney said it’s unclear whether there was a reporting error that year, too.

Officials at the charter school’s authorizer, Grand Valley State University, declined to comment.

Apparently, the same employee that misreported MVCA’s data about teacher evaluations also incorrectly reported the same data at the state’s second largest cyber school, also managed by K12 Inc.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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