Blog Posts for National Arts in Education Week

Arts Teachers Respond to New Evaluation Systems

Posted by Scott Shuler, Sep 12, 2013 1 comment

Scott Shuler Scott Shuler

Arts teachers across the country are currently scrambling to cope with new teacher evaluation systems. Teacher support and evaluation systems have long been recognized as important means for improving teaching and learning, but states are increasingly requiring local districts to link evaluation to student growth, assign numeric ratings, and ratchet up consequences, such as using ratings to determine salary increases or job security. The U.S. Department of Education has encouraged these developments by making the implementation of new educator evaluation systems a precondition for waiving onerous NCLB requirements and sanctions.

Although quality teacher supervision and support systems are essential to ensure teacher growth, many emerging teacher evaluation systems pose serious challenges for arts educators, as well as issues of fairness.

Among those challenges is the expectation that arts teachers measure student growth, often without the support of arts-expert supervisors or district-wide teams to develop appropriate measurement tools. Another is the expectation that a majority of students or even all students be assessed and monitored, in spite of the fact that some arts teachers are responsible for more than 1,000 students and see those students for very limited time.

One fairness issue arises when states or individual schools use school-wide scores on tests in non-arts areas to determine arts teachers’ evaluations. Another issue is the lack of arts-specific professional development to support teachers as they adapt to new, often complex systems. Yet another issue is the fact that most arts teachers are observed and evaluated by administrators who lack training or expertise in an art form.

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Kindergartners, Stage Fright, and Educator Effectiveness

Posted by Jamie Kasper, Sep 12, 2013 0 comments

Kasper headshot_small Jamie Kasper

Here in Pennsylvania, we are currently mired in educator effectiveness. Before I left the elementary music classroom in 2007, my effectiveness as a teacher was measured by variations on these steps:

1. Around May 1, I would meet my principal accidentally in the hall. That person would inform me that he/she had forgotten to observe my class that year and said our spring performance would serve as my evaluation.

2. In mid-May, I would herd approximately 100 kindergarten students into our gymatorium. In between tears, loud exclamations of “Hi, Mommy!” accompanied by violent waving, dresses pulled over faces to hide from the audience, and other manifestations of 5-year-olds’ stage fright, we managed to sing, play instruments, and move. I may or may not have noticed my principal standing in the back of the room.

3. A few days later, I was called into the office, told everything was great, and asked to sign a paper saying just that. Then I went back to my classroom.

Two significant events in the accountability landscape have occurred in Pennsylvania since then. In 2010, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Pennsylvania an $800,000 Momentum Grant. The purpose of the grant was to develop an evaluation system that included student achievement as one significant part. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), working with other stakeholders, closely examined Charlotte Danielson’s revised 2011 Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument and piloted it in 2010-2011 with three school districts and one intermediate unit. This measurement tool included four domains on which teachers would assess themselves and also be assessed by their supervisor:

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Blind Appraisal

Posted by Aliza Sarian, Sep 12, 2013 3 comments

AlizaSarianHeadshot Aliza Sarian

What if your child (or a friend’s child) was told that because his music teacher doesn’t have a way to conclusively assess the way he plays the French horn, his seat in the orchestra would be determined on how high he scored on his spelling test?  How could you explain to him his value as a musician?

As a theatre teacher in a New York City public school, I’ve been told I have a unique perspective on the arts’ role in education.  What I consider to be the day-to-day of my job—making connections for my students, finding meaningful ways to grade their work objectively and articulate the significance of those grades to their parents, and finding ways to sneak performance and storytelling into other subject areas—other arts education professionals tell me is what makes my voice one worthy of a blog post on evaluation and assessment.

Evaluation and assessment are at the core of what I do as an educator and as a classroom teacher.  I make that distinction because as an educator, I am constantly looking at the work I do and reflecting on how it can be improved.  As a classroom teacher, the kids, parents, and administrators demand the feedback to help students become better speakers, writers, and learners.  In my world of arts education, assessment and evaluation are invaluable.

This post, however, is not about how I use assessment or evaluation in my world.  This is to introduce you to the new teacher evaluation system revealed in New York public schools, optimistically called Advance. Like all evaluations it is being put in place to raise the quality of teaching in New York and hold teachers accountable for doing good work in the classroom—an absolute necessity for educators (or anyone, really).  And, in an ideal world, we would stand up and cheer, grateful that someone cares how we are doing as teachers.  In fact, Advance is based on seven “Guiding Principles” that state that evaluation should:

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The Trifecta of Standards, Accountability, and Assessment

Posted by Ms. Talia Gibas, Sep 11, 2013 0 comments

Talia Gibas Talia Gibas

Last February, when my fellow Arts Education Council members and I agreed on “the trifecta of standards, accountability and assessment” as the topic of AFTA’s September arts education blog salon, I noticed how ominous those words sound. Sitting in the council meeting, I pictured a pitchfork stuck in the ground, with the three prongs of standards, accountability and assessment serving a dark warning to any arts educators who dare get close to it.

I happen to think that standards and assessment systems can be good things, so the fact these thoughts crossed my mind is testament to how much baggage the words carry, particularly in the arts. They are also, for better or worse, here to stay. Recognizing they are tools that can be applied well or applied poorly, how does an arts education community begin incorporating those tools into practice in a meaningful way?

Last year, in Los Angeles County, we decided to try and start a broad conversation about arts assessment. We invited the research firm WestEd, which a few years earlier had conducted a comprehensive study of the state of arts assessment across the United States, to deliver a full-day seminar on assessment strategies, open to as many people as we could comfortably cram in a large meeting room.

We also asked WestEd to deliver smaller, more hands-on workshop sessions focused on rubrics. Why rubrics? We conducted an informal poll of school districts applying to us for matching funds for artist residencies, asking in which areas of assessment they felt they needed the most support. Rubrics were by far and away the most popular answer.

This was the first time that Arts for All had ever offered broad-scale professional development on arts assessment, and the first time in a long while that we had offered professional development to arts organizations and school districts simultaneously. How did we do in helping our constituents sort through all that baggage?

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Standardized Testing for the Arts? Yes, Please!

Posted by Elizabeth Laskowski, Sep 11, 2013 4 comments

Elizabeth Laskowski Elizabeth Laskowski

I have been teaching instrumental music in the same small inner-city elementary school district for going on six years.  I’ve worked at several schools in the district, some of which have been supportive of the arts, and some have been less than supportive.  Even in the most supportive schools, however, my classes have always been considered not as important as the “real” subjects taught in the homerooms.  Presenting research on links between test scores and participation in instrumental music fell on deaf ears.  I frequently came to work to find that my classroom (on the stage) was being used for something, whether it was an assembly of some sort, school pictures, or a dance, and my objections were always met with a vague response detailing how next time they’d let me know in advance.  Students were often kept from going to my classes because their general education teacher needed more time with them.  This was deemed simply more important because they are tested in those other subjects and not in my class.  At one of my schools, I was even denied paper and pencils because the office manager had to “save it for the teachers.”

Enter our state’s NCLB waiver and the MCESA assessments.  Maricopa County Education Service Agency partnered with WestEd to come up with a series of brand new tests for non-tested subject areas such as Art, Music, Theater, PE and Dance.  So far, they have only created a computer-based standardized type test, so it does not yet encompass practical learning such as actually playing an instrument or singing.  Our students are tested at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year.  The results of the test will detail how effective we are as educators, and it will be wrapped into our evaluation score.

I have had three evaluations in five years of teaching.  Two of those were for my M.Ed. requirements a few years back.  Most years I simply get a filled out evaluation in my mailbox at work, which I am told I need to sign.  Some years I don’t get anything at all.  Administrators simply don’t feel the need to see if the band teacher is creating and implementing effective lessons.  With MCESA’s new evaluation and assessment process, not only will I be evaluated by my principal multiple times, I will be evaluated by a instrumental music instruction specialist from MCESA.

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Square Pegs: Assessment, Evaluation in Community Arts Education

Posted by Margaret Weisbrod Morris, Sep 11, 2013 3 comments

Magaret Weisbrod Morris Margaret Weisbrod Morris

Assessment?  Let’s get real. Bringing this word up with colleagues in community arts education is like dropping a tadpole into the lemonade. They start checking status updates on their phone or make an exit to “feed the meter.” If this is you, take 5 minutes to read this. It might help. If not, you are only out the time it takes for Facebook to refresh on your phone.

Assessment undoubtedly brings value to arts education, but in the context of community arts education I can never escape the feeling that I missed an important memo. I read, search the web, talk to colleagues go to workshops & conferences, read the AFTA / AEP / NAEA / NEA news, stay up to date on research, and think. A lot. I am familiar with the plethora of solid tools, good research, and logical standards out there, but they never seem to get to the heart of what is happening here. It is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Why is that?

It is because there are fundamental differences between out-of-school learning environments and schools.  Learning in any environment covers the same basic quadrants: knowledge acquisition, skill building, practical application, and extended learning. There a few elephants in the room on this topic, but the one I am going to acknowledge is failure. To achieve in school, students cannot fail. To fail means you are not learning. Conversely, out of school, students fail, make mistakes and change course. Here, failure does not hinder your success. To the contrary, it is part of the process, because to fail means you are actively pursuing an idea. Schools and out-of-school learning environments complement each other, but have an opposing focus. They are two sides of the same coin.

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