Do Not Standardize Art

Camilla Spadafino, an art teacher in Nashville, offers these thoughts on the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio. This portfolio is used in a handful of districts across the state, and an updated version is being piloted by additional districts in the 2018-19 academic year.

Art should never become a standardized process and the TN Fine Arts Portfolio Model is pushing us toward that. When arts teachers are held accountable for checking off boxes, forcing growth, and using standardized measurements in arts classes we are interfering with the creative process. There is a great deal of evidence that despite the effort to standardize and objectify art, the portfolio model scores are wildly subjective making it an invalid, unethical assessment. The TN Arts Portfolio Model seeks to measure and weigh creativity and artistic expression which is counterproductive to the creation of art. The model places an excessive burden of time and energy on teachers that is disproportionate to the complete story of creating and growing a quality arts program.

 

Among the evidence that the scoring system is invalid: Two teachers submitted the same collection for the “create” domain and one received a five and the other a one. Another pair of visual art teachers co-taught and turned in exactly the same portfolio. One teacher received a four and the other a two. Another art teacher turned in the same portfolio two years in a row and received a four one year and a two the other.

 

Many visual art teachers have shared that they are cutting and pasting the same narrative from year to year. Many teachers have found that they can simply repeat the same collections with new pictures. This is encouraging “cookie cutter” teaching at worst and busy work for teachers at best. This does not encourage or promote creativity, experimentation, collaboration or risk taking.

 

Neither the TEAM model nor the Arts Portfolio model is an effective tool for evaluating an arts program. Being a visual art teacher includes managing inventory, advocating for and raising funds, engaging with the community, displaying student work and engaging in collaborations. It’s quite like running a nonprofit organization but without a board or any assistance. Along with all of those responsibilities arts teachers are still planning, assessing, recording, documenting, corresponding and hopefully inspiring and motivating our students. Art will always be subjective and difficult to measure, thank goodness. We need to protect creativity by demanding trust and respect for our field.

 

The TN Fine Arts Portfolio is taking advantage of teachers’ unpaid time and could be breeding unethical work practices. If testing corporations deserve to be paid millions of dollars for their work creating and measuring assessments, at least our teachers should be paid a few more thousand for their work doing the same. Arts teachers are pouring in days of unpaid time to complete the portfolio and days of unpaid time to voluntarily score other teachers. Besides, volunteer scoring practices don’t seem to be very effective based on the evidence of the large number of discrepancies. If the TN Fine Arts Portfolio System is here to stay we must compensate our teachers for the time they spend creating their portfolios. Perhaps MNPS or the State of Tennessee could make participation optional and partner with researchers from Vanderbilt or another university to study the process for several years. We need to insist that the arts not be about checking off boxes, forcing student growth, or standardized processes. We need to advocate for trust and respect in order for creativity to flourish in our students’ lives and educational experiences.

This is a list of my specific concerns about the Tennessee Portfolio Model:

– Teachers teaching the same lesson, to the same students, using similar photos and narratives got completely different scores. One of the teachers received a 1 and the other a 5

– Two art teachers co-taught the same students the same lessons and entered exactly the same portfolios. One of the teachers was scored a 4 and the other a 2. When the teacher who scored the 2 spoke to the school board he was told “don’t worry about it, it’s just a number that pretty much goes in your file.”

– An art teacher submitted the same portfolios two years in a row received a 4 one year and a 2 the next

– Some teachers are using and are being encouraged by others to use art out of order to when it was created to show manipulated growth

– The process is very time consuming taking teachers 18 or more hours to complete the submission portion of the process, there is an untold amount of time devoted to photographing and organizing the student work

– Teachers are expected and encouraged to complete this work at home, on weekends, and breaks

– The deadline was on a Sunday, further encouraging teachers to spend their weekend working off work hours

– The deadline was the day before the federal tax deadline which is disrespectful

– The new online system requires teachers to upload an unmanageable amount of documents

– The new online system requires teachers to enter a redundant amount of information

– No feedback has been given to promote growth

– No other teachers are required to spend this gross amount of extra time compiling their own assessments, using their own photography equipment and their personal time

– The training was weak and misinformation has been given over multiple years

– The first year the evaluators were told to “throw out the rubric” dissolving trust and disrespecting the teacher who had carefully studied and followed the rubric

– A middle school teacher had to wait to upload one of her collections because the site wasn’t ready. When she went to upload that collection the day it was due she saw that all of her collections had been deleted. She was told that there would not be an extension for re-entering her submission even though the error was not her fault

– The system does not offer a “landing place” where you can view and review your collections before submitting

– The process of tagging is confusing and seemingly unnecessary

– The evaluators are merely volunteers and when I was an evaluator I experienced the overwhelming volume of portfolios to review.

– Because teachers share student artwork online and other art teachers are viewing this artwork, it is easy for a peer reviewer to know whose portfolio they are reviewing making this a biased process

– Art standards are purposefully vague to encourage creative and subjective works of art. Evaluating student work is subjective, even when using specific criteria. When using specific criteria we are teaching students to check off boxes rather than to truly be creative. It is important to use criteria and to balance that multiple solution paths to solve artistic problems.

– The portfolio is measuring aesthetic rather than the process of creating art

Have a story about the Tennessee Fine Arts Portfolio? Email me at andy@tnedreport.com

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Keep the education stories coming!


 

The State Continues to Fail

Here’s another take on “Eric’s Story” about the Kindergarten portfolio evaluation process. The bottom line: Teachers are being disrespected and students are losing valuable learning time. All in the name of assigning a number to teachers in an evaluation process that leaves much to be desired.

Here’s what this teacher had to say:

I’m a teacher that has experienced this process from the view of teacher, portfolio district lead, and portfolio reviewer. Also, being chosen for the second round of scoring. I received both the emails you discussed as well as a third stating I’d been chosen for more scoring with the “guidance document” attached.

So I begin my second round of scoring tomorrow. A process none of us knew would exist. We thought our deadline was May 15 on scoring and we would be done.

I spent two full 8 hour days trying to score submissions (pulled away from my kindergarten screening duties) only for them not to be available to me so I did not complete the task and score the number they wanted me to score. Was this my fault? No! I tried but the state wouldn’t push them out to us. So that’s why I was chosen for round two.

Now summer is beginning. Teachers need summer to recuperate mentally and prepare for our next class which we happily look forward to receiving. We don’t need to spend it stressing over continued work load.

MORE on K portfolios>

If you have a story to tell about the portfolio process or another aspect of the intersection between policy and practice, send it to: andy@tnedreport.com

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Keep the stories alive!


 

Survey Says

Teacher and blogger Mary Holden writes about her experience with TNReady this year as she reflects on a survey sent by the Comptroller.

Here’s some of what she has to say:

Let me see if I can sum up this year’s TNReady experience:

  • Some students couldn’t log on at all because their login information was incorrect.
  • Some students couldn’t log on at all because their laptops were offline and we had to find the IT person to help. Or get another laptop and hope it worked.
  • Some students logged on, started their tests, and then got booted off the testing site in the middle of testing. Then they had trouble logging back on.
  • Some students logged back in after being booted off the site and their progress hadn’t been saved so they had to start all over again.
  • Some students completed their whole test, clicked on the “Submit test” button, and then got booted off the site. Then they couldn’t log back on. Then maybe, hours later, when they were called back, they logged back on the site and then, hopefully, their progress had been saved and they were finally able to submit their test.
  • Some students needed an extra password – a proctor password – to log back in, so we had to find the person who had that.

Through all this frustration and stress with the online testing platform and connectivity issues, students were told to do their best because this test was going to count for 20 percent of their class grade. They were stressed. They were angry. They felt they were being jerked around by the state of Tennessee. And they weren’t wrong. In the middle of the testing window, we learned that scores would not count. And they still had to continue testing! It was unreal.

And that is only what I personally experienced as a test proctor.

Statewide, we had even more ridiculous things happening – the testing platform was hacked (a “deliberate attack” was made on the site)(ummmm…. should we be more worried about this?), the testing site was down, a dump truck may or may not have been involved in a severed cable line – a line that just happened to be responsible for the testing site (for real?), and some students took the wrong test – and I could go on and on and on.

READ MORE>

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Shining a Light

Since I published “Eric’s Story” last week on the issue of the new (and troublesome) Kindergarten portfolio, I’ve received a number of emails offering further insight.

These messages indicate that our state’s system of evaluating teachers is broken and that those making decisions are both disconnected from and indifferent to what happens each and every day in classrooms around our state. I’ll be sharing these (while protecting the names of the senders) over the next few days. If you have an evaluation or portfolio story to share, please send it to andy@tnedreport.com

Never felt more defeated in my life…

First of all, thank you for shining a light on some of the realities of this portfolio debacle. It was clear to me in August of this past year that this particular portfolio process was going to not only consume classroom time, but would take in excess of over 40 hours of uncompensated personal time.

Back in the fall, with the inconsistencies between the rubric for the portfolio and the state mandated standards glaring at me, I knew this was probably the beginning of the end of my teaching career. My colleagues and I were very concerned and decided to reach out to our local and state officials to make them aware of what we could already see was a train wreck. This was met with some mixed reactions. When I shared with a local board member that this was the type of thing that will drive good educators out of the classroom, I was told that is the ultimate goal, to see public education crumble and was somewhat dismissive of what I was saying in a way that made me believe nothing could ever be done to fix it. That tune changed once we had the attention of several people on the state level who came to our school to hear a presentation by my grade level about the problems and possible solutions.

It was through this meeting that two of us were invited to the capital to speak on the matter. While we felt this was a step in the right direction we still had to continue working on the portfolio because there was no word on what would happen. During this part of the portfolio process, members of my team reached out to “specialists” assigned to our school who responded with contradictory information, or rudeness, or not at all.

We are all still waiting to hear an answer to a question one of our colleagues sent by email 4 months ago. There has been NO support, NO encouragement, and NO input from teachers as to how this portfolio could or should even work. The very teachers who have to live these demands on top of teaching 5 and 6 year olds to read and write and a million other big and small things that no one even acknowledges are the ones who should be making decisions but that is certainly not happening. I

can honestly say I have never felt more defeated in my life. Frankly, I’m tired of feeling this way. I work hard. I go above and beyond because that’s how I was raised. I give my all in teaching because I believe the students entrusted to me deserve the best I can give.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Do you have a story about what’s happening in Tennessee schools? Get in touch at andy@tnedreport.com

Your support keeps the education news coming!


 

TNReady and TVAAS: A Teacher’s Perspective

Nashville teacher Amanda Kail talks about the connection between TNReady and TVAAS and the importance of legislation moving TODAY that could actually hold teachers harmless.

QUESTION: I thought the legislature said the tests wouldn’t count. What’s going on?
ANSWER: The state legislature was moved by all the horror stories surrounding testing problems to tack a bunch of amendments on to the only remaining education bill of the session (HB1109/SB0987) which attempted to “hold harmless” students, teachers, and schools for the results of the test. What this technically means is that local boards of education can vote on how much they want the students’ scores to count towards their grades (0-15%), and that the data cannot be used to issue a letter grade to schools (A-F, another asinine idea designed to find new ways to punish schools that serve mostly poor kids, but I digress).
However, for teachers the bill specified only that the results of the testing could not be used for decisions regarding employment and compensation. It does not say anything about the scores not being used for EVALUATIONS. Because of this, many teachers across the state pushed TEA to go back to the legislature and demand that the legislation be amended to exclude this year’s scores from TVAAS. You can read more about the particulars of that in Andy Spears’ excellent article for the Tennessee Education Report.
As a result, the House Finance Committee voted to strip all the amendments from HB1109 and start over again with the “hold harmless” language. That needs to happen TOMORROW (4/24/18 — TODAY).
QUESTION: What is TVAAS?
ANSWER: Teachers in Tennessee have evaluations based partly on value-added measures (we called it “TVAAS” here). What this means is that the Tennessee Department of Education uses some sort of mystical secret algorithm (based on cattle propagation– REALLY!) to calculate how much growth each student will generate on statewide tests. If a student scores less growth (because, like, maybe their test crashed 10 times and they weren’t really concentrating so much anymore) than predicted, that student’s teacher receives a negative number that is factored into their yearly effectiveness score. Generally, TVAAS has been decried by everyone from our state teacher union to the American Statistical Association (and when you upset the statisticians, you have really gone too far), but the state continues to defend its use.
QUESTION: What if I am a teacher who didn’t experience any problems, and I think my students did great on the test? Why would I want to oppose using this year’s data for TVAAS?
ANSWER: Thousands of your colleagues around the state don’t have that luxury, because they DID have problems, and their students’ scores suffered as a result. In fact, even in a good year, thousands of your colleagues have effectiveness scores based on subjects they don’t even teach, because TVAAS is only based on tested subjects (math, ELA, and depending on the year science and social studies). The fact is that TVAAS is a rotten system. If it benefits you individually as a teacher, that’s great for you. But too many of your colleagues are driven out of the classroom by the absurdity of being held accountable for things completely beyond their control. As a fellow professional, I hope you see the wisdom in advocating for a sane system over one that just benefits you personally.
QUESTION: Okay. So what do we do now?
ANSWER: Contact your state house and senate representatives! TODAY! These are the last days of the legislative session, so it is IMPERATIVE that you contact them now and tell them to support amendments to HB1109 and SB0987 that will stop the use of this year’s testing data towards TVAAS. You can find your legislators here.
Don’t leave teachers holding the bag for the state’s mistakes. AGAIN.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

A TNReady Letter

An educator in Campbell County sent this letter to legislators about Tennessee’s TNReady trouble:

I am an educator. My husband is an educator as well. We have each been teaching for 17 years and hold master’s degrees in our fields. We are also both history teachers who uphold democratic principles and stress the importance of fulfilling our civic duty.

I am contacting you regarding the issues educators and students are dealing with when it comes to testing and the education system in general. First and foremost, why are we expected to give our kids a standardized test when our students are not standardized kids? We differentiate our instruction every day, we change and adapt to our students needs, we support and scaffold and encourage, but these tests leave no room for that.

As the only social studies teacher in my school at my grade level, I see 165 students a day. I get them for 45 minutes. I teach from the highest high to the lowest low sometimes in the same class period. I have students reading at a 12th grade level with students who literally can spell 2 words due to cognitive delays, yet every kid takes the same test. They may have accommodations such as read aloud or extended time, but someone who is functioning on a third grade level really shouldn’t be expected to take an 8th grade test. That makes that student feel like a failure. No kid should feel like a failure.

I understand the need for assessment, but it should only be used as a measurement tool to gauge growth of the individual students. It should never be used as a weapon to punish the child or the teacher. I don’t like the term accountability because it turns into blame. I promise you that on any given day, you can come into my class and my students are engaged in high order thought processes. We have deep intense discussions about the subject matter, we hold round table talks as historical figures, we participate in congressional hearings where a guest panel fires questions at them, we have simulations, we have csi cases, we examine historical evidence to make a determination, we really dig into history. I teach my butt off. Every day. I love what I do and I am passionate about it, but I am also frustrated because what if I didn’t cover tested material and I look ineffective on paper.

This brings me to my next point. The standards are impossible to truly teach in the timeframe. I don’t believe education comes from doing vocabulary or listening to a teacher lecture. I think true understanding comes from discovery and having the time to explore the topics. In 8th grade, I am responsible for 98 separate standards. There will be a few less in 2020, but right now I have 98 separate standards. Some of those standards only cover one subtopic, but those are few and far between. I put a standard on the board today that included 18 different subtopics. I have counted my subtopics. There are 582 of them. 582 new terms and phrases and concepts. It is impossible to teach all of those well. So I focus on what is most important: Settlement, slavery, conflict, government, native Americans, foreign relations. I would like to invite any legislators to come into our school and sit in our classes and take the 8th grade test that our students, our 13-14 year old children are expected to take. It would prove to be very difficult.

These standards are not age appropriate. I understand why legislators have latched onto the word rigor. It sounds like something is being done. The only thing that has happened is we are setting these kids up for failure. We have jumped on board with this terminology and thrown out the buzzwords, but everyone has lost their common sense. We need to ask ourselves, does an 8th grader, 7th, 6th…etc. really need to know this? Why would someone besides a historian need this? Where are the geography and map reading skills? Why are we trying to push these kids beyond what they are capable of understanding at their age? It’s insanity and it is getting worse with every new change.

The testing debacle has been at the forefront the past few days. TN ready has consistently proven to be not ready. Every year a plague of problems hits the news circuit concerning the system. Why don’t we just let it go? Too much of our tax money has gone into this program. If you ask educators, most will tell you these tests do not accurately measure student growth or achievement. There are too many variables. Why can’t we change the testing structure? It would make sense to test our students on all grade level skills upon entrance in the fall to gain a baseline, test again in the winter to determine growth, and test a final time the last week of school to see what the student did that year. The standards and the tests should be created by current educators. No one knows better than the teachers how to help the students.

Teachers are not lazy. We spend years becoming experts in our fields. We plan lessons, spend money, give our time for free, worry and counsel these kids to make sure they make it. For the majority of us, this isn’t an 8-3 job. From August 1st until June 1st, we are 100% devoted to our schools and our students. Many of us do extra training in the summer to stay current. When we voice concerns, it isn’t because we want our jobs to be easier. It’s because the system is broken, and more times than not we are treated like the villain. We just want professional courtesy.

Please vote to keep tests from counting against our teachers and our students. But do even better. Try to find a solution so our students get the quality of education they deserve. Think what could happen if we funneled some of the millions away from testing and test prep, and sent it directly into the classes. We could hire more teachers and get rid of overcrowding, we could finance field trips so the kids could experience things first hand, we could have materials for science experiments for every kid. Learning could be something kids looked forward to again. It would not be drill and kill test prep.

I get passionate about this subject. Our kids are too important to not get passionate about. I truly want education to be better. I want to see big changes. Get out and talk to teachers. Talk to students. Talk to parents.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

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Teacher Voice Tuesday

A couple excerpts from blogs featuring teachers on this Tuesday.

First, from former (and now current) teacher Mary Holden, who blogs about her experience teaching and offers thoughts on her return in her most recent post:

I know what to expect. MNPS is struggling, as usual. We have some frustrating leadership issues, in my opinion. We have some scripted curriculum we are being directed to teach. We are being told there isn’t time to teach whole novels in English classes. We are being reminded frequently of the importance of the tests. We still have a culture of fear, where many teachers are afraid to speak out about issues. We still have an unhealthy obsession with data, data, data. We still have a HUGE over-reliance on tests and test data that is supposed to be used to inform our instruction.

READ MORE from Mary

Next, Scott Bennett offered a post on TC Weber’s blog about his experiences as an MNPS teacher. Here’s how it started:

When I left my teaching position there was no exit interview. No survey. No request for feedback from the district.* At the very least I was anticipating an email from H.R. I gave my notice and letter of resignation roughly 115 days ago, and I left my classroom on February 9th. So my departure wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Either they assume to know my professional opinions or they don’t want to hear them. Both are deeply troubling to me as teacher, a tax payer, a voter, and a parent. I’m not sure what kind of leadership doesn’t want feedback, but I’ve never met any great leaders who have insisted that they knew everything. Additionally, this district has difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, support staff, and bus drivers. Some of that stems from the low pay, and some of it stems from the culture. If I’m a district leader and I can’t do much about the one, I’m sure as heck going to try and improve the other. As a teacher I’ve found that when students don’t care about the feedback I give, it is because they didn’t care about the assignment whether that is an essay or a presentation or a project. I end each semester asking about my teaching practices and how they can better align to student needs. I’m not sure what it says about an institution that doesn’t want feedback from it’s employees, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t good.

READ MORE of what Scott has to say about his time in MNPS and the challenges teachers face.

If you’re a teacher who’d like to share a story about your experience, email me at andy AT tnedreport.com — If you’d like to share anonymously, that can be arranged.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Don’t Tread on Mike

Educator and blogger Mike Stein writes about being an education activist in the age of Trump and DeVos.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

The bleak reality is that there’s little we can do right now to defend public education against the federal government. I kept thinking of a yellow flag with a snake coiled in the middle and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” printed in all caps at the top. How ironic that many of the same people who proudly boast that motto are the very ones who voted for President Trump, who then appointed DeVos to her post. As a public school teacher and as a parent of two girls in public schools, I am sick and tired of being tread on. I’m exasperated, and “fighting the good fight” takes time and energy that I often don’t have after a mentally and physically exhausting day at work.

Of course, parents and educators can come together and influence state policy, as they’ve done in recent years in resisting the privatization movement that would use public funds to pay for private school tuition.

In 2018, there will be opportunities to influence the testing that goes on in our schools.

And, of course, there are local School Board and County Commission elections — opportunities to vote for candidates who are strong supporters of good public schools.

But, Stein has a point about federal education policy. He also offers a bit of hope. READ MORE>

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Teachers Need Support

Teacher Josh Rogen writes about the support young teachers need to succeed.

While I’ve written some about teacher attrition in Nashville and noted that teachers in Nashville — and across Tennessee, for that matter – need a raise, Josh offers some perspective on the type of support new teachers need.

Here’s what he has to say:

  • Every single school needs a school-wide behavior program, created and trained in the summer, and implemented in the year. The lack of SWBS is crushing for new teachers. Doesn’t need to be the same plan, but there needs to be a plan.
  • End the idea of 1-3 time district-wide PD on behavior management and push management to school-sites. Context across the district vary too widely for district-wide PD on behavior management to matter. Plus, good grief, one day in central office is obviously not going to make a difference for a first year teacher; it’s just convenient.
  • Assign and really pay a mentor teacher to observe weekly and coach all 1st and 2nd year teachers. Maybe this teacher’s only role is to coach other teachers. I loved the MCL model for that reason, and I’m concerned when I hear schools moving away from it. Why?
  • Train coaches on TLAC techniques at the district level, using the skills sequence found in Get Better Faster.
  • Create district partnerships with Relay and similar programs with experience in training teachers in behavior management. They also really ought to reach out to the old NTF crew. I want to underscore that there are people in Nashville, and within MNPS right now, who know how to train new teachers. Pay them. Use them differently.
  • Random, unannounced, but formative district-level culture walkthroughs of all buildings with a real culture rubric.
  • Stop punishing or judging teachers for writing referrals. That’s a school problem and needs to be solved at the school level.

There’s more, and it’s worth checking out.

More on MNPS and teacher retention:

Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati

Computers Replace Teachers

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Holden: Trust Teachers

Former teacher and current education blogger Mary Holden offers her thoughts on how to address the teacher shortage. Of course, even if there wasn’t a teacher shortage, this is the right way to treat teachers. Here’s some of what she has to say:

Trusting teachers to do their job – BECAUSE THEY ARE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS – should be commonplace practice in every school district. But it’s not.

An article from last year in The Atlantic discussed what happened when some Finnish teachers taught here in the U.S. Guess what they noticed? The lack of autonomy. And that’s a very bad thing: “According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, teacher autonomy is positively associated with teachers’ job satisfaction and retention. And while most U.S. public-school teachers report a moderate amount of control in the classroom, many say they have little autonomy.”

Let me repeat that in a different way: We have a teacher shortage. Want to retain teachers and attract new ones? Then trust them to do their jobs. Ask them what they need, and then give them the support they need. (Oh, and paying them more would help, too!)

Holden also offers this suggestion:

I wish more districts would recognize what teachers have been saying for years – stop focusing on the data and the test scores and all the punitive measures that have been in place since the dawn of the accountability movement, and instead, focus on what matters: People. Relationships. Community. Developing the joy of learning. And trust our teachers to teach the subjects for which they are trained to teach.

This (and the rest of her article) offer sound advice on how to support and nurture teachers. I hear people say all the time that decisions in education should be made based on what’s good for kids instead of what’s good for adults — as if the two are mutually exclusive. Guess what? Supported teachers who are given autonomy are happy teachers. Which means they are better teachers. Which is GREAT for kids.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport