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.

To assist music teachers in responding to such challenges and issues, National Association for Music Education (NAfME) leaders appointed a task force to develop guidelines for teacher evaluation. These commonsense guidelines have since been adapted by professional organizations in other content areas. A few excerpts follow; interested individuals can access the complete document at http://musiced.nafme.org/files/2012/04/teacher_evaluation.pdf .

1. Measures of student achievement used in teacher evaluation:

  • Must be based on student achievement that is directly attributable to the individual teacher, in the subject area taught by that teacher. Student achievement measures must be used with care, ensuring that they accurately reflect a given teacher’s contributions.
  • Must be based on evaluation instruments that accurately reflect the achievements they purport to measure. This implies that the evaluation instruments are used by individuals with sufficient expertise to accurately observe and interpret the outcomes under measurement. …
  • Must be developed and applied in the context of the number of students taught and the instructional time available. …

2. Successful Music Teacher Evaluation:

  • Must include a balanced, comprehensive assessment of the teacher’s contributions to student learning through multiple measures. …
  • Must avoid using school-wide measures other than those directly associated with music achievement. If the use of school-wide measures of attendance, dropout and graduation rates, and/or work habits is mandated, they should account for a minimal part of the music teacher’s evaluation.
  • Must limit observation-based teacher evaluations to those conducted by individuals with adequate training in music as well as in evaluation.

Most teacher observation rubrics are based on “generic” criteria that do not reflect content expertise or content-specific pedagogy. This is understandable, because most teachers are evaluated by administrators who lack expertise in their content area, and therefore are unable to apply content-specific rubrics. Such rubrics are helpful, and have a long history of use in schools, but teachers need support and encouragement to grow in their content expertise. After all, it doesn’t help to have strong class rapport or planning skills if you don’t know your subject.

Concerned that Connecticut was about to adopt a rubric that – while thoughtfully designed – addressed only generic teaching skills, I approached my curriculum colleagues at the CSDE to find out whether they shared those concerns. As it turned out, everyone did – even our consultants in English and mathematics. We formed our own ad hoc committee to consider how teachers’ content knowledge might be supported and monitored in a balanced evaluation system, and developed a set of proposals to address our teachers’ needs. The following are excerpts from that document:

Content-specific pedagogy – effective instructional approaches unique to each subject area – is the synthesis of subject matter expertise and contextualized teaching practices.  This pedagogic skill distinguishes teachers from other experts in their subject matter. Successful teachers know which learning activities, materials and assessments are most likely to develop students’ understanding and abilities.

Unfortunately, the extent to which LEAs support the growth of content expertise and pedagogy varies widely. The erosion of district content area supervisor positions, coupled with test-driven professional development and idiosyncratic local priorities, have reduced opportunities for teachers in all content areas to participate in district-sponsored, content-specific professional development; to attend professional conferences and workshops focused on their content area; and to receive supervisory feedback designed to monitor and enrich both their content expertise and their ability to deliver instruction through state-of-the-art, content-specific pedagogy.

… The proposals contained in this document are designed to ensure that … students receive a balanced education of the highest possible quality, from teachers who not only understand their field, but demonstrate the passion and pedagogy to inspire their students.

The document proposes that every teacher receive the growth opportunities outlined in the second paragraph above, and provides suggestions regarding how to make that possible.

One Response to “Arts Teachers Respond to New Evaluation Systems”

  1. Clyde Gaw says:

    I’m going to quote one of my student’s about his experience in another art program about an assessment event based on his work:

    “When I was at my other school, being creative was especially frowned upon. I made an alien clown and I got a D! One time we were making self portraits, and the teacher said, “If you don’t do it right, you will have to do another one.” I used red and she said, ‘Don’t use red. You did it a wrong way.’ It just makes me feel mad. My art wasn’t appreciated there.”

    Artistic activity is a very powerful and profound psycho-emotional experience.

    Standardizing children’s art experience and the use of standardize assessments to measure the product or performance and teachers run the risk of disengaging the child, pure and simple.

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.