Seize the Moment
Ana Cardona mentioned in her recent blog what all of us who have worked with state departments of education know: That it is not just working for the good of the students. It is also working in the political realm and trying to balance the two. Looking back now from the position of retiree, that mix appears even clearer. Nowhere has it been more obvious than in the Race to the Top (RTTT) and the evaluation/assessment issues.
Race to the Top really was a race with state leaders determined to meet all the criteria and get the money. Tennessee and Delaware succeeded in being the first states to receive the money. Then came the work of implementing and realizing some of the issues that had to be dealt with. Tennessee had a strong teacher evaluation program in place and was working toward common core standards in math and language arts and the changes in the student assessment pieces necessary to their implementation. Like most states, Tennessee had no assessment in place for most subject areas including fine arts. In order to have all the teacher evaluation and student assessment pieces in place on the timeline presented in the application for RTTT, the process was often more pushed by politics than best practice. But the deadline was met and with the first year of new evaluations complete and some adjustments made for the second year, things appear to be calmer.
However, student assessment for non-tested subjects remains an issue. Sometimes teachers recognize an opportunity and seize it. A team of fine arts teachers from across the state met several times to try to develop a format for performance-based assessment taking into consideration the large number of students some arts teachers see (especially elementary music) and all the ensembles versus individual performances. They were pulled together at first by some unusual criteria, but took advantage of the opportunity and dug in. State arts supervisors worked on this as well. But state funding was not available to continue the development of this assessment tool. It took the determination of a few and money from one school system to push the development to a workable stage. This fine arts student assessment has now been approved by the state board as an option for one part of the teacher evaluation process for fine arts teachers. It is performance-based but still needs to be tweaked and much more training provided before systems across the state will be ready to fully implement this process. It has been the dedication of teachers and the belief of the state arts education associations that now is the time to show how well arts students do that has led to the current status of this assessment. With no one at the state department in arts education since my retirement to assist them, these teachers and groups have forged ahead in their determination to make this happen.
We may not always like the way politics play in the education system, but sometimes we must seize an opportunity when it presents itself and push forward. \Time will tell whether or not this particular assessment tool will develop as we wish. We need to continue to do the best we can for our students and continue to try to document their achievements. In the current arena, there must be documentation and testing results in order to be considered of “real value”. While each of us recognizes the value of arts education in the lives of our students, we must continue to find ways to inform the general public and the political arena of its value. Arts educators across the nation do a great job and need our continued support and encouragement. I am happy to see SEADAE doing all it can in this role.
Jeanette Crosswhite, Ph.D. retired as Director of Arts Education for the Tennessee Department of Education in 2011. Jeanette can be reached by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.