Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pseudo Arts Program Approved

After unanimously approving over 100 teacher lay offs, (many elementary art, music, phys. ed and library specialists), the Allentown School Board has now approved plans for the arts to be "integrated" into the elementary school curriculum. But instead of re-hiring the specialists, they are instructing the classroom teachers to integrate the arts into core subject areas. The ASD would not have to scramble to create a pseudo arts program if our school board directors would have stood on principle and not approved of the lay offs to begin with.

Art teachers are called "specialists" for a reason: because we know how to teach a specialized subject area. Art specialists have completed the course work and professional training required to teach a comprehensive discipline based art curriculum to children. Apparently there are plans for some chosen veteran specialists to visit schools and help the classroom teachers. But shouldn't these specialists be teaching the children? None of this makes any sense to me. I wonder, is this plan meant to save face, so the administration looks like they have always valued the arts and truly believed that children are more than test scores? This way, the bad guys can be the ones who "saved the arts." This is so wrong.

According to the superintendent's bulletin: "Special Areas 12. 100% of ASD elementary teachers will integrate music, art, physical education, or library science into core subjects at least once a day."

Wait just a minute there geniuses, only a certified art teacher is qualified to teach art. I'm all for arts integration, when done by an art specialist. But this plan is like putting a band aid on a huge gaping wound. I see it every time I substitute teach. The children are being gipped of a quality arts education due to narrowing of curriculum and bad decisions made by school board directors. It is unrealistic to expect classroom teachers to now teach art, music, phys ed and library. Their plates are more than full.This is not a "best practice." These are just more unrealistic goals from a disengaged administration and school board. Please read my post which details exactly what is taught in an art lesson, and it's very "academic" and very "rigorous" in itself. Most classroom teachers are not trained to teach art in this way.

According to the bulletin: "Philosophically, the Board believes that providing opportunities for the integration of related arts to core subjects is essential to a quality education. These classroom opportunities have positive effects on students and often serve as the needed encouragement to keep students engaged in learning. This learning must be rigorous and challenging, resulting in continued progress for all students at all levels."

Well, board members, if you truly believe the above statement then why did you all APPROVE of the lay offs of highly qualified arts teachers in the first place? Why did you all approve of curriculum changes that have deprived our young children of a well rounded education and educational equity? It's a little too little, and a little too late. Here is a link to the superintendent's dreamy bulletin:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Test Score Data Displayed in Hallways

When I recently subbed at a local elementary school I was saddened to see 4sight interim test score data on a chart in the hallway with little owls (the school mascot) colored in by students and used to rank children as advanced, proficient, basic, or even (gasp!) below basic. How demoralizing. The children are tested on material they have not even learned yet, and then publicly ranked as winners or losers, as they are compared with their peers. Teachers are required to display these horrible charts. The data charts I saw were displayed near the boy's or girl's bathrooms. Seems like appropriate placement considering that they really belong in the toilet. Names are not used on the charts (thank goodness), but each student has colored in a cute owl, so they know who is who. The fifth grade chart says "We Give A Hoot" and stickers are used to represent children. Really? This is supposed to empower children to improve and be active participants in learning? This is how we celebrate effort and achievement?

I am against publicly posting any personal information that might make a student feel like he or she has something to be ashamed about. I believe the test score data charts are in violation of student confidentiality and privacy. It encourages students and parents to focus on test data, instead of the whole child. Children are not data points. Through my internet research I have discovered that this ridiculous practice of creating "data walls" that show test scores has resulted in teachers getting very creative. Such cruel irony: using art to represent the cold world of standardized test data! I have come across some really elaborate data walls used in younger grades with scenes of rocket ships headed toward the stars,inch worms inching forward, trains forging ahead, fish swimming upstream, ladders to success. I guess making it attractive to kids helps to desensitize, but it's really just shameful turd polishing. And what a waste of time, since the teacher could be teaching an actual art lesson, since art has been cut from the curriculum.

Interim testing does not measure critical thinking, creativity, or divergent thinking skills. It measures a narrow set of skills. Some kids are very
smart, but have test anxiety. Maybe a student had a bad day and scored low.

Is it fair to those children to be publicly labeled as "below basic" and then reminded of this every day? This is wrong and immoral, especially in a high poverty school district where kids have more than enough emotional baggage to deal with every day. Why can't we just focus on making these kids feel safe,happy,comfortable, and loved at school? Then they will improve academically. We should celebrate their talents through displays of art, best work, and performances, not just test scores.

According to well respected assessment expert Dr. James Popham, interim assessments like 4Sights are not even supported by research evidence. See:
Research shows the tests are not valid, have a high margin of error, yet schools are misleading parents and students into believing that these tests have value and are very important. According to a local newspaper report which I wrote about (See my post ) the 4Sights don't even align with state standards. Some districts have dropped the 4Sights. These tests are costly, and take away valuable instruction time. Our district spends around 90k per year on administering 4Sights. 4Sights are supposed to give information to teachers, so why do we display test results for students? Students will view the tests as competition because the charts remind them of how they rank compared with other students. Children become numbers, and this kind of objectification can lead to exploitation of children by for-profit testing companies. Testing is big business. A school is not a business, it's a learning environment where children grow and develop. School is about students, not profits.

The public display of test score data, no matter how artful and pretty, sends a message that the school cares more about the data than the whole child. Private student portfolios, and teacher's formative assessments are the the best practices, NOT public comparison. Can you imagine how the child feels who must see himself as the poor little "below basic" owl, or even a "basic" owl left alone at the bottom of the chart? So sad. This has got to stop, parents should be outraged. Our children are not data points. I noticed that the "art gallery" bulletin board in the hallway was completely empty. Such a sad commentary on the state of public education due to the narrowing of curriculum, budget cuts and test driven education policies. Our children deserve much better than this. If you really "give a hoot" please speak out. Teachers are not speaking out, because they could lose their jobs. But I will speak out as a parent, in support of my own baby owl, who is so much more than a data point, and anything but "basic."

Pictured: A really elaborate 4th grade data wall in Columbus