Arts Educators Float an Alternative Evaluation Plan

By Liana Loewus — February 15, 2012 1 min read
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Education officials in Tennessee seem to be making good on their promise to find alternate student-achievement measures to be incorporated into teacher evaluations for teachers in nontested subjects—though it’s teachers who are doing much of the heavy lifting in getting the idea moving.

The state jumped into a new teacher evaluation system this school year after just a few months of piloting, much to the chagrin of the teachers’ unions and overwhelmed educators. Under that system, 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score is based on student-growth measures. The temporary solution for teachers in nontested subjects was to give them a value-added score based on aggregate data.

But as Education Secretary Arne Duncan pointed out recently in a speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, some Memphis teachers are leading an effort to find a more logical, fair solution. Duncan said:

Just last week I met with Dru Davison, a fantastic music teacher in Memphis. Arts teachers there were frustrated because they were being evaluated based solely on school-wide performance in math and English. So he convened a group of arts educators to come up with a better evaluation system. After Dru's committee surveyed arts teachers in Memphis, they decided to develop a blind peer review evaluation to assess portfolios of student learning. It has proved enormously popular—so much so that Tennessee is now looking at adopting the system statewide for arts instructors. If we are willing to listen, and to do things differently, the answers are out there.

You can see the details of the Memphis plan, which pertains only to fine arts teachers, here.

It’s an interesting twist to hear Duncan endorse a portfolio-based measure over test scores—though he did so within a narrow realm (art). It does get you thinking though. How many other subjects could this work for? Are there other solutions that administrators and teachers can agree on “out there,” waiting to be tapped?

The Memphis group will submit a full report to the Tennessee State Department of Education in May. I’ll be sure to keep you apprised of where the proposal to expand the initiative goes, how teachers react, and whether other states are taking notice.

(Hat tip to our blogger Larry Ferlazzo on this one. You can see his post about on the Memphis art teachers’ plan here.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.