R- When Jarika and I started this blog 4 years ago, I was a year into a standards based model for my music classes. I wanted to pretty much shout out to the world how crazy I was about it… how it was helping me be a better teacher, a more transparent teacher, how it was helping my students (their words, not mine) and how it was putting music into the same conversations as the other academic subject areas for once. It’s been an interesting journey since then. What I anticipated was that I would grow stronger in my convictions. I have. What I didn’t anticipate is that, certainly in Maine, the entire state would shift radically towards a proficiency model steeped in standards and that music teachers would do that shifting as well. Didn’t see that coming. The Maine Arts Leadership Initiative changed it’s name from Maine Arts Assessment Initiative to better reflect how we have morphed in that direction as well, but also to reflect that the need for the Assessment initiative has been displaced by the state movement. We’ve moved from, “Hey, get a load of how assessment practices can open amazing doors for us!” to, “How can we better lead the way in Maine toward the proficiency model our own schools are pursuing?”
It’s been a radical shift.
Assessment is no longer the dirty word. But it is still a messy one. Thanks to living in a local control state, the Maine DOE has left it to each school district to not only “implement” proficiency, it’s actually allowed each school district to determine for itself what proficiency actually means! Ugh. Certainly there’s pros and cons to that. We do get to do the deep thinking ourselves as a result that leads to exceptional practices. Unfortunately, I’ve observed precious little “deep thinking” going on. Instead I see a whole lot of school districts trying to figure out how to meet a mandate and what hoops it has to jump through. There may be better recipes for mediocrity, but I don’t know of ’em. We’ve gone from figuring out if standards and assessment practices are good or not to merely trying to implement something our schools will accept. But not only is the state to blame, our individual school districts are to blame. I have lost track of how many colleagues have told me that their administrators approached them with, “you may only have ‘x’ standards”, or “you need to make this fit our model” or “you need to have your standards aligned with visual art” (are the math standards aligned with social studies? Phys ed with science?). As a result, a golden opportunity for us as a state to do powerful introspective work has largely been transformed into bureaucratic b.s. that at best feels like yet another state initiative, at worst feels like the biggest waste of our time, trying to manipulate or contrive our work to jump through required work. It has also completely undermined the innate value of standards and proficiency in the process.
The losers in this however is not us, it’s our kids.
As we move deeper in the move toward proficiency, it really is time to remind our administrators – where needed – that schools are here to serve the needs of our kids and not the other way around; we cannot manipulate how we serve our kids to meet state mandates. We must manipulate what we do and how we practice it to meet the needs of our students. My challenge to my friends and colleagues in the field this year: make THAT the lens you view your work through this year. Our biennial state conference is this coming Friday and the primary focus is precisely that. The title is called Arts Education: the Measure Of Success, because that’s what our focus has to be. We are in a different place than we were 4 years ago. But let’s make very sure that place is a step or two forward and not just a random place to one side or the other – or backwards – just to meet another external state or local expectation. Our kids deserve better than that, and honestly, so do we.