pushback

R – If I give you a boat kit, and you build it incorrectly and it sinks first time out, was it a bad boat kit or did you construct it poorly? I’m losing patience with schools who have improperly (tragically?) applied the work of standards to their schools, watched it fail, and then say, “See, I told you standards are bogus!”

Really?

If teachers of all disciplines (not just music) have decided to spend an inordinate amount of time “assessing” because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do, and not because it’s a natural extension of what they already do and value… but then whine that assessment and standards are doing them in, HOW in the world is one supposed to respond to that????

I’m frustrated. At no one in particular, and I don’t even necessarily place blame anywhere. But I feel like the state movement towards standards and assessment has taken on characteristics of the telephone game. It starts off as a request to adopt a reflective practice which informs teachers and students both with regard to instruction and curriculum, and by the time it reaches the classroom it ends up being “more that I have to do”. How did we get here?

State: we have a local control state, but also have state statutes that require communities to meet requirements. Consequently, it’s up to the communities to come up with plans and strategies to meet the state requirements. However, communities often want it both ways. While they are saying defiantly, “You can’t tell me what to do, we’re a local control state!”, they are simultaneously asking, “Where’s the guidance you’re supposed to be providing to help us meet your mandate?!?” That puts the state on an awkward tightrope, one which attempts to give both autonomy and guidelines. This hasn’t always proven to be very effective. So there is frustration at the state level because they are trying to straddle a fine line and it just doesn’t seem to connect to the needs of the schools.

Schools: to one extreme, there are schools that have determined that their adoption of standards and proficiency reporting is going to be organic and sequential in process. This is an awesome way to proceed, but also takes time and can be frustrating to some. The other extreme is to implement the latest and greatest model and plunk it on teachers’ laps and say, “Here, do it.” And if that model doesn’t work for them? “Hey, the state’s telling us to do it – suck it up, man!”

Gee, I wonder why transitioning to standards and proficiency is eliciting so much resentment……

Teachers: without understanding the principle (the why behind the what) of proficiency, this feels and acts like busy work that takes up time that COULD have been spent on instruction and learning (please refer to “Assessments, Common Local” ca. 2007 for a sense of that frustration). The irony of course is that standards based learning in actual practice puts instruction and learning on steroids. So where to begin? Music teachers: I created a website a year and a half ago JUST FOR THIS PURPOSE: maineartsassessment.com. I know many have seen it… but how many have spent professional development time with it so they can see what resources are there to help them make the transition smooth and authentic, painless and relevant?

As most of us begin a week of February break, I think we all need to take a deep breath right about now, take stock in our professional successes in this area, take a step back to analyze specifically where our frustrations lie, and then move forward again with a renewed sense of purpose and focus on the why we’re doing it and why it’s good for kids. I am presenting a round-table session on our proficiency work in Maine at the state MMEA Conference in May. Though I’m looking forward to it, it’s a bummer that the session is occurring three months or so later than it’s really needed.

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