A recent article from MLive on the state's efforts to "improve" teacher evaluation practices manages to get nearly everything wrong, with the only saving grace being the contributions of a brilliant music teacher, Mandy Mikita Scott. But first, let's go over what the article got wrong:
The article concludes with a much-needed breath of fresh air from Mandy Mikita Scott, a choral music teacher in the Rockford Public Schools:
With all the debate over how to measure student growth, it's easy for educators like Rockford Public Schools Choir Director Mandy Scott to be skeptical.
Scott said she believes teachers should have a say in how student growth is measured, and she's hopeful that evaluation methods will be fine-tuned to greater reflect the heart of what she's teaching.
Currently, Scott quizzes her students on music theory, once at the start of the semester and again at the end. If her students' scores improve, they've shown growth. She says the system works, but she envisions a different approach. It would be interesting, she said, to record her students and see how their singing changes over the course of the year, but that's hard to put on a "spreadsheet."
Ms. Scott cuts through the jargon and misdirection of the current rhetoric on teacher evaluation to get directly to the heart of the matter. The assessment strategies she is using are appropriate and related to the content that she's teaching. She isn't evaluating her students on their reading ability by administering a music theory test--she's using those music theory tests to understand what her students know about music theory.
What a concept.
She intuitively understands that while recording her students' singing test scores on a "spreadsheet" might be "interesting," the real value in administering these assessments is to know more about how her students' singing has changed "over the course of the year." And that converting a person's singing to a number is a reductionist act that fundamentally changes the nature of that evaluation.
Ms. Scott concludes by saying the following: "At the moment, it doesn't feel like it's really touching the heart of what I'm doing," she said. "I feel like having a number on a page makes it very difficult. If it could be something like submit these recordings and let us take a listen to what we're doing, that could be kind of exciting."
And here is the true brilliance of Ms. Scott's commentary. Perhaps if we listened to the real experts on evaluation--teachers--instead of the self-appointed (NCTQ) and state-appointed (MDE) "experts", we could get back to "the heart of what we are doing" in our schools: encouraging our children to find their voices as scholars, musicians, artists, scientists, mathematicians, geographers, athletes, and citizens; allowing students to find and nurture their talents, interests and passions by offering a rich, diverse curriculum that values and privileges more than just math and reading; and helping our children to become more fully human, rather than simply "career and college ready."
Thank you to Mandy Mikita Scott, and all teachers who are committed to encouraging, helping and nurturing our children so they can find and follow their interests and passions, and who understand that learning is about much more than "numbers on a page."