How State Ed Is Killing Arts Education

by / Oct. 12, 2015 2pm EST

Editor’s Note: The following is reprinted from a blog post with permission from the author. The author focuses on issues in his home district of Ken-Ton, but it applies to education throughout the New York State, where educators are now busy compiling their Student Learning Objective (SLO) data, a crucial element to their annual performance rating (APPR). 

I think it’s important for parents to understand how much pressure is being put on our kids to perform on ‘bubble-tests’ in classes like art, music, gym, etc. It is truly bizarre. I interviewed several teachers in the district recently to decipher the information.

In these classes, the teacher must give a pre-test at the beginning of the term (quarter, semester, or year, depending on the grade level). The sole purpose of this pre-test is to evaluate the teacher by comparing it to a post-test given at the end of the term. Right there is a red flag because most parents would not want their child being focused on a ‘bubble-test’ for the entire term in classes that are supposed to be hands-on, creative, and expressive, but this is how it is being done.

These are multiple choice ‘bubble-tests’, that are generally 10-25 questions long (it seems to vary with the grade level). These pre-tests are constructed by an administrative person that is employed by the district who pulls the questions from a ‘bank’ of questions provided by BOCES, which is an arm of the NYS Education Department. The teacher does not know the questions on this pre-test, nor do the teachers or parents know the lexile level (reading level) of these questions. The questions may be written at a lexile level that is well above or below the child’s ability to comprehend, but this is not taken into account. This is another red flag, which I will discuss more in a moment.

I learned that, in some cases, the district actually uses the exact same questions for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders on these pre-tests. That doesn’t make any sense since 3rd graders are not exposed to the same curriculum as 5th graders. Why would you assess a 3rd grader the same as a 5th grader? But, this is how the district does it. In addition, students have very different lexile scores (reading levels) in different grade levels and also within the same grade level. Even students within the same grade level can have lexile scores that are a few hundred points different. That means that a question on a music test might really be measuring the student’s ability to read and understand the question and not necessarily measuring their understanding of music at all. After all, if a 4th grader has a lexile score of say 625, but the question is written at a lexile of say 775, then the student may get the question wrong simply based on the reading level of the question.

The teacher/department (art, music, gym, etc.) is required to link their subject area to either Math or ELA for instruction and testing focus. Yes, you heard me correctly. These classes, tests, and teacher evaluations in art, music, gym, etc, MUST be linked to either Math or ELA. This makes me so sad. What has education become? The purpose of these creative/expressive classes has now simply become support for Math and ELA. Remember, the number one goal for the Ken-Ton district is proficiency in numeracy and literacy. If the teacher/department decides to link to Math, then the students MUST score at least 80 percent on the post-test for the teacher to receive an acceptable evaluation and for the student to be considered a success. If they link it to ELA, then the students must score at least 75 percent on the post-test.

So, let’s say that the music department decides to put their mandated focus on ELA. The district says that any student who scores between 0 and 74 percent on this pre-test MUST score at least a 75 percent on the post-test or it will count against the teacher’s evaluation. That means if a student has a learning disability and gets 0 percent on the pre-test, that student must get 75 percent on the post-test, just the same as a different student who got 74 percent on the pre-test. The same targets are expected for both students. Yes, you heard me correctly. A student who gets 0 percent on the pre-test is expected to hit the same target as the student who gets a 74 percent on the pre-test.

A student who has an IEP already has a growth expectation written in their IEP, so technically I believe it might be illegal for the district to require this 75 percent on the post-test because that breaks the IEP. In Middle School the term is only 10 weeks, so the teacher has 10 weeks to work some kind of magic or the teacher and student are considered a failure. There is very little room to actually teach anything other than the test as the teacher could jeopardize their evaluation (and thus their job) if they don’t do what the district demands and get every student to magically get a 75 percent or higher on the post-test.

Now, above 75 percent, there are ‘bands’ that are set for growth. For example, a student that gets between 75 percent and 84 percent on the pre-test must get at least 85 percent on the post-test. A student that gets between 85-94 percent on the pre-test must get at least 95 percent on the post-test. A student that gets 100 percent on the pre-test  get 100 percent on the post-test. If any student scores less than what that band requires then the teacher’s evaluation is in jeopardy and the student is considered a failure. If a student got 100 percent on the pre-test and 99 percent on the post-test, it will hurt the teacher’s evaluation and the student is considered a failure. Obviously, this 10-25 question bubble-test must now become the most important part of daily instruction in art, music, gym, etc. The things that we parents really want our kids to be learning in these classes are not valued. This meaningless test, designed to support either Math or ELA, is the ultimate dictator for what happens in the classroom even in art, music, gym, etc.

So, what does this do to our kids. Well, it puts them in an environment where art, music, gym, etc, don’t matter anymore. It’s all about Math and ELA and meaningless test scores. The teacher MUST get these kids to score well on the post bubble-test or both the teacher and student are considered a failure. Our taxpayer money is paying for this trash. Interestingly enough, elite private schools do not use this method.

We all need to protest!