‘My students and I are worth more than a bubble test can ever assess’

Sherry Coulombe has been a Gwinnett County music teacher for 15 years. She made these comments at the Capitol earlier this week. The comments have been edited for print.

She addresses Georgia’s use of tests to ascertain the effectiveness of art and music teachers.

By Sherry Coulombe

Years ago, I read “The Joy of Music” by composer Leonard Bernstein. I read it in high school when I needed a new perspective, and, like many teenagers, a change in attitude. The message that stuck out to me from Bernstein’s book is that the arts, especially music, provides something that is not tangible, nor is it measurable. We call this “something” an “aesthetic experience.”

Sir Ken Robinson so eloquently describes the difference between Aesthetics and An-Aesthetics:

An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak. When you are present in the current moment. When you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you are experiencing. When you are fully alive.

An an-aesthetic is when you shut your senses off, and deaden yourself to what is happening. We are getting our children through education by an-aesthetizing them.

We should be doing the exact opposite. We should not be putting them to sleep. We should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.

My students are creating these “awakening experiences” every day in my classroom. While learning their academic knowledge and skills, attending to their learning objectives and student performance goals, my students are most importantly learning about something so intrinsic that, in itself, it is immeasurable.

Music challenges my students to think critically and outside the box. Music challenges my students to learn interpersonal skills and work with others as a unified team. Music class teaches my students how to not just perform a piece of music, but to do so with refined skill and emotion. It is that emotion or aesthetical experience that we cannot measure on a standardized “bubble-in” test.

How can we demand from our students to have excellence and pride in their daily performance in class, yet not be able fairly judge them or their progress they attain through standardized testing?

carter

The author’s chorus and percussion ensemble performed earlier this month at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in honor of President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, shown here watching the students with grandson Jason Carter.

My goal as an educator is not just to make my students successful, but to stretch their minds and challenge them to reach a potential they did not realize was attainable. If educators are expected to differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of students, then please explain to me why we cannot differentiate evaluative methods to demonstrate what our students can actually do?

If “one-size fits all” is not an appropriate approach to teaching and learning, a single standardized bubble test shall also not be an appropriate vessel to evaluate student and teacher performance. These bubble tests cannot effectively measure creativity and excellence in performance.

I teach way more than a bubble test can measure.

Earlier this month, I was honored to present a concert with my J.G. Dyer Elementary School chorus and percussion ensemble at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in honor of President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter. For this performance, my kids prepared 12 pieces, six of which were learned and perfected in a month’s time. One of these six pieces was a commissioned piece, “Let Us Seed This Earth” written last month to be performed for this event in honor of President Carter.

This group of 80 students ages 8 to 11 rehearsed countless hours before and after school. I do not get compensated for all that extra time. My ensembles are not composed of students who are auditioned and cut. It is my philosophy that if students have music in their hearts, they shall be allowed to perform.

Music teachers often volunteer numerous direct student contact hours in order to give them experiences that no other teacher in the school can provide. The planning and organization of providing such unique and special opportunities require so much extra work outside of our paid teaching day.

Not one ounce of the work my students poured into this special concert can be measured on a standardized test.  All the work I put into this concert will not show up on any “growth model” put out by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Under the current evaluation module, many arts teachers around the great state of Georgia are going unrecognized and not receiving credit for all they do on a daily basis. They are judged, rather, on the same things a classroom teacher is evaluated on. It is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

We have gone from a culture where “No Child Was Supposed to be Left Behind” to one where “No Child is Left Untested.” When my students are grown and have jobs and kids of their own, do you think any of them will look back and remember the tests they were forced to take?  No, but they will remember the day they played for a president.

The overemphasis on testing is crippling arts and music and physical education in our schools.  Children can’t be children in many counties throughout Georgia because recess has been cut short for test prep. Luckily for the children in my school, recess and physical education are valued as a crucial part of each students’ day. In general, principals cannot commit the time or resources to programs that aren’t tested when 70 percent of their own evaluation rest test scores.

If I was worried about my evaluation, I could have spent my time teaching to the SLO or SPG test that my students are going to have to take to prove I am an excellent teacher. Instead, I create opportunities for them during and outside of the traditional school day.

Many teachers will not be allowed to create these opportunities because it is not easy to make “data models” out of them. I must thank my administration for believing and trusting in me to keep providing these experiences and opportunities for our students at Dyer Elementary.

Self-worth and intrinsic value are constantly being judged within our evaluation system, whether it is student or teacher evaluations. Students are being pressured daily to perform to these tests.

I want to leave you with a poem titled “My Own Worth”  by Ric S. Bastasa.

when you begin

to measure the length of my

worth

with a tape

or weigh me with

your own scales

or wrap me with your

cloth to assess the

volume of my being

when the numbers

come from your mouth

i begin to feel

the limitless bounds

of my incoming

protest

for you are just my peer

my co-equal

and here you are

measuring me by

your own

standards and i ask

the world:

 

who are you?

My kids are worth more than any bubble test can assess. I, too, am worth more than any bubble test.  It is time to pop this bubble, and let us do what we have been trained to do. Let us teach our children to be the best that they can be.

Reader Comments 0

29 comments
Starr Helton
Starr Helton

We started out testing to use as a diagnostic tool for teachers to use in helping students and how teachers preformed on the test was a side line at the local level. Principals who knew the students in that teacher's room drew conclusions about teacher performance. Believe me we know who the slackers are and with the new evaluation process and frequent walk visits even just walking through so does the principal. Believe me, teachers and principals want those slackers gone as quickly as possible. They give us all a bad name. The question becomes should we expect all students to make the same progress on standardized tests? I know that I had years where my students scored at the top and years where they did not! I taught the same subjects in much the same way with some special adaptations. What happened? Did I suddenly become a terrible teacher? I can say that I never became a slacker. Many people want to believe that if teachers work harder then all students will be successful on standardized tests. Should they all make progress? Yes, absolutely! Will they all make the same amount of progress? Not so much so. The only two things that have been found to correlate with test scores over all is the income of parents and the educational level of the parents. The only way to correct some things like language development is to reach students very early.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Sucks to actually be objectively measured - only if you don't deliver value.  


Those who truly deliver value for their students have no fear of being measured - and love the idea that those teachers who can't/don't teach will finally - after all these years of skating by and damaging kids - be exposed for the frauds that they are.


Michael Burke
Michael Burke

That is possibly true, Miss Confidence, but how do we distinguish you from the demoralized slacker in the next room showing yet another Sponge Bob episode during math period while he sleeps off a raging hangover or updates his fantasy sports league?

jerryeads
jerryeads

That's easy to answer. Teaching is one of the most complex enterprises on the planet. You might as well rate a teacher with a Roulette wheel as a low-bid minimum competency test like the Millstones. By and large, your Sponge Bob is there because the people running the school have not the competency to (a) judge him or her nor(b) the skills to help him or her get better nor (c) create a place worth teaching and learning in. Select and train decent leadership and you'll get decent teaching. Detroit cars used to be junk not because the line folks couldn't build good cars, but because the leadership wasn't there.

RuthBronstein
RuthBronstein

A "bubble test" does not...and was never intended...to measure how much a student or a teacher is "worth".  They are designed to measure how much a student knows, and how much a teacher has taught his/her students.  And they measure those two things quite effectively.  

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@RuthBronstein Please name the test/s that accurately measure "how much a student knows, and how much a teacher has taught his/her students" and cite validity and reliability research. I would be interested to know which tests accurately measure both of these things simultaneously.

jerryeads
jerryeads

@RuthBronstein Ruth falls prey to the myth that tests are just as accurate and foolproof as rectal thermometers. Every competent measurement Ph.D. on the planet will tell you nothing could be further from the truth - and laugh all the way to the bank as you continue to fork over your tax cash in spite of it. Can they be useful tools to help teachers help kids? Of course. But they're virtually useless when shoved - - well, you get the idea.

Here's_to_Blue
Here's_to_Blue

@RuthBronstein What if, as pointed out in a previous Get Schooled blog (without going back to look it up, I believe it was written by a band teacher), a student scores 100% on a pre-test?  How is a teacher supposed to be evaluated if that student again scores 100%, but this time on the end-of-course test?  The student would show no improvement, and therefore neither would the teacher, meaning that particular teacher is totally out of luck if a significant part of his/her evaluation is tied to "how much a teacher has taught his/her students."

Bill Fisher
Bill Fisher

So what is the most effective method for evaluating teachers of the arts? We can assume not all should be retained and so a meaningful evaluation process is necessary...............

madteacher
madteacher

Thank you so much for everything you do for all of your students. The arts are SO important for all of our students, and should be mandatory for everyone. The arts teach so many things that aren't recognized anymore. They teach math, they teach critical thinking, they teach appreciation for fine arts, social studies, and I could go on forever. The arts feed the soul and allow students to heal from a lot of the trauma that they see in everyday life.

As far as testing goes, that is true for every subject. These tests do not measure the learning that takes place in a classroom, and too much teaching time is taken up with testing, and preparing for tests instead of just teaching the curriculum in our normal creative way.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@Linda1746 @AJCGetSchooled I was thinking the exact same thing! I loved this piece and truly appreciate Ms. Coulombe for her bravery in allowing this to be published.  I do think of all of the other content teachers who are out there and amazing as well and her remarks apply equally to them as well.  I've said this before and I'll say it again.  We are 47th or 48th or whatever we are this year in the country in education AGAIN. Legislators - keep this up and let me know how it works out for you.  We cannot test our way to greatness as a state for public education.

CSpinks
CSpinks

To assert that the purpose of a standardized test is to measure the value of a person taking it is to misconstrue that purpose.


The purpose of a standardized test is to measure some aspect of a person's knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about a particular field of study, not to measure his/her worth as a human being.

HILUX
HILUX

Ms. Coulombe, I encourage you to read a key study carried out by the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the University of Virginia Curry School of Education.

It found that testing students, and incorporating those test results when evaluating teachers, is effective in improving learning. The mere threat of removal forces low-performing teachers to either leave the profession or shape up. And those choosing to leave tend to be replaced by better quality teachers. 

The resulting churn in the Washington D.C. public schools teacher workforce led to student learning improving by four months in reading and math, according to researchers. And they noted that high-poverty schools experience the most benefit from tougher teacher evaluations -- because that's where low-performing teachers tend to congregate.

http://news.stanford.edu/pr/2013/pr-dee-teacher-assessments-101713.html

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@HILUX

Please learn how to read and understand the research you cite.

Here is what the study suggests.

1.You have to evaluate teaching methods along with test scores and teachers have to have training and support to implement improvements.

"IMPACT appears to have been comparatively successful in defining what teachers need to do in order to improve their scores and providing corresponding supports. Evaluations and incentives are likely to have little effect if teachers lack the knowledge and support to act on the information the evaluations provide."

2.You have to have large, permanent financial incentives along with supported training.

“Specifically, high-performing teachers as assessed by IMPACT earn an annual bonus of as much as $25,000, as well as an opportunity for similarly large and permanent increases in their base salaries. In contrast, teachers who are unable to achieve an "effective" rating after two years are dismissed." Wyckoff added. “

So, are you wanting Georgia to offer large permanent pay incentives along with a good diagnostic assessment for students and teachers, along with training and support to improve in needed areas?

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Hilux

The study you keep posting was discredited for its lack of validity in its conclusions in a previous blog. Continuing to post it doesn't increase its validity.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@HILUX @AvgGeorgian

Your "belief" seems to have preceded any study. You don't seem to be able to even comprehend the study. Did you read beyond the headline?  The study doesn't even say what you think it does. Please educate yourself on topics and stop following the republican marching orders. 

madteacher
madteacher

@HILUX  We can quote just as many studies that show that tieing test scores to teacher evaluations is not effective.

Jennifer C Cash
Jennifer C Cash

@HILUX Your comment about low performing teachers congregating in high poverty schools is offensive and wrong. If you haven't stepped foot in one lately and just read studies then you are misinformed. I work in one everyday, and while no staff is perfect, some of the most dedicated, passionate teachers have worked in my school for years.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@HILUX @AvgGeorgian 

I would support AvgGeorgian's interpretation of the Stanford study too. You left out the crucial part in the study about the $25K bonuses seeming to have a significant role in the teachers' improvement, for those bonuses became a permanent part of their salaries

Dunstann
Dunstann

@HILUX 

Opposition to testing and teacher accountability are the focus of at least one column per week on Get Schooled. And yet, nothing like that amount of interest in these topics is evident among fellow teachers at my own middle school.

For myself, I entirely understand the concerns parents have about the amount of learning going on in classrooms. Be assured that the complaining and second-guessing on this page doesn't reflect the opinions of the vast majority of educators.

Angela Hale
Angela Hale

Ms. Coulombe, thank you for writing so eloquently about the value of the intangibles in education that can change a life or inspire a soul to new heights. No bubble sheet will measure this. And testing actually co-opts educating which could yield creative thinkers, agents of self-direction, and problem-solvers.

Bubbling gives us obedient fact-regurgitaters

I was privileged to hear your choir sing to President and Mrs. Carter -- and witness your children jumping up and down, veritably bursting with enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment! They sang to the rafters!

Thank you, thank you for what you do!