Future of Teaching

A peek inside how Memphis art teachers can show student growth

The big news at Shelby County Schools’ board meeting Monday — a vote on student placements once municipal districts spin off — took place inside an auditorium. But the documents plastered on the hallway walls were no less newsworthy.

The bulletin boards showed off artwork by students in the district and, in some cases, offered hints of how local art teachers are generating information that will factor into their annual ratings.

Like many states across the country, Tennessee has recently overhauled its teacher evaluation rules to incorporate student progress as a measure. But in an unusual move, the state is allowing teachers whose students don’t typically take pencil-and-paper tests, such as music and art teachers, to show the progress through portfolios of student work.

That arrangement was spurred by a group of Memphis arts teachers who were unhappy that they were being rated according to their students’ scores in math and reading. In a 2012 speech, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan highlighted the local teachers’ efforts to create a peer-review system for student portfolios that state education officials later spread statewide.

Now, arts teachers must collect examples of student growth throughout the year. The work posted by Christine Todd’s class at Snowden Elementary School offers one example of what that evidence might look like.

According to the class’s bulletin board at the district’s headquarters, Snowden first asked students to draw bicycles from memory. She then unveiled bicycles that had been covered by a sheet and used them as props for a lesson about shape and form. Then students drew bicycles again, using the observations they had made.

The first drafts and second drafts were paired together on the bulletin board, showing that students captured more details, drew more confidently, and better reflected the proportions of real bicycles at the end of the class than they had at the beginning.

“I have shown you their pretests and the pieces they created after instruction in the 50 minute class,” Todd wrote. “You can really see their growth, hooray!”

Todd’s explanation of the assignment also hints at how all classes are seen as opportunities for math and literacy instruction, a priority under the new Common Core standards. She wrote that students “were encouraged to measure the bicycles with their eyes” and draw meaning from other texts, including a photograph of a penny-farthing race and paintings by Taliah Lempert.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.

Another error

Missing student data means 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change


Tennessee’s testing problems continue. This time the issue is missing students.

Students’ test scores are used to evaluate teachers, and the failure of a data processing vendor to include scores for thousands of students may have skewed results for some teachers, officials said.

The scores, known as TVAAS, are based on how students improved under a teacher’s watch. The scores affect a teacher’s overall evaluation and in some districts, like Shelby County Schools, determine if a teacher gets a raise.

The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result.

The latest glitch follows a series of mishaps, including test scanning errors, which also affect teacher evaluations. A delay earlier this summer from the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing vendor, Questar, set off a chain of events that resulted in the missing student scores.

To calculate a teacher’s growth score, students and their test scores are assigned to a teacher. About 3 percent of the 1.5 million student-teacher assignments statewide had to be manually submitted in Excel files after Questar experienced software issues and fell behind on releasing raw scores to districts.

RANDA Solutions, a data processing vendor for the state, failed to input all of those Excel files, leading to the teachers’ scores being calculated without their full roster of students, said Sara Gast, a state spokeswoman. The error will not affect school or district TVAAS scores. (District-level TVAAS scores were released in September.)

Gast did not immediately confirm when the state will finalize those teachers’ scores with corrected student rosters. The state sent letters to districts last week informing them of the error and at least one Memphis teacher was told she had more than 80 of her 120 students missing from her score.

In the past, the process for matching students to the right teachers began at the end of the year, “which does not leave much room for adjustments in the case of unexpected delays,” Gast said in an email. The state had already planned to open the process earlier this year. Teachers can begin to verify their rosters next week, she said.