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Merit-pay puzzle: How do you grade art, theater teachers?

Reader Comment: More tests, just what our kids need. In a 180 school day, how many test days parents? The following is for Lake's middle and high schools.

Lake Co. Benchmark Assessments: 12 Test Days. Minimum 4 tests per student/3 times per year. Taken mid-year and end of year.

Lake Co. Mini-Tests: 24 Test Days. Once a week. Minimum 4 tests per student for each student. 24 to 29 tests for each subject.

DOE FAIR Testing (Reading): 3 Test Days

DOE FCAT Writes: 2 Test Days

FCAT Math & Reading: 3 Test Days

Lake Semester Exams 2(Semesters): 4 Test Days

Subtotal: 44 Test Days! 45 if you count End of Course Exams (H.S.)

Let's see parents 180 school days minus 44 test days leaves 136 classroom instruction days. I don't know? You think that's too many test days and not enough days teaching your children?

No wonder, according to theledger.com, Florida currently ranks 50th in per capita spending per student, 47th in teacher pay, 44th in high school graduation rate, and 48th in college entrance exam scores! How pathetic!

The aforementioned is why more and more parents are putting their kids in private schools and why too many good teachers are leaving Florida.

What other profession would count half of your work performance on what someone else did in an entirely different field from yours? That's asinine squared. No, make that cubed!

Parents, Florida is testing your kids to death.

By Erica Rodriguez
A 15-hour workday is not uncommon for Vince Santo when he's directing the busy East Ridge High School theater program. Sets must be painted, parents enlisted, brightly colored costumes pieced together and acting skills honed.

But at the end of the year, Santo's own performance will be measured in a way much different from the one used to evaluate him in the past.

Because of Florida's controversial new teacher merit-pay law, nearly half of Santo's evaluation will be based not on how well his theater students can act, but how they perform in reading and math on their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"There has to be a better way to show how effective we are," Santo said.

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School districts are working on that ΓΆ€” in the form of student tests that would be tailored to disciplines such as theater, art and physical education. But until educators come up with those measuring sticks, thousands of teachers such as Santo will be judged this year on student FCAT scores in core courses, even though they don't teach those classes.

A Chinese-language teacher, for instance, will be evaluated on how her students read in English on their FCAT. And because the test doesn't start until third grade, first-grade teachers could be judged on how well third-graders perform on the FCAT.

The new focus on linking student-test results to teacher performance has school districts rallying to create standardized tests for every class in the coming years and paying for it with federal money. Districts are boosting staff with Race to the Top grant money and mustering teams of test-builders and data analysts.

Lake County Schools and other districts even hired psychometricians, test-creation specialists.

"We're going to have to build from the ground up on these assessments," said Heather Wright, the psychometrician for Lake County Schools.

For Wright and others, finding a way to evaluate a teacher's impact in core subjects such as civics and geometry will be challenging enough. But the job will become much harder ΓΆ€” and more clouded ΓΆ€” when trying to come up with a fair evaluation system for those teaching theater, music or art.

Across Florida, school districts are using more than $20 million in federal Race to the Top grants to create student tests that could be used to grade teachers in these noncore subjects. They have until 2014 to do so.

In Polk County, administrators are working on ways to create standardized tests for performing-arts subjects. The goal is to objectively measure students' performance and creativity.

"In the past, these had been assessed in some manner ΓΆ€” you either like it or you don't like it ΓΆ€” and so you have to have something that's less subjective," said Beth Cummings, senior music coordinator for the district.

Thanks to technology, some approaches to measuring progress might be a little easier, at least in music. Cummings said one approach the team might use is a software program that measures pitch and how accurately a student plays musical notes on page.

"That's a measurable thing," Cummings said.

In some Florida counties, standardized fine-arts tests are nothing new. In Hillsborough County, where the tests have been used for decades, students are graded on factors such as identifying major beats in pop music or determining whether an actor is dominating a scene.

But many fine-arts teachers worry the focus on testing will drain the creativity from their subjects.

"My biggest fear is we create nothing but test-takers ΓΆ€” and creativity is gone out the window ΓΆ€” because that's what everything's going to be based on," said Mike Cahill, Orange County Classroom Teachers Association president.

Santo, meanwhile, is encouraging other drama teachers to get involved in the process that could eventually impact the outcome of their professional evaluations. His biggest fear is the new testing push won't encourage students to learn performance.

"Anybody can memorize and write something down on a piece of paper," he said. "But can they get up and do it?"

ericarodriguez@tribune.com or 352-455-8046

— Erica Rodriguez
Orlando Sentinel





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