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make your day dance

“Meeting performance standards at this time, with steady progress”

November 20th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Tags: ····

It’s been 12 weeks since school started, and the dust is just beginning to settle. The term “ratchet up” came to me this last week, as associated with pressure. Such is the climate in education of late, midst educational reform, standardized testing, furlough days, and cries for teacher accountability. I’m wondering when — if — the pendulum will ever swing back the other way.

In my own corner, which happens to be occupied by the only full-time dance educator in my urban district (that’s me), Dance is now on every elementary report card in the district. For my first 15 years of being a certified dance teacher in a public school, there was one box, labeled “Art.” Teachers would cross out “Art” and write “Dance” — or I always assumed they did. Maybe they didn’t.  Then they would copy a check, a plus, or a minus into the box from the student lists I gave them. No one knew what the symbol referred to: behavior? skill? effort? talent? And I never received feedback indicating that anyone cared.

This year, however, a new electronic report card system has put Dance on the page — or at least on the report cards — all of them, with four Dance-related boxes per child. In 52 of the district’s 57 elementary schools, of course, the dance boxes are marked with “N,” for “not evaluated,” AKA “not taught.” In four schools, grades will be filled in at several grade levels (by my part-time colleagues). And in my school, they’re filled in for each of my 360 kindergarten-5th grade students. That’s 1,440 little electronic boxes, indicating achievement (1 through 4) in three standards unique to each grade level [a blog post from July has details], plus a symbol to show minimal, steady, or significant rate of progress. And comments of up to 1,000 words, where appropriate.

Having never done this before, and working with a system which is only in its first year of review and revision, filling all of these little boxes over the past two weeks took about 12-14 hours, outside of the usual schedule of classes. That’s after school and most of last weekend. I did the kindergarteners three times over, wrestling with the software and the scoring system.  I wonder if I’ll have any feedback indicating that anyone cares?

Meanwhile, a jumble of thoughts haven’t yet come to order in my own mind. Here’s a few…

  • There could well be parents all over the district thinking, “Dance? Why doesn’t our school have dance?” I’m OK with that.
  • Many of our parents still won’t have any idea what the standards are in dance, because the district hasn’t even finished translating all the academic subjects into all the home languages.
  • I did have a moment or two of satisfaction at finally having a way to communicate how inadequately several of my (360) students behave during class.
  • If I’m going to have to score my students on these priority standards, I need activities, assessments, and rubrics specifically designed to support the scores. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.
  • And how about a curriculum? As we put the structure in place to incorporate Dance as a full-fledged member in education, a K-5 curriculum would be useful. At least as a springboard.
  • If we can get the kinks worked out, report cards may be a new way to communicate about the value Dance adds to education.
  • I still need to sort out which of the standards we wrote are workable and which aren’t — so we can make recommendations for revisions.
  • Gee, I wish there were more full-time dance educators to talk to about this!
  • And, most important, how do we continue to ensure that dance class in public education is dance — fun, creativite, expressive, collaborative, and engaging because it’s dance? Can we bring it into the fold, without squishing it into a mold?!

If you have any thoughts on any of this, I’d welcome your feedback or conversation!

2 Comments so far ↓

  • ken

    I am glad to hear that someone is hoping to make dance a “full-fledged member of the curriculum.” In many school, including mine, dance is being cut back without discussion. Of course, it’s impossible for anyone to assess 360 students with the same precision that a math teacher might devote to a less insane course load of 150-ish, so it’s a Catch 22. If the rest of the school is jumping on the rubric / standards / assessment bandwagon, dance must as well to keep it’s credibility, but one can’t really do it unless the head count goes down. And the fact that it is easier to write standards for behavior than for achievement in an arts class, has led to a generation of docile and uncreative students. It’s a b’tch. Oops, I am burning dinner, I am bookmarking this blog, I would love to return to this conversation.

  • megrm

    Thanks for the thoughts! Yes, it’s a struggling time, but Seattle is actually well-funded for the next year, with the goal of improving equity in the arts across the district. UNfortunately, the two disciplines they’re aiming for don’t include dance. FORtunately, all four disciplines are included in the gearing-up process (report cards / curriculum maps / assessments / rubrics). So we’ll see where it goes… Hope your dinner didn’t really burn! And happy Thanksgiving!