Cheryl Poole: Watching as They Assembled the MAEIA Tools

By Cheryl Poole

Cheryl L. Poole is an educator with more than 40 years of experience in visual arts, museum administration and facilitating professional learning. She has had the pleasure of working with educators in the MAEIA project over the last 5 years.

Watching as They Assembled the MAEIA Tools

Sometimes you don’t what tools you need until you start the work.

In 2012, I had recently retired from an ISD position when a friend enticed me to give just a ‘bit of time’ to a new project being directed by the Michigan Assessment Consortium. It was the very beginning of the Michigan Arts Education, Instruction, and Assessment project. Ultimately, working for MAEIA became the most satisfying experience of my 40+ year career in arts and education.

I met with the early leadership team in late fall to acquire a description of the project I was thinking about joining. Over the subsequent five years, I’ve reflected on that initial description of the project…and the evolving dialogue. Although that early leadership team was describing for me the goal of the MAEIA project, they were also clarifying and elaborating on it for themselves. What I heard that day anchored my understanding of the project and has been the context of my work with MAEIA since then.

The Why
It started with a rumor. While, personally, I was in the meaning-making stage of joining this project, I was also watching four great minds with diverse areas of expertise (three of whom I knew by reputation and admired a great deal), grappling with important ideas. They had come together over a concern about a rumor circulating among Michigan educators and legislators.

The rumor was that legislation might come to pass that would force teacher evaluation to be based on student achievement data. These leaders were passionate about arts education and they were aware of the absence of formal, quality assessments that would provide the achievement data for educators in dance, music, theatre and visual arts.

If the rumor came true and law required educators to be evaluated on student assessment data, what would that mean for educators in the arts?

The worry around the table was that arts teachers would be evaluated on reading or math test data.
They all held that that would be wholly unfair. There was clearly a need for legitimate data of student performance in the arts.

The What
As the conversation evolved that day, I observed what I interpreted as their growing realization that the project would have to be a great deal more comprehensive than appropriate assessments in the arts:

-Evaluating a student would also need to be understood in the context of the dance, music, theatre and visual arts program to which they had access.

-Arts assessments would have to be created with the assumption of a quality, articulated K-12 arts education program.

-What about the many configurations of arts programs within districts?

The questions that needed to be answered were:

-What was a quality program?

-What did it look like?

-What criteria defined a quality arts education program?

-Who decided that?

-Based on what research?

Aha! The plot thickened because then the conversation came around to how to measure quality for each a dance education program. A music education program. Theatre education program. Visual arts education program.

The research had to be compiled first for each discipline and a tool for measuring programs had to be developed. Only then could performance assessments in the arts exist within an understandable context. And an understandable context was necessary before a teacher could select appropriate assessments and subsequently be evaluated on the resulting data.

So as I sat at the table that first day, making meaning of the MAEIA project, I heard the project expanding in real time.

Starting with the environmental need and the goal, the importance of developing tools became clear. To get to quality performance assessments, MAEIA would first have to define a quality program and have an ability to quantify and measure that quality.

Yet to unfold was the realization that, as we stepped forward and backwards toward the goal, MAEIA-involved educators would also need a compilation of research, to identify specifications for creating assessments, and guidelines for administering them.

The Community
We recognized, as a group, that collectively we didn’t have that expertise to achieve the task. Hundreds of educators, artists and researchers representing all four arts disciplines would need to bring forward what they knew to assemble the tools of MAEIA. And they did.

Fast Forward
Five years later, measuring educator effectiveness with student data was realized under PA 173 of 2015, over a thousand educators have contributed to what has become the MAEIA tools and resources: a Blueprint, Assessment Specifications Document, Research and Recommendations, a Program Review Tool, and 360 Assessment Items in Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts.

With support from the MCACA, fifteen MAEIA Leadership Fellows are prepared to deliver professional learning to districts, buildings, and community partners with an invitation for additional Associates to be extended soon.

The MAEIA Project Management Team along with dedicated participants, have just wrapped a Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness pilot with plans to continue the work into a second year while we also launch a Collaborative Scoring System pilot.

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