This week I invited 20 very smart people to join me on ARTSblog for a discussion about arts education. We tried to tackle issues around the trifecta of education accountability—standards, assessment, and evaluation. A tough topic for sure, but we wanted to address some questions such as:
1) How do you assess students in arts classes?
2) Are there reliable ways to evaluate arts teachers?
3) What does this era of educational accountability look like for the arts?
One of our bloggers, Aliza Sarian, wrote eloquently about why assessment and evaluation are important in her work as an arts educator:
“Evaluation and assessment are at the core of what I do as an educator and as a classroom teacher. I make that distinction because as an educator, I am constantly looking at the work I do and reflecting on how it can be improved. As a classroom teacher, the kids, parents, and administrators demand the feedback to help students become better speakers, writers, and learners. In my world of arts education, assessment and evaluation are invaluable.”
But she and other bloggers and commenters also raised valid concerns about education accountability—how does it affect the arts? How is it different for the arts than other subject areas?
For example, a couple of commenters were worried about the use of time and resources on things like standards and evaluations. To quote just one:
“Let me suggest before we jump into measuring fine arts teachers job performance, we first focus on providing every child in America with regular fine arts learning opportunities in all of the fine arts.”
And I cannot say that I disagree. But I also agree with Aliza about the importance of accountability in terms of refining our practice and moving our field forward.
As I read through other comments, I began to feel like those of us who are concerned about standards, assessment, and evaluation in the arts just might have a perception problem on our hands: our perception that what happens in the art room is transcendent and therefore cannot be measured. For example, one commenter said:
“Art lessons have human value, which cannot be measured.”
I know so many researchers that would outright disagree with this statement. (Thank you Ian David Moss for your thoughtful posts about logic models, and illustrating the impact of a May Day Festival that restored Laura Zabel’s hope for humanity, which is probably my favorite logic model ever!) I just don’t buy the sentiment that we cannot measure what our students have learned or the impact of our work.
And then there was a possible misperception by several commenters who wondered why the arts were jumping on the Common Core State Standards bandwagon. To quote just one:
“Teachers who subscribe to the CCSS are submitting control of their students learning experiences, professional freedom, and expertise to the One Point One Percent.”
While there are many thoughts in the field about how the arts can connect to CCSS, the standards discussed during this week’s salon are only referring to standards written specifically by arts educators for arts educators, which is different than the CCSS.
There were several other issues raised this week that reinforced for me the idea that perception problems exist in the area of accountability in arts education as well. Here are just a few I noted:
1) A perception by principals that arts teachers cannot be evaluated. Or worse (as several of our bloggers and commenters pointed out), that it is fine to evaluate arts teachers by the same measures used to evaluate math and English teachers.
2) A perception that we can only measure skills and knowledge in an art form, not self expression or creativity in the arts.
3) A perception that because arts education has standards that arts learning will become standardized, or that to define what is core will diminish possibilities.
4) A perception that because arts education happens both in the classroom and outside the classroom that it cannot or should not be held to a standard, tied to curriculum, and/or assessed.
I would hope that because the arts are indeed different than other subjects that we could show the larger field of education a thing or two about how to balance out the widespread focus on standardized testing, teacher evaluation based on test scores, and other ideas about education accountability that aren’t very effective.
One of our bloggers, Dave Dietz, sums up my thoughts on the importance of our field in this conversation on education accountability:
“Arts teachers need to look beyond traditional models of student achievement and set their sights on using the data gathered from well-designed evidences of student achievement as the catalyst for informing public policy on the importance, the necessity and the humanity of arts learning.”
Arts educators know how to assess students using multiple measures, authentic student performance, and portfolios. Perhaps if we brought these strengths to the attention of educational decision makers, we could lead the conversation about education accountability back to something more meaningful—i.e. a way to improve student learning and teaching practice. And if we could be leaders in this conversation, perhaps our education decision makers would work with us on more important topics, like ensuring that all students have access to the amazing learning opportunities that take place in our arts classrooms.