Learning and participation in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts are vital to the development of our children and our communities. Through advocacy, research, partnerships, and professional development, Americans for the Arts strives to provide and secure more resources and support for arts education. Visit AmericansForTheArts.org for more information on the Arts Education Network.
There’s been so much written about the value of higher education and most of it, especially when it is positive, I agree with. Lately, however, I have begun to question my own thinking, admitting to myself that I may be so biased and gullible that I will buy into anything that is said about higher education if it positively reflects upon my domain.
For years I have agreed with the argument that a broad, liberal education combined with arts training is the right balance, i.e., the best balance for graduating someone in the arts. I also accepted hook, line, and sinker the notion that to be fully prepared, to have the full enchilada, so to speak, would require a student to major in a more professional degree such as the BFA. Notice how I said, the “more professional,” with emphasis upon the “more.”
Why did I, and, for that matter, most, if not all of my world of colleagues buy into this notion of how to shape a curriculum intended to prepare an artist? For others, it may be different but for me the answer is embarrassingly clear: the argument made sense because I was always in a comprehensive university and, therefore, what made sense was justifying the value of the institution in which I worked. Read the rest of this entry »
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” – Albert Einstein
What is Life Long Learning? Simply, I believe it is the consistent and deep engagement of the mind and body in the active pursuit of knowledge and experience from birth to death. Now, science is helping to support the importance of learning in keeping brains active and healthy for a lifetime. The Maryland State Department of Education with the Johns Hopkins University School of Education published a set of guidelines in 2010 entitled Healthy Beginnings, supporting development and learning from birth through three years of age. The Dana Alliance for the Brain states in its paper Learning as We Age (2012) that “mental exercise, especially learning new things or pursuing activities that are intellectually stimulating, may strengthen brain-cell networks and help preserve mental functions. The brain is just as capable of learning in the second half of life as in the first half.”
Over recent years, neuroscientists continue to conduct research on how the mental and physical activities so integral to the arts are equally fundamental for brain function. Charles Limb, brain scientist and musician at Johns Hopkins University (and a member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s science advisory team), says that “the brain on arts is different than the everyday brain. Art is magical, but it is not magic. It is a neurological product and we can study it. “
At the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra we are committed to the importance of engagement in music from the earliest age to the oldest. The BSO Music Box Series (™) introduces children 6 months to three years of age to music, art, and reading through interactive activities designed to stimulate awareness, listening, coordination, language, and music making. Although the research is anecdotal based on observance, we are seeing positive recognition in children who are attending these experiences on a regular basis. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) may be the best whole school initiative to happen to arts education. The English Language Arts Standards (ELA) call for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Page 43 of an appendix to the ELA standards defines a technical subject as:
A course devoted to a practical study, such as engineering, technology, design, business, or other workforce-related subject; a technical aspect of a wider field of study, such as art or music.
The Common Core State Standards website clarifies this relationship between ELA literacy and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects:
Just as students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, so too must the Standards specify the literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines. It is important to note that literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those areas but rather to supplement them.
Finally, it seems that the arts are receiving the attention to which we are entitled as a result of being classified as a technical subject. The CCSS writers were savvy to include anchor standards for technical subjects so that other content areas would have to take note and be drivers of the English language arts (ELA) standards within the various other content areas. Mathematics provides that we address grade-level standards. And all the while, arts teachers must also take note of the significance of their state and national visual and performing arts standards while determining shifts from CCSS to arts standards. Read the rest of this entry »
Three Recommendations for Art Educators Who Are Committed to Inquiry and Imagination in the Age of Accountability
In many of her lectures, Maxine Greene spoke about the processes of inquiry and imagination we experience when we are learning in and through the arts.
We are concerned with possibility, with opening windows on alternative realities, with moving through doorways into spaces some of us have never seen before. We are interested in releasing diverse persons from confinement to the actual, particularly confinement to the world of techniques and skill training, to fixed categories and measurable competencies. We are interested in breakthroughs and new beginnings, in the kind of wide-awakeness that allows for wonder and unease and questioning and the pursuit of what is not yet (Greene, 2001, p. 44).
How can we, art educators, find ways to support students in the possibilities inherent in artistic learning processes that are active, responsive to imagination, and open to collaboration in what Greene calls, “the pursuit of what is not yet”? Teachers are planning learning experiences in the age of accountability when standards, assessment, and teacher evaluation are central points of focus in the 2013 educational climate. Many arts educators are left wondering how to be accountable to these issues without relinquishing what is artful, imaginative, creative, and emergent about arts education. Read the rest of this entry »
I serve as the Educational Specialist in Visual and Performing Arts for the Baltimore City Public Schools, where I oversee implementation of curriculum, assessment, and some aspects of teacher evaluation. The district is concluding a six-year period that has been marked by several large-scale reforms that included the implementation of a funding model that placed unprecedented decision-making power in the hands of principals, as well as expanded school choice options for students.
The system is now turning its attention to several transformations that have a direct effect on teaching and learning in the arts. As in other districts, City Schools is overhauling its curriculum to align with the Common Core State Standards. Additionally, City Schools is undertaking a ten-year overhaul of the district’s buildings including modernized spaces for the arts, and developing processes to ensure instructional and leadership effectiveness that allow for professional growth around not only arts-related content, but in the unique ways that arts learning supports Common Core principles. The district has also instituted new support systems that govern the ways that leaders and teachers are supported, developed, and evaluated.
Effective leadership is an important component of any successful school system. To support administrators and teachers, City Schools has piloted and implemented an Instructional Framework that has taken into account effective teaching practices in all disciplines. The framework parses the act of teaching into three areas: plan, teach, and reflect and adjust. These three areas follow a cyclical pattern, where reflection and adjustment inform planning. Current work in progress includes the formulation of a set of key teaching actions that outline instructional procedures and techniques germane to arts education. The key actions documents will act as discipline-specific complements to the techniques listed in the framework, and will provide administrators with a valuable reference with which to guide support and evaluation conversations. Read the rest of this entry »
Arts teachers across the country are currently scrambling to cope with new teacher evaluation systems. Teacher support and evaluation systems have long been recognized as important means for improving teaching and learning, but states are increasingly requiring local districts to link evaluation to student growth, assign numeric ratings, and ratchet up consequences, such as using ratings to determine salary increases or job security. The U.S. Department of Education has encouraged these developments by making the implementation of new educator evaluation systems a precondition for waiving onerous NCLB requirements and sanctions.
Although quality teacher supervision and support systems are essential to ensure teacher growth, many emerging teacher evaluation systems pose serious challenges for arts educators, as well as issues of fairness.
Among those challenges is the expectation that arts teachers measure student growth, often without the support of arts-expert supervisors or district-wide teams to develop appropriate measurement tools. Another is the expectation that a majority of students or even all students be assessed and monitored, in spite of the fact that some arts teachers are responsible for more than 1,000 students and see those students for very limited time.
One fairness issue arises when states or individual schools use school-wide scores on tests in non-arts areas to determine arts teachers’ evaluations. Another issue is the lack of arts-specific professional development to support teachers as they adapt to new, often complex systems. Yet another issue is the fact that most arts teachers are observed and evaluated by administrators who lack training or expertise in an art form. Read the rest of this entry »
Here in Pennsylvania, we are currently mired in educator effectiveness. Before I left the elementary music classroom in 2007, my effectiveness as a teacher was measured by variations on these steps:
1. Around May 1, I would meet my principal accidentally in the hall. That person would inform me that he/she had forgotten to observe my class that year and said our spring performance would serve as my evaluation.
2. In mid-May, I would herd approximately 100 kindergarten students into our gymatorium. In between tears, loud exclamations of “Hi, Mommy!” accompanied by violent waving, dresses pulled over faces to hide from the audience, and other manifestations of 5-year-olds’ stage fright, we managed to sing, play instruments, and move. I may or may not have noticed my principal standing in the back of the room.
3. A few days later, I was called into the office, told everything was great, and asked to sign a paper saying just that. Then I went back to my classroom.
Two significant events in the accountability landscape have occurred in Pennsylvania since then. In 2010, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Pennsylvania an $800,000 Momentum Grant. The purpose of the grant was to develop an evaluation system that included student achievement as one significant part. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), working with other stakeholders, closely examined Charlotte Danielson’s revised 2011 Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument and piloted it in 2010-2011 with three school districts and one intermediate unit. This measurement tool included four domains on which teachers would assess themselves and also be assessed by their supervisor: Read the rest of this entry »
What if your child (or a friend’s child) was told that because his music teacher doesn’t have a way to conclusively assess the way he plays the French horn, his seat in the orchestra would be determined on how high he scored on his spelling test? How could you explain to him his value as a musician?
As a theatre teacher in a New York City public school, I’ve been told I have a unique perspective on the arts’ role in education. What I consider to be the day-to-day of my job—making connections for my students, finding meaningful ways to grade their work objectively and articulate the significance of those grades to their parents, and finding ways to sneak performance and storytelling into other subject areas—other arts education professionals tell me is what makes my voice one worthy of a blog post on evaluation and assessment.
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.
This post, however, is not about how I use assessment or evaluation in my world. This is to introduce you to the new teacher evaluation system revealed in New York public schools, optimistically called Advance. Like all evaluations it is being put in place to raise the quality of teaching in New York and hold teachers accountable for doing good work in the classroom—an absolute necessity for educators (or anyone, really). And, in an ideal world, we would stand up and cheer, grateful that someone cares how we are doing as teachers. In fact, Advance is based on seven “Guiding Principles” that state that evaluation should: Read the rest of this entry »
Last February, when my fellow Arts Education Council members and I agreed on “the trifecta of standards, accountability and assessment” as the topic of AFTA’s September arts education blog salon, I noticed how ominous those words sound. Sitting in the council meeting, I pictured a pitchfork stuck in the ground, with the three prongs of standards, accountability and assessment serving a dark warning to any arts educators who dare get close to it.
I happen to think that standards and assessment systems can be good things, so the fact these thoughts crossed my mind is testament to how much baggage the words carry, particularly in the arts. They are also, for better or worse, here to stay. Recognizing they are tools that can be applied well or applied poorly, how does an arts education community begin incorporating those tools into practice in a meaningful way?
Last year, in Los Angeles County, we decided to try and start a broad conversation about arts assessment. We invited the research firm WestEd, which a few years earlier had conducted a comprehensive study of the state of arts assessment across the United States, to deliver a full-day seminar on assessment strategies, open to as many people as we could comfortably cram in a large meeting room.
We also asked WestEd to deliver smaller, more hands-on workshop sessions focused on rubrics. Why rubrics? We conducted an informal poll of school districts applying to us for matching funds for artist residencies, asking in which areas of assessment they felt they needed the most support. Rubrics were by far and away the most popular answer.
This was the first time that Arts for All had ever offered broad-scale professional development on arts assessment, and the first time in a long while that we had offered professional development to arts organizations and school districts simultaneously. How did we do in helping our constituents sort through all that baggage? Read the rest of this entry »
I have been teaching instrumental music in the same small inner-city elementary school district for going on six years. I’ve worked at several schools in the district, some of which have been supportive of the arts, and some have been less than supportive. Even in the most supportive schools, however, my classes have always been considered not as important as the “real” subjects taught in the homerooms. Presenting research on links between test scores and participation in instrumental music fell on deaf ears. I frequently came to work to find that my classroom (on the stage) was being used for something, whether it was an assembly of some sort, school pictures, or a dance, and my objections were always met with a vague response detailing how next time they’d let me know in advance. Students were often kept from going to my classes because their general education teacher needed more time with them. This was deemed simply more important because they are tested in those other subjects and not in my class. At one of my schools, I was even denied paper and pencils because the office manager had to “save it for the teachers.”
Enter our state’s NCLB waiver and the MCESA assessments. Maricopa County Education Service Agency partnered with WestEd to come up with a series of brand new tests for non-tested subject areas such as Art, Music, Theater, PE and Dance. So far, they have only created a computer-based standardized type test, so it does not yet encompass practical learning such as actually playing an instrument or singing. Our students are tested at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. The results of the test will detail how effective we are as educators, and it will be wrapped into our evaluation score.
I have had three evaluations in five years of teaching. Two of those were for my M.Ed. requirements a few years back. Most years I simply get a filled out evaluation in my mailbox at work, which I am told I need to sign. Some years I don’t get anything at all. Administrators simply don’t feel the need to see if the band teacher is creating and implementing effective lessons. With MCESA’s new evaluation and assessment process, not only will I be evaluated by my principal multiple times, I will be evaluated by a instrumental music instruction specialist from MCESA. Read the rest of this entry »
Assessment? Let’s get real. Bringing this word up with colleagues in community arts education is like dropping a tadpole into the lemonade. They start checking status updates on their phone or make an exit to “feed the meter.” If this is you, take 5 minutes to read this. It might help. If not, you are only out the time it takes for Facebook to refresh on your phone.
Assessment undoubtedly brings value to arts education, but in the context of community arts education I can never escape the feeling that I missed an important memo. I read, search the web, talk to colleagues go to workshops & conferences, read the AFTA / AEP / NAEA / NEA news, stay up to date on research, and think. A lot. I am familiar with the plethora of solid tools, good research, and logical standards out there, but they never seem to get to the heart of what is happening here. It is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Why is that?
It is because there are fundamental differences between out-of-school learning environments and schools. Learning in any environment covers the same basic quadrants: knowledge acquisition, skill building, practical application, and extended learning. There a few elephants in the room on this topic, but the one I am going to acknowledge is failure. To achieve in school, students cannot fail. To fail means you are not learning. Conversely, out of school, students fail, make mistakes and change course. Here, failure does not hinder your success. To the contrary, it is part of the process, because to fail means you are actively pursuing an idea. Schools and out-of-school learning environments complement each other, but have an opposing focus. They are two sides of the same coin. Read the rest of this entry »
The NEA has required applicants to address assessment of student learning in their applications to the NEA’s Art Works Arts Education category for many years. In our guidelines we state: “The National Endowment for the Arts is committed to rigorous assessment of learning in the arts. High quality assessment of knowledge and skills is critical to improving arts learning and instruction.” In particular, we ask how applicant organizations use assessment aligned with state or national arts standards to measure learning.
Throughout the course of reviewing applications over the years, panelists and NEA staff observed that many applicants with wonderful projects serving children and youth were not clearly articulating their assessment methods. There seemed to be some organizations deeply committed to, and already expert at, authentic assessment of learning in the arts, but the majority of applicants spoke about assessment in broad terms, mixing up program evaluation and assessment, or citing assessment methods that did not seem authentic to the arts, for example mixing up the word “test” with assessment. Were people really assessing, say, music performance using a pencil and paper test? And what were organizations doing with the results of their assessment efforts; were they using the data to improve teaching, deepen learning, inform program design? Read the rest of this entry »
In an ARTSblog post by Erin Gough on July 23, 2013, teachers are encouraged to be champions for the arts in ways that are often not a part of college preparatory curriculum. Erin notes that “too often, teachers believe that as long as their students leave their class with a little bit of technical skills and a lot of inspiration, they’ve done all they can to prove their value.” She then continues to connect the role of student achievement in the arts, in the form of student performances, plays, musicals and visual art presentations, to the role of teachers as advocates for student achievement in the arena of public policy makers.As a retired music educator (one of Erin’s teachers, I’m proud to say!) I would concur that my experience with arts teachers would support the premise that these teachers shy away from the very people and decision-making opportunities that ultimately affect both their art and their ability to be employed. Advocacy for advocacy’s sake is not the realm in which these teachers thrive and provide leadership. However, arts teachers do thrive and provide leadership in a realm that is important to public policy makers at all levels: student achievement.
Current trends in educator effectiveness systems require that evidence of student achievement be attributed to teacher evaluation, often in equal proportion with teacher observation. Arts teachers have long known that student achievement is the primary focus of instruction, and they have provided evidences of that achievement in the ways that Erin describes: student performances, plays, musicals and visual art presentations. However, student achievement must now be examined from the perspective of each individual student that a teacher instructs, and not from the conglomerate success achieved by an art show or a music/theatre/dance performance. Read the rest of this entry »
In a recent survey conducted by the College Board of nearly 1000 K-12 principals and superintendents, more than 75% of respondents said that nationally, arts education should be given a greater priority level than it currently holds in American schools. They also indicated that they believe that the primary benefits of arts education are that they strengthen students’ creative thinking abilities, bolster cognitive development, contribute to a well-rounded educational experience and enhance students’ emotional well-being. However, when asked what factors could most effectively work in favor of keeping arts programs in schools, school leaders responded the arts curricula need to clearly address state educational standards (in the arts as well as in other subjects), college admission requirements, and the Common Core standards. These two sets of answers at first seem unrelated, or at least as if they reflect completely different sets of priorities, but they are both true: the arts do provide significant and wide-ranging benefits including those cited by the administrators surveyed; recent research credits arts participation with bolstering creative thinking skills, increasing graduation rates, and improving students’ overall engagement with school. On the other hand, arts educators also know that the security and continuity of their programs often relies on their ability to draw connections between the activities of their classrooms and the content and skills emphasized in non-arts subjects. These kinds of connections don’t need to feel forced or artificial: arts experiences do authentically engage students in habits of problem solving, presenting their own original ideas, and analyzing and interpreting the ideas of others – all skills central to the Common Core, and to studies across the curriculum. Read the rest of this entry »