Art Works Blog

Report from NEA Roundtable on Arts Education Standards and Assessment

New Urban Arts artist mentor Abel Hernandez works on a logo design with a student. Photo by Jesse Banks III

On February 14 the NEA hosted a meeting titled Improving Arts Learning through Standards & Assessment: A National Endowment for the Arts Research Roundtable. More than a dozen experts in the education and arts education fields participated in panel discussions that examined arts learning standards and assessment in K-12 education from a variety of perspectives. Additionally, NEA Arts Education staff presented findings from a national study, Improving the Assessment of Student Learning in the Arts, commissioned by the NEA and conducted by evaluation firm WestEd. The report is the first nationwide effort to examine current practices in the assessment of K-12 student learning in the arts both in and out of the classroom. The findings from the report and the emerging themes from the meeting prompted a highly generative discussion from the public---observing either as invited guests or online through the live webcast.

The day opened with remarks from NEA Chair Rocco Landesman and U.S. Department of Education Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement James H. Shelton, III. Reflecting on the distinct value arts educators bring to the national conversation on assessment, Landesman stated, “I truly believe arts education can lead a movement to assessment of all student learning. Our best practices and rubrics are invaluable to anyone interested in teaching and learning. I believe we are positioned to actually be a leader in the school reform movement….” Shelton affirmed the chairman's statements by emphasizing arts education as core to the country’s ability to stay competitive, adaptive, and creative. He also spoke admirably of NEA's research efforts in arts education: “It is groundbreaking work and important work because it does not only shape the field for art, but it does […] lay the ground work for what education reform in this country should look like.”

The first panel discussion, moderated by Sandra Ruppert of the Arts Education Partnership, laid the groundwork for the day by commenting on the different dimensions of standards and assessment in a broad scope of general education and the implications of arts standards and arts assessment. Ruppert provided an overview of the history of arts learning standards and Common Core State Standards. Stuart Elliott, from the Board on Testing and Assessment at the National Academies, discussed research on the effect of standards and testing on student achievement. Offering a caution to the arts education field, Elliott stressed the importance of specifically defining 21st-century skills and the difficulty in measuring the transfer of those skills to other content areas. Mary Crovo from the National Assessment Governing Board gave an overview of the 1997 and 2008 Nation’s Report Card in the arts and spoke about the use of cutting edge assessments such as computer-based assessments. Samuel Hoi from Otis College of Art and Design spoke about arts learning in the context of the learner, stating that the “driving values of the economies of today are shifting from goods and services to those of knowledge and information,” and that the arts can inspire “future generations to become solvers of problems [and they will] need a kind of vision and compassion that can only come from experiencing multiple perspectives.” He also said, “We know the arts are not only conducive to but are uniquely powerful vehicles for developing success in the 21st century.”

Tim Magner from Partnership for 21st Century Skills moderated the second panel comprising Philip E. Shepherd from the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS), Nancy Rubino from the College Board, and Karol Gates from the Colorado Department of Education. Shepherd presented an update from NCCAS on undertaking the revision of the national standards in arts education. Convened by state education agencies and arts education organizations, NCCAS is revising the standards in a way that prepares students for 21st-century skills and also recognizes the importance of learning in and through the arts. He reported that the process is highly collaborative and through the NCCAS website people can track the progress of the writing and also comment on the standards when they are opened for public input later this year. Rubino reported on research that the College Board conducted to inform NCCAS in its revision of the standards. Gates reported on Colorado’s recent update of its state standards, and the state’s continuing efforts to implement the standards in order to cultivate post-secondary and workforce readiness.

Next up was Daniel Beattie, Acting Director of Arts Education at the NEA, who presented the NEA’s report Improving the Assessment of Student Learning in the Arts. He also related how assessment of participant learning is included in the NEA Arts Education grant guidelines.  According to the report, the field of arts education is eager to assess learning, but arts educators need professional development to create and implement high quality assessment tools and methods. Some encouraging news is that survey respondents report that the best assessment tools they’ve found have been created by teachers and teaching artists.

The third panel was moderated by Dennie Palmer Wolf from WolfBrown. It featured panelists Francisco Núñez from the Young People’s Chorus of New York, Tom Cahill from Studio in a School, Jean Hendrickson from Oklahoma A+ Schools, and Steve Seidel from Harvard University. Panelists shared how their organizations have designed their assessment systems, giving the audience a deeper perspective on implementing assessment in programming at the local and state levels. A highlight of the session was Núñez “assessing” the folks in the room after asking them to sing and clap a simple phrase. Seidel spoke about his work on the report Quality of Qualities, the different purposes of arts education, and the challenges of implementing standards and assessment in instruction. He spoke of “The tension between priorities and values, [and]… what goals and standards for learning should be. This is not an easy tension to live with.”

The last hour was a conversation, facilitated by Jack Lew of Laguna College of Art and Design, between the panelists and invited observers in the audience about ideas for moving the arts education field forward. This was an opportunity for the panelists to respond directly to questions from the audience, and discuss themes that arose throughout the day’s discussions.

Themes included:

  • the importance of collaboration when creating learning standards and designing assessment systems;
  • the field of arts education having the potential to become a leader in assessment;
  • 21st-century skills;
  • college and career success;
  • the use of new media/technology in assessment;
  • building “assessment literacy” in the field not just by providing access to tools, but training people to create and use tools that improve student learning.

To view this national conversation of standards and assessment of student learning in the arts, please be sure to visit the webcast archive.

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