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Role of Testing in Bolstering Arts Education

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Aug 22, 2016

The disparity between the arts and more traditional core subjects exists not only in terms of instruction time but also in terms of how, or whether, they are tested. Numerous states and arts stakeholders are now arguing that establishing clear guidelines for assessing arts learning in schools, and creating a culture wherein arts assessment is as natural as testing math, is crucial to legitimizing arts as a component of holistic education. Some, however, argue that in-school arts assessment will never be able to capture the true value of arts-based learning.

A recent article in The Hechinger Report noted that “this spring, with a six-district pilot, New Hampshire joined a small but growing list of at least a half-dozen states experimenting with large-scale arts testing. Educators prefer to call the new exams assessments, because they’re so different in form and format from traditional standardized tests. The goal, though, is to create a common “test” — often in the form of a project — that can be given to students in different classrooms across the state and used to help compare the performance of schools and districts.”

Importantly, “the push to find the best way to test the arts is coming from arts educators themselves in many instances. They hope to foster not only student improvement, but also a sense that the arts are as valuable to curriculum and society as such long-tested subjects as math and reading.”

However, the abstract goal of testing arts skills becomes more difficult when trying to establish clear measurements. “Multiple-choice questions might demonstrate if a student knows the quadratic formula or the timeline of World War II, but they can’t measure whether a student knows how to draw with perspective or keep a steady rhythm.”

In fact, some educators argue that the need to create a numeric representation of artistic talent is stifling and inaccurate. “You’re just coming up with a number to fill a box, and that angers me,” said one teacher. “I don’t feel comfortable saying, ‘This kid is a 2.’ ”

Still, there is growing consensus that without clear tools and willpower for assessing artistic growth in public schools, there may continue to be disparity in how state and federal education officials view the role of the arts in relation to traditional core subjects.

Read the full article here.

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