Translate

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Art of Testing

The Art of Testing
by Kristine Hughes

Educators are pushing for standardized assessments of
knowledge in such subjects as painting and music. In
today's high-stakes environment, they feel they have
little choice.

A group of high school seniors sits tensely, about to
take one of the highest-stakes tests of their K-12
years: They won't be able to graduate until they pass,
and their school‚s state-level rating depends heavily
on their scores. Arranging pencils and multiple-choice
bubble sheets nervously atop their desks, they wait
anxiously until, at their teacher‚s signal, they open
the test booklet to the first question.

"Which 1913 dance," it asks, "was the first to
incorporate a combination of slow and quick steps:
waltz, flamenco, or fox trot?

While standardized tests with questions like this are
rare, arts educators across the country are rushing to
endorse them. At a time when pressure to meet
performance standards is surpassed only by pressure to
keep budgets in the black, many see the assessments as
a way to justify their budgets, ensure the future of
the subject matter in their schools‚ curriculum, and
improve their teaching in the bargain.

"There isn‚t any doubt that what's frightening for
teachers is, "If it‚s not assessed, should it be
taught?‚" says Alex Wagner, an elementary school arts
teacher in Pinckney, Michigan. Her district created
its own arts test for 7th graders about five years
ago˜a rarity, as she discovered this past summer while
attending a National Art Education Association
discussion on visual arts assessments.

„Each test question was based on a district standard,
or benchmark, so that we methodically covered the
entire curriculum,‰ Wagner says. „At the end of each
year, we get a computer printout indicating how well
students did on each question, [and] we use that
information to inform our teaching practices.‰ What‚s
more, the district has since taken the assessment
process a step further. Students are asked to respond
to a variety of questions by, for example,
illustrating one-point perspective or designing a
monument. Their responses are scored by a team of
teachers from all grade levels. A portfolio
requirement will be added next.

While most school districts use fine arts standards
developed at the national or state level to define the
scope of instruction, as well as expectations for the
knowledge and skills students should acquire, fewer
than 10 states have mandated testing to assess that
knowledge; most of those are still being phased in.
Where districts do conduct testing, it‚s often done
„more or less on a voluntary basis,‰ says Jean Yan, a
senior study director for the research and consulting
company Westat. In a review of current assessment
applications in the fine arts for the Maryland State
Department of Education, Yan found that about 20
additional states are still exploring arts assessment
possibilities, but she adds that it will take
considerable time and effort for them to work out the
logistics of administering the tests.

Many see assessments as a way to justify their
budgets, ensure the future of the subject matter in
their schools‚ curriculum, and improve their teaching
in the bargain.The obstacles are complex and abundant.
There‚s the fundamental conundrum, of course, of how
to test a subject as subjective as fine arts. Include
the cost of teaching all fine arts content areas to
all students and then testing them at a time when arts
funding is already limited, and the challenges can
seem insurmountable.

„Not every school has the human resources to teach
each art component. But if students don‚t receive the
instruction, they cannot be tested, and that‚s a big
hurdle,‰ Yan says. „That situation is very common in
many states.‰ Oklahoma, for example, scrapped its
statewide arts assessment at the end of the 2003-04
school year after tracing students‚ low scores to
inconsistencies between what was taught and what was
tested. Arts testing is now left to individual
districts.

Even if these bumps can be ironed out, not everyone
thinks testing the arts is a good idea. State
accountability assessments include more subjects every
year, and since each subject can affect a school or
district‚s overall performance, critics question the
wisdom of testing a topic that they consider
supplemental rather than an essential life skill, such
as math or reading.

„We are in a public education environment of tight
budgets coupled with the need to increase student
performance. School districts should therefore have
sharp focus on core academics,‰ says Bill Ames, a
standards-reform activist in Richardson, Texas. „Using
a football analogy, a coach should not teach trick
plays until his team is adept in basic blocking and
tackling. Those who believe art is as important as the
three R‚s should seek out special educational
opportunities for their children.‰

Arts educators and advocates say that‚s the very
thinking they are trying to counter. They assert that
art is a necessity, not a luxury, and should be part
of every student‚s education˜a view shared by
then-Secretary of Education Rod Paige in a July letter
to superintendents. In the letter, Paige writes that
art is considered a core academic subject under the No
Child Left Behind Act. „I believe the arts have a
significant role in education both for their intrinsic
value and for the ways in which they can enhance
general academic achievement and improve students‚
social and emotional development,‰ the letter states.

Wagner and other arts education advocates hope
standardized assessments can help them prove that
point. They acknowledge the difficulty of setting up
tests that cover all the bases but say that neither
they nor their charges can afford to be without them.

„ ŒAssessment‚ is the hot word of the 21st century,‰
Wagner says. „In school, you want to have a balance in
learning. ... We‚re part of the big picture, and we
should be part of the assessment picture.‰



http://www.edweek.org/tb/2004/12/28/83.html

TalkBack

Testing and the Arts

Educators are pushing for standardized assessments of
knowledge in subjects such as painting and music,
according to Teacher Magazine. In today's high-stakes
environment, they feel they have little choice.

What's your view? What do school arts programs stand
to gain or lose by using standarized assessments?

6 comments:

  1. What a very interesting entry on alabama home schooling. You may also like to know that our publication at www.SuccessfulHomeSchooling.net is also a great resource on alabama home schooling and associated areas Enj oy

    ReplyDelete
  2. You have an incredible blog here! I really enjoyed the topic you chose to write about. I'm definitely going to bookmark you! I have a small business franchise opportunity site. It pretty much covers small business franchise opportunity related stuff. Come and check it out if you get time :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous12:09 PM

    Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!
    I have a ##KEYWORD## site/blog. It pretty much covers ##KEYWORD## related stuff.

    Come and check it out if you get time :-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. How Would You Like To Know How YOU Can Live In A Beautiful NEW House That Is Custom-Designed To YOUR Specifications.........And At NO COST To You?

    You CAN Do It. And It's Not Hard To Do.... IF You Know HOW.

    Don't Let This Pass You By Without At Least Taking A Look.

    The Only Catch Is That You HAVE To Have An Income ABOVE $21,000...... And......You HAVE To Follow The Easy Instructions Provided To You.

    Get-A-Free-House.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!
    I have a erase bad credit site. It pretty much covers erase bad credit related stuff.
    Come and check it out if you get time :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great Blog! I wanted to share this with you. Are you tired of the Internet Marketing Rat Race? easy home business opportunity


    Check this out when you have time :-)

    ReplyDelete