Should The Arts Have Accountability? What Comprises A Good Assessment?

Arts Assessments
How do we address the vague nature of the arts in assessments?
Inherently, the arts in all forms are creative expression. Who is to judge what is good and what is not?
Is that the goal of an assessment in the arts subject to determine actual artistic quality?
Since there is so much testing already, do we want more?
Are you freaked out by the idea of tests in the arts?

Assessment is a complex subject. We always thought that the teacher gives out information, guides instruction of the information with students, gives an independent task to practice that information, and then tests.  Learning has changed (optimistic thought!). Now, the teacher is the facilitator of learning who asks questions, guides students to find information, coaches and troubleshoots, and then assesses or determines if and how the students will demonstrate their knowledge. The teacher must always continue to learn and keep up-to-date on their subject. This practice demonstrates the value of students becoming life long learners. Teachers now must understand that each student will process the information in terms of his or her world and the knowledge they already have. No passive learners!  So, essentially the teacher has the task of evaluating where the students are, making a plan, implementing the plan, and assessing the plan.

Assessment, as a result, can serve multiple purposes. It can be used as an analysis of learning, an assessment for learning, or as a complement to instruction.

Assessment OF Learning

This type of assessment is the one with which we are most familiar — the test. In the arts, the “test” may take a variety of forms. One is a performance evaluation,  and it can be in a group or as an individual. I believe it is important to know where a student started to get an appraisal of where they are now and give a “grade” based on a combination of progress and effort. The grade should not be based on talent. There should be a rubric with criteria and the test should measure that criteria.  Effort is an obvious plus. Comparing a student’s progress to that of their peers is used in this type of assessment. This assessment is passive since the student has little input on the process. The student has the assessment “done” to them. They participate, but it is not interactive. You do what is asked. This can provide a scale on which to base long-term goals and outcomes of each student.  I don’t favor this type of assessment because some students are good at tests and some are not. It isn’t always an accurate demonstration of knowledge. Some students work for the extrinsic reward of the grade and not the intrinsic desire for learning and getting better at something. The former may not engage the student for the end outcome of making the arts a part of his or her life and gaining a deeper understanding of artistic expression. It does not measure “the process.”

Assessment FOR Learning

In this model, both students and teachers may use knowledge gained from an assessment or evaluation to modify instruction. Students are active participants as they use the evaluation knowledge to go further. The students compete with themselves. This assessment is often referred to as formative assessment. Teachers and students gauge where they are, based on where they started and where they need to go. This is not a formal test, but often a part of the instruction, perhaps an oral or written answer to a question or a demonstration of performance or visual art technique. A student is never compared to his or her peers, rather evaluated based on a rubric of the student’s own creation. Students appraise their own progress on the spectrum of expected learning outcomes. This information will affect changes in learning as students actively seek to improve areas where they need improvement. As well, it can identify new areas for learning. This process can strengthen self-esteem and boost positive learning attitudes. A student is engaged and responsible for his or her learning.

Assessment AS Learning

This assessment is for reflection and is done by the students. Future learning is informed by a student’s own evaluation of what he accomplished. Evaluation of what their outcomes are in both criteria-referenced (instruction) and self-referenced (personal growth) are considered. This assessment is a formative process. It can be done as frequently as possible with the student taking an active role.

For example: a vocal student tapes a voice lesson. These opportunities give the student a chance not only to review the corrections the teacher imparts, but also gives the student the opportunity to evaluate herself in the context of what the teacher is saying and what the outcomes should be. Assess and learn, learn and assess.

Several years ago, my son would wake up very early to go to skating lessons (5:30 AM so he could get to school).  He did this for a long time and he did improve, but one day, soon after the Flip camera came out, the teacher said, I will film you and you will see you are not doing what you think you are.  The astonishment of an twelve-year old!  I have experienced this myself. Painful as it is there is no denying what is on tape or film.

The teacher as a mentor or facilitator is very important in this learning model. Teachers can give more or less guidance depending on the age and development of their students. Throughout this process, students can and will take ownership of their learning and they will get better at the tasks with experience.


Wikipedia says: In education jargon, the word rubric means “an assessment tool for communicating expectations of quality” or “a standard of performance for a defined population.”

In the arts, assessment is challenging because of the subjective nature of the various media. It is a complex process with much to consider. Aesthetic value judgments will affect the outcomes. No two people will hear or see the exact same thing in a work of art or in a performance. The goal is to create a rubric for evaluation that is as specific and fair as possible.  Performance, even more than a finished work of art, is bound to be different every time. This characteristic makes the summative formulation very difficult. Assessment of learning and progress must evolve and assessment can be made in reference to a point in time. Specifically, where a student started and where he or she is now can be noted. Evaluation should take place for instructional purpose.

Rubrics are necessary. Evaluation is necessary. Both serve an instructional purpose. Students can collaborate to create the rubric with teacher input. Students should be aware of what the rubric elements are not only so they know what the evaluation criteria is, but also to inform them of what they should be doing daily to make progress.  The content standards can be incorporated into the rubric to assure these standards and ones for integrated academic areas are met.

The focus of the learning and the objectives of the assessment must be defined along with the performance criteria and learning outcomes, which can include proficiency levels. There are many options to create a rubric, and the outcomes may be as individualized as each student is.

This is an example of a rubric I have used:
They can be created on several websites:
Why Assess?

Okay. So now you are wondering in this world of so many tests, why assess at all? After all, aren’t the arts supposed to be fun? Well, yes, learning most of the time should be fun. Everything isn’t fun, but in the long run, mastering something and having the facility that comes with that mastery and knowledge is fun. It puts the student in charge.

I believe that the arts –all of them–are a critical part of a well-balanced education. Even if the trend were not that right-brain thinking is important to development and career readiness for the future, I would believe this. Art is the essence of the human experience and self-expression. It is communication and without the arts, our world would be pretty flat and dismal. Think about how the arts affect your life every day. The creative pursuits offer many job opportunities themselves and aid in problem solving and design skills.  The idea of assessments is not to stifle the creative process, it is to enhance it. So why would you not want to know that you are getting better?  Why would you not want to deepen your level of understanding and discipline yourself to grow and be the best you can be?

Why not?

What comprises a good, or “authentic” assessment?
  • Insist on excellence-do the best you can.
  • Not an assessment of talent here, but effort and work ethic. Self discipline should be taught.
  • Make assessment as close to real-life experience as possible.
  • The “do” of the subject matter should be the largest part of the assessment, rather than the repeating of facts or information.
  • Allow student to use imagination and innovation skills as much as possible.
  • Use skills to solve problems and self assess. Then receive feedback and revise.
  • Appraisal from audience – performing  and visual arts should stimulate a variety of different responses.
  • Self-assessment- formative and summative.
  • A variety of assessment tools to get an accurate picture – written, oral, visual, aesthetic. Multiple assessment tools bring a variety of perspectives to fully understand a student’s artistic work.
  • Remember everything in the arts is a “work in progress.”
Tasks for a summative arts assessment should include:
  • Related to the Instruction
  • Provide Challenge
  • Understand the Artistic Process and Creative Expression
  • Demonstrate:
    • Performing arts: Create, perform and respond
    • Visual Arts: Create and respond
Categories: 21st Century Education, arts assessments, arts for arts sake, Arts Integrated Education, creativity, critical thinking, Education reform, grades, Innovation, intrinsic reward, Life Long Learners, mastery, UncategorizedTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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