Archive for August 17th, 2010


Maine Arts Assessment Series: 3

August 17, 2010

Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH, August 3-5

Catherine Ring, AICE Faculty

This is the third post in a series to keep you updated on where we are with Maine arts assessment and where we are headed. This post was written by Catherine Ring who attended the New England Arts Assessment Institute with Rob Westerberg and myself at Plymouth State University in NH. I value Catherine’s experience as an art teacher, administrator and now instructor of teachers!

I spent three days in the White Mountains at Plymouth State University, attending the New England Arts Assessment Institute with Argy Nestor (no introduction needed) and Rob Westerberg (Music Teacher at York High School). We spent the time soaking up the keynote presentations and workshops, communing with art and music educators from New England, and working in strands to learn about and understand the important work of assessing arts learning in schools. Gail Kilkelly, my friend and colleague, (Vermont Dept. of Education) and Marcia McCaffrey (New Hampshire Dept. of Education) have spearheaded this project for four years and are leading the effort to put the arts on the map in public education. Great food, great music, great conversations and the gracious hospitality of Plymouth State University all combined to make a terrific learning environment for all of us.

As someone who spent years pondering the big questions about Arts Education, Assessment, Standards and, yes, Accountability, I must admit that my mind has changed dramatically since my initial reluctance to “put the Arts in a box”, back in the mid-1990s in Vermont. Having students assess their work became really exciting as I watched them become more articulate and thoughtful about their work. Teacher assessments of student art work became a launching point for discussions with students, and learning in the arts was deepened. In my mind, there was no doubt about it. Assessment in the arts really helped students to reflect and learn more deeply.

Since then, I became a school principal and now teach graduate level courses to teachers on integrating the arts in their classrooms. So when I was invited to join Argy and Rob to attend the New England Arts Assessment Institute, it felt a bit like homecoming. I met old friends from Vermont and I was delighted to participate in and learn about Arts Assessment at the regional and national level once again.

Rich Wells’ strand on Understanding By Design asked us to first consider the big ideas, the enduring understandings, the heart of what we teach. If you’ve got that defined, the skills and knowledge that are necessary to attain those understandings becomes clear. Assessing whether students meet the competencies then follows this logical path.

Arts assessment can help drive curriculum, staffing and budget decisions. The arts are already, by law, deemed to be “core academic subjects” in the No Child Left Behind Act, on an equal footing with math, reading, science and social studies. Yet the arts are still not given the time and resources that are necessary in order for students to learn what they need to know for the 21st Century. Assessing the arts will help ensure that they are given equal attention.

Do I still have questions about how all this can work?  You bet. Here are a few of them:

  • How can we create uniformly high standards in the arts without resorting to standardization?
  • Should we concentrate on developing formative assessments or do we give common summative assessments?
  • Is it fair to do common assessments in the arts when there is such variation in class loads, schedules, time with students in class, budgets for supplies and equipment and facilities?
  • How do we get all students to attain proficiency in the arts standards?
  • If the questions seem daunting, they do not detract me from knowing that we can find answers in Maine.

That is why I am looking forward to a larger conversation with arts educators throughout our state.  There’s a lot on the line here, and now is the time. As someone at the institute said, “Art…  is not just about making a living… it’s about making life worth living.”

I invite you to comment on this post and to continue reading about assessment in arts education!


Maine Arts Assessment Series: 2

August 17, 2010

Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH, August 3-5

Rob Westerberg, York High School Music Educator

I stated in a blog post dated August 3rd and called New England Arts Assessment Institute that music educator Rob Westerberg and art educator Catherine Ring and I would be attending the assessment institute. Rob returned and wrote this overview below. This is the second post in a series to keep you updated on where we are with arts assessment and where we are headed. Read how Rob’s learning is transforming and reaffirming his commitment to excellence in education!

Attending the New England Arts Assessment Institute from August 3rd through the 5th was a revelation for me. Authentic, valid, comprehensive assessment in the arts has long seemed to me to be an oxymoron with regard to content and measurement. Even without this hurdle, the mere practical logistics of doing so, especially in the large group ensemble or the elementary classroom that sees hundreds of students incredibly infrequently have seemed to make this an impossibility.

My eyes were opened!

The assessment strategies and goals we discussed at Plymouth State have transforming qualities for the students, teachers and arts programs of Maine. Standards based assessment CAN become a valued and essential component of Arts Education. The Arts ARE worthy of it, and I am convinced that it’s time to take seriously our calling to be “core”. The Institute shed light for all of us on how to make that happen.

The linchpins for me are the work that has been done at Campbell High School in New Hampshire via Phil Martin (a long time hero of mine in Music Ed) and the Common Arts Assessments Initiative implemented in 64 public schools in Connecticut through the efforts of Richard Wells and Scott Schuler, our current MENC national President. At Campbell, the entire school was created about 10 years ago with the purpose of implementing competency (standards) based assessment and reporting. Phil’s approach to this has been an extraordinary example of applying a common sense goal in an efficient and meaningful way. Iím looking forward to diving into more of the work he has done there. As for the Connecticut work, I am finally now able to see how dozens of standards may be assessed in any music class, especially the large ensemble setting. Connecticut has created a treasure trove of resources for us to begin examining and implementing.

If we are truly to be considered as “core” as the other disciplines in our public schools, we need to demonstrate not only why, but how. We’ve had the “why” part down for decades and garnering more reasons all the time. The “how”, in a measurable way that parallels those in the other disciplines, has been the holy grail for us in arts education and the time is clearly at hand to implement this work in Maine. This is not a new initiative, but rather a logical (and monumental) next step in establishing best practices for Maine’s teachers and students. Ironically, the greatest impact of this work may be the peripheral benefit of advocacy in a way that resonates with the voting public like never before. I think this is going to be an exciting time for us as we move forward!

The Arts ARE worthy of it! It’s time to take seriously our calling to be “core”, and it’s time to start finding out how.

I invite you to comment on this post and to continue reading about assessment in arts education!

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