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The Challenges of Assessing Arts Education

Arts education teachers – and arts integration teachers in particular – are often asked, “how can you tell if the students are actually learning anything?

In other words, how does one go about assessing arts education? It’s not as clearcut as a scientific formula or a math equation.

But there are actually plenty of ways. In fact, teaching and assessing skills gained through the arts is quickly becoming the norm.

This isn’t to say that these assessments are simple though. In fact, they can be downright tricky.

Assessing Arts Education Is a Different Animal

The arts are simply more abstract. More qualitative than quantitative.

But good assessment in arts education requires many of the same concepts that assessment in any content area requires.

It just requires looking at it through a different lens.

To be clear, in most cases when people are talking about assessing what is learned, they’re referring to summative assessment. This involves measuring students’ achievement after they’ve completed the work. It often involves a grade.

There’s another sort of assessment though. Students are given criteria that describe high-quality performances, are provided with feedback, then encouraged to revise their work based on this. This is considered a formative assessment.

It’s much more focused on mirroring integral aspects of the artistic process. This requires students to take charge of their creations as they evolve. It encourages them to think and to work independently as artists.

It might seem that only formative assessment applies to arts education. But the thing is, good assessment in any content area utilizes both formative and summative strategies.

While formative arts assessment allows for the teacher and student to chart progress and then guide further development, it’s also important to clarify that the student actually learned the teaching. And this is summative arts assessment.

Then there’s “authentic” assessment.

What Is Authentic Assessment?

Any assessment that mirrors work done by real people in the real world is considered authentic assessment. For example, a standardized test would NOT be considered authentic. Real-life occupations don’t typically use them to assess performance or learning.

When students create art, authentic assessment is often utilized in arts education. The authentic assessment:

  • has a task that resembles one found in a real-world setting
  • encourages students to create their own solutions to problems rather than using just formulas or established procedures
  • asks students to “do” the subject, rather than regurgitate facts
  • requires students to integrate skill and knowledge – often from more than one content area – to solve problems and create solutions
  • allows students to practice, get feedback and revise performances and products

Essentially, authentic assessment utilizes a circular loop of performance, feedback, and revision. Using this form of assessment allows the student’s work to develop and evolve.

And this is key in arts education.

Using Arts to Assess Understanding

Then there’s the idea of using the arts themselves to assess academic understanding of topics. For example, using the arts to grasp the meaning of a historical text or math equation.

This is a major component of arts-integrated education.

A teacher may assess a student’s understanding of a historical text by having them write a quote or line they felt was really important from the text. Then they can explain in writing why they chose it.

From there, perhaps they draw a picture that relates to the main idea, to see if they have a grasp of what the text was saying. The teacher may have them list a couple of key terms or interesting facts. They can even add images or icons and then write captions for their images.

Or in the case of math, the teacher may ask the student to create two real-life experiences in explaining a math problem. Just coming up with two real-life experiences requires a great deal of creativity.

They then add drawings or images that illustrate different ways to solve the equation. And finally, the student is asked to describe the step that’s the most difficult to remember, then create with a clever strategy for memorizing it.

These are just very general examples, of course. But you get the idea.

Meeting Demands of the 21st Century

Obviously, it’s important to assess arts education. But whatever the case, it’s no longer viable to argue that arts education does not have tremendous value. It offers many benefits.

Decades of research into arts education shows that arts learning develops important skills that are vital to meeting the demands of the 21st century. These include the ability to:

  • Evaluate the quality and accuracy of content and recognize false information in the midst of a constant flow of data.
  • Think critically and work with a variety of tools including multiple modes of technology and media platforms.
  • Self-direct, collaborate and deliver creative problem-solving skills that employers want.
  • Manage temporary projects and frequent shifts in occupation as part of a gig economy.
  • Visualize their path and easily readjust as external realities are constantly changing.
  • Be curious, flexible, and embrace the multiple perspectives that are necessary for interacting with other cultures in this global society.

In a nutshell?

Arts education deepens social-emotional learning. But it also enhances global citizenship and sharpens the skills required to find success in the 21st-century.

Could You Benefit from an Arts Education?

As arts educators continue to empower future generations, the challenges of assessing arts education may become fewer. It’s hard to say for sure. 

But whatever the case, it’s bound to remain a critical component. As it well should.

If you’re interested in learning more about arts integration education and the many methods our instructors utilize to teach through the arts, contact us.

Our high school arts academy may be exactly where you or your child belongs.


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