Arts Integration and Performance Assessment

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Arts integration is often defined as a teaching method, a way to build the capacity of schools, something that policymakers should take notice of, and a way to build community. The method might involve bringing an art form into the classroom to support common core learning, building capacity in schools might involve supporting funding of arts specialists, policy might involve the national arts core standards, and growing community might involve building a community of practice. In this respect, one could do no better but to review the book edited by Gene Diaz and Martha Barry McKenna called, “Preparing Educators for Arts Integration; Placing Creativity at the Center for Learning.”

Narrow Evidence of Learning

Diaz and McKenna have edited a book that includes these topics and so much more, but I want to focus on the subtitle of, “placing creativity at the center for learning.” From my assessment point of view, creativity is essential because all kids have it and want to use it! The full use of their creativity is not even close to being tapped. And asking them to learn about exciting things but watch out for a tricky standardized test that narrows down your learning into one answer marked on a bubble test is a shame. It seems that evidence-based accountability to standards is much harder than anyone thought because the evidence one gathers in a standardized test is very narrow. Partially, this is due to the format requirements of standardized tests that can be given to everyone and scored by a machine.

Emerging Performance Assessment

So educators are recognizing that the emerging forms of accountability must now include performance assessments. One of the strongest parts of a standardized test format is the reliability is high…meaning that students who get the same questions right are very reliably meeting the same standards. One of the advantages to performance assessments is that students choose different ways to show they are achieving the same standards. So the emerging performance assessment must be better at collecting a more robust set of pathways to learning and this would begin to put creativity at the center of learning. Many think the barriers to this change in assessment from standardized bubbles to performance assessments is a policy problem alone, but I suspect it lodges with policymakers and with teachers, who need much better training in order to use this type of assessment to collect much better evidence of student learning as they attain standards.

Digital Culture

If we want to pick up on the differences in our students, performance assessment would naturally be more revealing about how they learn differently on their way to attaining standards. For example, our students who are digital natives, meaning they grew up in this digital era, are quite different from each other, and very different from us, their teachers, who are digital immigrants. Since we the policymakers and teachers have made the standards in art we naturally expect the students to follow the same learning pathways we did in making the standards. But the student pathways of learning are quite different now, and may have always been different in each succeeding era of schooling.

Digital Natives in Art

So is this a disconnect between the previous generation of learners, who then become the standard-setting teachers for the next generation of learners? Perhaps not, as the improvements sought by each succeeding generation may best be learned by the following generation precisely by the method of setting a standard. The difference is in allowing new learners to attain it in their own ways. The digital natives in art are much more experienced in searching for, combining together, and further manipulating images than we ever were. In this aspect, we might do well to humbly learn from them! But in guiding the educational conversations on the general truths of defining what is art, for whom was this art designed to influence, and for what purpose do we engage in art, we older generations still have something to say. Performance assessment in art may well be the more nuanced way for us to both set standards and attain them. And the dialogue this sets off is at the heart of a well-grounded community of practice, in art, or in anything else!