Designing Evidence-Based Measures of Student Learning
From the National Core Arts Standards
“In education, what is chosen for assessment signals what is valued. In other words, the evidence that is collected tells students what is most important for them to learn. What is not assessed is likely to be regarded as unimportant. Sample model cornerstone assessments are provided within the standards to illustrate the type of evidence needed to show attainment of desired learning. This idea is key to backward design: the assessments bring the standards to life by illustrating the demonstrations of desired learning and the criteria by which student performances should be judged.
Standards-based curriculum and associated instruction can then be designed “backward” from key assessments that reflect the desired outcomes. Jay McTighe (2011), describing the characteristics of cornerstone assessments, wrote “They:
- are curriculum embedded (as opposed to externally imposed);
- recur over the grades, becoming increasingly sophisticated over time;
- establish authentic contexts for performance;
- assess understanding and transfer via genuine performance;
- integrate 21st century skills (e.g., critical thinking, technology use, teamwork) with subject area content;
- evaluate performance with established rubrics;
- engage students in meaningful learning while encouraging the best teaching;
- provide content for a student’s portfolio (so that they graduate with a resume of demonstrated accomplishments rather than simply a transcript of courses taken).
Unlike externally-developed standardized tests that interrupt instruction occasionally, cornerstone assessments are curriculum-embedded. Indeed, the term cornerstone is meant to suggest that just as a cornerstone anchors a building, these assessments should anchor the curriculum around the most important performances that students should be able to do (on their own) with acquired content knowledge and skills. They are intended to engage students in applying knowledge and skills in authentic and relevant contexts. They call for higher order thinking (e.g., evaluation) and habits of mind (e.g., persistence) in order to achieve successful results. Their authenticity and complexity is what distinguishes them from the decontextualized, selected-response items found on many tests. Cornerstone tasks serve as more than just a means of gathering assessment evidence. These tasks are, by design, “worth teaching to” because they embody valuable learning goals and worthy accomplishments. Accordingly, they should be presented at the beginning of a course or a unit of instruction to serve as meaningful and concrete learning targets for students. Such assessment transparency is needed if standards are going to be met. Students must know the tasks to be mastered well in advance, and have continued opportunities to work toward their accomplishment.
The illustrative cornerstone assessments included in the standards reflect genuine and recurring performances that become increasingly sophisticated across the grades. Just as a keel protects boats from aimless drift, these tasks are designed to prevent “curriculum drift” by helping educators and learners always keep the ends—lifelong goals—in mind. For these reasons, cornerstone assessments are included in the National Core Arts Standards project. The standards are built with the expectation that schools or districts will value the understanding and transfer of knowledge and skills that will come with a standards-based curriculum in the arts and therefore, acknowledge that they are important curricular goals. Moreover, NCCAS hopes that the inclusion of cornerstone assessments in this project will focus the great majority of classroom- and district-level assessments around rich performance tasks that demand transfer. These assessments also provide the basis for collecting the benchmark student work that illustrates the nature and quality of student achievement envisioned in the standards. This paradigm shift in measuring student learning in the arts will offer relevant and reliable evidence of what students truly understand and know how to do, for it is only when students are able to apply their learning thoughtfully and flexibly to a new situation that true understanding of the content is demonstrated. Integral to each model cornerstone assessment are key traits. Key traits describe the criteria or “look-for’s” used to build evaluation tools for open-ended performance tasks. The lists of key traits included in these example performance tasks disclose for students and teachers what skills and cognitive demands are being asked for in the task.” (p. 15)
In today’s blog, I have given over the entire issue to published information from NH Department of Education, to explain the use of graduation competencies and how performance assessments will be used to assess those competencies. This information has been policy since March 25, 2015.
Learning Guidelines for using Performance Assessments
New Hampshire students will be college and/or career ready by demonstrating learning in each of the four arts competencies—Creating, Presenting, Responding and Connecting—in one or more of the arts disciplines of dance, media, arts, music, theatre, and visual arts to achieve artistic literacy.
Competency #1: Creating
Applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline, students will demonstrate the ability to create in the arts.
Demonstrations of Learning in Creating
For creating, students will apply the skills and language of a specific arts discipline to conceive and develop artistic ideas and work by:
- generating, conceptualizing, and organizing artistic ideas
- refining and completing artistic ideas
Competency #2: Presenting
Applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline, students will demonstrate the ability to present in the arts.
Demonstrations of Learning in Presenting
For presenting, students will apply the skills and language of a specific arts discipline to convey meaning and communicate ideas of completed works by:
- analyzing, interpreting, and selecting artistic works for presentation
- realizing, developing, and refining artistic works for presentation
Competency #3: Responding
Applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline, students will demonstrate the ability to respond in the arts.
Demonstrations of Learning in Responding
For responding, students will apply the skills and language of a specific arts
discipline to evaluate how artworks convey meaning by:
- perceiving and analyzing artistic work
- interpreting intent and meaning of artistic work
- applying criteria to artistic work
Competency #4: Connecting
Applying the skills and language of a specific arts discipline, students will demonstrate the ability to connect in the arts.
Demonstrations of Learning in Connecting
For connecting, students will apply the skills and language of a specific arts discipline to relate personal meaning and external context to specific works of art and during the art-making process by:
- synthesizing and relating knowledge and experience to artistic ideas and artistic work
- applying societal, cultural, and historical contexts to artistic ideas and artistic work
New Hampshire Arts Model Competencies are one in the set of state competencies that establish key learning outcomes for driving education reform in the state. The New Hampshire education redesign effort has spanned a number of years, beginning in 2004 with an extensive review of current practice and hoped-for reform; however, New Hampshire’s work with competencies goes back to 1997 with the development and implementation of New Hampshire’s Competency Based Assessment System (CBAS).
The department’s current innovative work focuses on educational transformation (New Hampshire’s Story of Transformation) on a larger scale whereas competency-based education is fundamental to the shifts in the delivery and design of education for all New Hampshire students. Central to educational reform in New Hampshire is preparing students for college and career. In 2015, the New Hampshire State Board of Education adopted the New Hampshire Arts Model Graduation Competencies as one resource in a set of content-specific state model competencies for purposes of supporting and promoting positive change and improved student outcomes which, therefore, will better prepare students for success during and beyond high school.
The New Hampshire Arts Model Competencies were created by a committee of state experts in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts education, represented by practicing teachers and faculty members from our institutes of higher education who prepare teachers in each of the arts disciplines. The committee was facilitated by Marcia McCaffrey, Arts Consultant for the NH Department of Education. By decision of the committee, the 2014 National Core Arts Standards were used to inform the overarching goals of the arts competencies.
The New Hampshire Arts Model Competencies are centered on the four artistic processes, or competencies, of Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting. These four competencies span all grade levels and apply to all arts disciplines. These competencies represent the “how” of the arts. What this looks like in each arts discipline and in every arts-based classroom and school-based arts studio around our state is determined at the local level. The National Core Arts Standards, which may be used as a resource at the local level, provides one view of how these competencies scaffold grade by grade and are expressed in the individual arts disciplines of dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts.
It is reasonable to consider these “graduation” competencies as overall PK-12 competencies; Preparing students to graduate from high school does not begin in grade nine. Getting students ready to graduate from high school and be college and/or career ready begins as soon as the young learner enters education, not exits. Therefore, these Arts Model Competencies are for all students and teachers along the educational continuum.
These competencies set-forth demonstrations of learning that translate seamlessly to authentic applied learning, such as project-based, inquiry-based, and performance–based assessment tasks. Since the release of the competencies in 2015, the New Hampshire arts education community has been building model tasks for assessing student learning in the arts that are aligned to the state Arts Competencies. The discipline specific performance standards from the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) and the eleven NCAS anchor standards provide more specific goals and expectations for student learning in individual arts disciplines (dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts). These two sources, the NH Arts Competencies and the National Core Arts Standards, are the primary documents for arts education in the state at this time.
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