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Alaska Department of Education & Early Development
Chapter 5: Assessment
Assessment in the arts reveals what Alaskan students know and
are able to do and therefore should be based on high standards
for the arts and embedded in the arts curriculum. Assessment is
designed to be an ongoing part of the learning environment. Process
and product are both parts of arts assessment. Performance, art
making, talking, writing, and thinking are parts of the design
of each assessment strategy. As we approach the Twenty-first Century
and address issues of school reform, assessment holds a role of
ever-increasing importance in schools, programming, and the learner's
As we learn more about assessment, the challenges of designing
quality assessment for all learners become a major emphasis of
curriculum design. The arts have a rich heritage in performance
assessment that has served as a model for other subject areas.
We must continue testing our own practice, learning from others
and accepting the challenges to build innovative assessment strategies
into curriculum design.
The Arts Framework Development Committee has collected assessment
ideas and models to act as a guide and resource to teachers. We
encourage educators to use the models as a starting place to design
We believe that assessment in the arts:
- is essential and should impact learning, program development,
and professional growth in ways that produce effective practices;
- is built on a common language and clearly defined standards;
- allows learners to reach and exceed given standards;
- takes into account multiple solutions to complex problems;
- encourages learners to take risks in a supportive environment,
leading to personal growth and a positive self-concept;
- allows for individual differences and developmental levels
by measuring a diversity of knowledge, experiences, and skills;
- must be on-going, relevant, and connected to the learner's
- allows each learner to demonstrate competency and achievement
in a variety of ways;
- is a process of learning and allows multiple opportunities
for the achievement of goals;
- allows for self-assessment as an important component;
- encourages learners to transfer knowledge, resulting in a
self-reliant, lifelong learner.
|He who, in an enlightened and literary society, aspires to be a great poet, must first become a little child.
Thomas Babington Macaulay
|We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
William Butler Yeates
- Assessment in the arts is not only possible but necessary.
Every school district should develop reliable, valid, and useful
techniques for assessing student learning in the arts. Assessment
should be based on explicit objectives that identify clearly the
skills and knowledge expected of students. Many of the problems
traditionally associated with assessment in the arts have arisen
from objectives that are vague, ill-defined, or extravagant and,
consequently, are sometimes incomprehensible to students, parents,
and teachers. Assessment of learning, particularly in the arts,
is sometimes difficult and time-consuming, but it can be done.
If instruction is effective, then the student will in some way
change as a result.
Some arts teachers reject the idea of assessment on the grounds
that much learning in the arts is highly subjective. It is likely
that no single measure can fully define a student's behaviors.
It is difficult or impossible to assess the most intangible and
exalted qualities of artistic expression, but it is possible to
assess the practical, everyday skills and knowledge called for
in the arts standards. Effective assessment is essential for the
arts to remain among the basics of the curriculum.
- The purpose of assessment is to improve learning. It does
- informing students, parents, and teachers of individual and
group progress toward meeting the standards;
- demonstrating to students, parents, and the community the
types of learning and levels of achievement sought;
- furnishing teachers with information on the effectiveness
of instruction and thereby providing a basis for instructional
- making possible comparisons involving student achievement
across time and, when desired, among students, districts, or states;
- motivating student learning; and
- providing information to policy-makers at all levels to aid
- Assessment of student learning is not synonymous with evaluation
of teaching or evaluation of programs. The quality of teaching
naturally affects the quality of student learning. Similarly,
the quality of the school's instructional programs affects student
learning. Both of these variables can be evaluated. But, for purposes
of assessment, both may be thought of as separate from student
learning. Poor learning may be caused by poor teaching, by a poor
instructional program, or by other factors. If learning has not
been satisfactory, it is then important to identify why this is
so and to improve the situation.
|How to reconcile this world of fact with the bright world of my imaginings?
A valid assessment of an arts program not only would consider
the extent to which the school provides all students with the
opportunity to learn the arts, but also would reflect the variety
of arts offerings available, the percentage of students involved,
and their success in achieving the diverse types of learning called
for in the Alaska Standards for the Arts. Information concerning
the necessary conditions for effective learning may be found in
Chapter 1, The Starting Point, of this framework.
- Assessment in the arts requires various techniques in various
settings. Comprehensive assessment takes place in a wide variety
of contexts and settings, and each assessment context requires
different assessment techniques. While assessment techniques are
useful in more than one instructional setting, any discussion
of assessment techniques is meaningful only when linked to clearly
defined purposes. There is no general-purpose formula for assessment
that is useful in every setting.
|A dance is a measured pace, as a verse is a measured speech.
Sir Francis Bacon
Insofar as is practical, assessment information should be gathered
from various sources, using a variety of methods. Each source
has its own biases, and each information-gathering technique has
its own strengths and weaknesses. When information obtained by
various means is combined or considered collectively, weaknesses
in the various methodologies tend to cancel each other out, and
the assessor can have greater confidence in the results.
- Electronic technology (e.g., video, audio, computer
equipment) can play an important role in assessment as well as
in instruction. This is true because much of what artists do is
multimedia in nature and therefore cannot be adequately represented
on paper. Using technology, one can record, evaluate, or revise
performances. Technology can also be used in administering assessment
exercises to individuals and groups, as well as in pacing assessment
according to student readiness, in compiling results, and in charting
- Reports to parents should be based on standards. One of the
most common uses of assessment has traditionally been reporting
to parents on student progress or grading. Parents have a right
to assume that a good grade indicates knowledge and skill in the
course content. Therefore, assessment should be based on content
standards translated into objectives that are expressed in terms
of specific skills and knowledge. Standards-based objectives provide
the only justifiable basis for assigning grades. In fact,
other factors that have sometimes influenced grades in the artseffort,
progress, degree of talentare inevitably reflected in the achievement
|Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance, poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.
- Caution is needed in interpreting assessment results; assessment
results are only approximations of the complete truth. If more
information were available, the result might be somewhat different.
The larger the sample of evidence, the more confidence can be
placed in any conclusion reached. The degree of error that can
be tolerated depends on the consequences of the inferences to
be drawn. For example, if the stakes are high-as when a student's
promotion or admission to a select group hang in the balance-then
highly reliable measures are required and a broad sampling of
student learning must be considered.
Any materials or techniques used to assess student learning in
the arts should satisfy the guidelines suggested below.
- Assessment should be standards-based and should reflect
the arts skills and knowledge that are most important for students
to learn. Assessment of student achievement should
not be based on the skills and knowledge that are easiest to assess
nor on those for which ready-made assessment devices are available.
Instead, it should be based on the extent to which each student
has met the standards established, and it should reflect the priorities
of the instructional program.
|I spill my bright incalculable soul.
Assessment should not be based primarily on where the student
ranks relative to a particular class or group. It should be based
on whether or not the student has met specific criteria. In these
performance standards, separate criteria must be established for
benchmarks I (age range 8-10), II (age range 12-14) and III (age
range 16-18). (See Chapter 4, Instruction in the Arts, for sample
performance standards in each arts discipline.)
- Assessment should support, enhance, and reinforce learning.
Assessment should be viewed by both students and teachers as a
continuing, integral part of instruction rather than as an intrusion
into or interruption of the process of learning. The assessment
process should itself be a learning experience, and it should
not be conducted or viewed as separate from the learning process.
Students should regard assessment as a useful tool rather than
as a source of fear or anxiety. They should use it as a means
of further learning and as a means of measuring their own progress.
When assessment tasks are designed to provide information concerning
the extent to which students meet standards that have been established
for them, teachers can adjust their instructional programs so
as to be more effective.
- Assessment should be reliable. Reliability refers
to consistency. If an assessment is reliable, then another assessment
of the same skills or knowledge will produce essentially the same
results. For assessment to be reliable, every student must be
assessed by identical procedures and the assessors must share
the same levels of expectation so that a student's score does
not depend on who is doing the scoring.
|Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.
- Assessment should be valid. Validity means that the
assessment technique actually measures what it claims to measure.
The mental processes represented by the scores correspond to the
mental processes being assessed. No measurement instrument should
be used to measure something that it was not designed to measure.
If there is a mismatch between assessment strategies and the objectives
of the curriculum, the assessment strategies are not valid for
- Assessment should be authentic. Authentic assessment
means that assessment tasks reflect the essential nature of the
skill or knowledge being assessed. The student should actually
demonstrate a behavior in an authentic or realistic situation
rather than merely answer written questions about it. For example,
the ability to play the recorder should be assessed by having
the student play the recorder, not by having the student answer
test questions concerning fingerings, hand position, phrasing,
|All that is best in the great poets of all countries is not what is national in them, but what is universal.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Assessment should take a holistic view of learning. It should
not concentrate on isolated facts and minutiae but should deal
with broad concepts, "whole" performances, and complete
works of art. Authenticity, like reliability, is a prerequisite
- The process of assessment should be open to review by interested
parties. Although assessment of arts learning can best
be carried out by qualified arts teachers, it is important that
students, parents, and the public be provided with sufficient
information and help that they, too, can make judgments about
the extent to which arts learning are taking place in their schools.
It is especially important that students know what they are going
to be assessed on, how they are to be assessed, and what criteria
will be used to judge their achievement. When appropriate, they
should be allowed to participate in developing the criteria by
which their work will be assessed.
adapted from MENC: Performance
Standards for Music
|Identify desired goals and objectives
||What knowledge and skills should students have at the end of the unit or class?
- Should students be able to demonstrate movements in straight and curved pathways?
- Should students be able to sing music written in four parts, with and without accompaniment?
- Should students be able to understand there are different responses to specific artworks?
|Establish performance standards
||At what level should students perform?
- How well should students be able to compare how ideas and emotions are expressed in theatre, dramatic media, dance, music, and visual arts at age range 8-10?
- How well should students be able to demonstrate knowledge of the technical vocabulary of music at age range 12-14?
- How well should students be able to demonstrate rhythmic acuity at age range 16-18?
|Identify resources||What learning aids are available to support teaching and learning?
- People, books, audio and video recordings, prints, equipment, art supplies, musical instruments, performance spaces?
|Design and implementation instruction
||How can teachers and students use the resources to achieve the learning objectives?
- What strategies will motivate and actively involve students?
- What alternative approaches might be used to reach all children?
- How can instructional plans be adapted to meet changing circumstances?
|Design assessment tasks||What products or processes will illustrate what students have learned?
- A classroom discussion?
- A performance for parents and community?
- A portfolio?
|Design scoring methods||How will the performance-based assessments be judged?
- What constitutes outstanding or acceptable results?
- Is there a rating scale that shows how points or grades will be assigned?
|Identify next steps||How will teachers and students respond to different scores?
- What will students do to improve performance weakness?
- How might instruction be adapted to improve outcomes?
adapted from National Arts Education Association
(See also Sample Assessments that follow.)
An effective arts program utilizes a variety of assessment techniques
to gain a comprehensive picture of student progress and program
effectiveness relative to all four components of the arts curriculum.
The table below lists a range of possible assessment techniques
or strategies and indicates the individual (i.e., student
or teacher) who is expected to assume the major responsibility
for carrying out those strategies. Following the table are descriptions
of each assessment technique.
|Sample of Productive Work|
Samples of Productive Work. These samples result
from projects and assignments in which the student creates a final
product (e.g., dance composition or repertoire, monologue,
original play, costume or set design, vocal or instrumental repertoire,
musical composition, visual artwork, publication, or works created
through technology). Productive work means all the work done by
the student, including preliminary work (written notes, reportorial
worksheets or notebooks, sketches, mock-ups, models, discarded
drafts), in-process works, and any variations of the final product.
The student's work could result in an exhibition or performance
of the in-process works and final products.
Group Presentations/Performances. Group presentations
or performances can take visual, written, or oral form (e.g.,
visual displays, written stories or reports, panel discussions,
poetry readings, dramatic or musical performances). Students work
together to conceive, develop, and implement a project that could
involve a wide range of learning goals such as the production
or performance of works of art, the investigation of questions
about the historical or cultural heritage of an art form, or the
analysis of works of art.
|Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
Self-evaluations. A self-evaluation is a student's
oral or written record or critique of the processes, techniques,
and problem-solving strategies used in the execution of a given
work. Through self-evaluations, students can investigate their
strengths and weaknesses, become aware of their personal growth
and creative potential, and consider their relationship to the
Peer Critiques/Interviews. Individual and group
peer critique of student works are useful for evaluating not only
the works being critiqued, but also the conceptual understanding
of the students who participate in the critique. Valuable insights
may be gained from students' assessment of, and responses to,
the work and views of their peers. By engaging in the critique
of in-process works, as well as finished products/performances,
students learn to value the creative process. Through the analysis
of the work of their peers, students also learn to value the contributions
|Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.
Student Portfolios. A portfolio is a purposeful
collection of student works (preparatory, in-process, and finished
products/performances). Depending on the nature of the particular
art form, the format of the works in the portfolio may vary: for
example, video tapes, audiotapes, written work, drawings, paintings,
or photographs may be found in a student portfolio. Portfolios
can also include works generated through technology, journals,
reaction letters, research papers, self-evaluations, tests, and
other types of work. The portfolio provides a method for combining
a variety of assessment strategies and, over time, provides a
comprehensive view of student progress in the arts.
Student Contracts. A contract is an agreement between
the student and teacher that designates their expectations and
roles relative to a given task or project. The student and teacher
agree jointly on the goals and parameters of the task, but the
student assumes the responsibility of meeting the details of the
contract. As part of their contractual arrangements, students
may help develop the assessment guidelines for specific assignments.
For example, if a point system is used to evaluate the mid-semester
portfolio or a final project, the class may decide upon the criteria
to be evaluated and the maximum number of points to be designated
for each criterion. In this way, students can become actively
involved in their own assessment and more aware of the importance
of assessment criteria.
Student Journals/Sketch Books. Journal entries
chronicle a student's thoughts, reactions, and observations about
class activities and assignments, as well as experiences outside
the class which influence arts learning. The use of journals encourages
self-reflection and provides evidence of student involvement in
projects and assignments. When kept on a regular basis, journals
can provide a record of student growth in attitude, affect, or
disposition regarding learning in the arts.
|It is from the blues that all that may be called American music derives its most distinctive characteristic
James Weldon Johnson
Reaction Letters/Memos. Reaction letters are similar
to journal entries, but are assigned at regular intervals to provide
an organized and consistent method for assessment and review by
the student and teacher. Reaction letters can call for a wide
range of student input such as thoughts about class activities,
explanations of observed successes, suggestions for future involvement,
feelings about individual and group participation, responses to
specific texts and work in class, and responses to related topics
outside of class. As in journals, students may utilize a variety
of means (e.g., stories, poems, newspaper clippings, and
illustrations) to convey reactions to specific themes discussed
and explored in class. It can be helpful for the teacher to submit
reaction papers as well, either to the class as a whole or to
individual students when needed. It is also handy to place a "mailbox"
or "call board" in the room to allow students to write
reaction letters or short memos to each other. Some classes use
a "class book" to house all letters and memos. These
memos can reinforce the aesthetic valuing concept as students
learn to critique positively, asking for and giving suggestions
about elements in their work. To reinforce positive and sincere
feedback, the students and teachers may agree upon guidelines
regarding these shared letters and memos.
Graphic Organizers. These products are visual methods
of recording, comparing, and organizing information. These organizers
provide a visual for showing relationships, information, comparison,
and contrasts. Examples of graphic organizers include Venn Diagrams,
Know-Want-Learned charts, and concept webs.
Classroom Discussions/Participation. Classroom
discussions may be formal seminars, presentations, interviews,
panels, debates, fishbowls, or the day-to-day questions and comments
that arise in the course of preparing or considering works of
art. They may serve as self or peer evaluations or oral journals
or to help the teacher monitor individual or class understanding
and make instructional decisions.
Research papers. Research papers can be a valuable
resource in determining student comprehension and integration
of arts concepts. The written format offers some students another
avenue to present their learning.
Observational/Anecdotal Records. Teachers may gather
observational or anecdotal data by recording information about
student behaviors, attitudes, work habits, and degree of cooperation
with others. To collect observational data during class time,
teachers may use checklists with established criteria. Anecdotal
data using technologies ranging from pencil and paper checklists
to voice-over comments on videotaped productions can be collected
by recording descriptive notes during or after an instructional
period. In either case, both individual and group comments can
be used to document student performance and participation in class
Individual Interviews. Through interviews with
students, teachers can gain valuable insights about perceptions
regarding course content, assignments, and instructional approaches.
This technique affords teachers and students the opportunity to
address issues which other strategies may not allow. In response
to structured or unstructured questions, for example, student
viewpoints and opinions about the meaningfulness of their arts
learning may surface. An interview can also reveal student misconceptions
about teacher expectations, assignment objectives, and project
directions or procedures. Interviews can occur formally or informally
both during and after the completion of an assignment.
|A poem should not mean, but be.
Task-Based Assessments. These tasks or problems
require students to review and organize information, make inferences,
synthesize ideas, and design and execute a plan of action. The
teacher establishes the task parameters and identifies the criteria
for evaluating students. When establishing those criteria, the
teacher might consider questions such as the following: How well
did the student clarify the problem and procedures? Did the student
exhibit sophisticated problem-solving skills? Did the student
consider atypical strategies and solutions? Evidence for the evaluation
may come from a variety of sources, such as samples of preliminary
and in-process student work (written notes, diagrams, sketches,
models, etc.), anecdotal notes recorded by the teacher
during the task, oral or written self-reports by student, interviews
with students after completing the task, and any finished product/performance.
Videotaping or audiotaping could provide additional documentation
of student progress relative to the task.
Narrative Summaries. Teachers can record descriptive
narratives to summarize a student's progress throughout the course
of instruction. These summaries may be generated from one or more
of the previously described methods of assessment. For instance,
information logged regularly in observational and anecdotal records
could be combined with periodic reviews of portfolios to yield
meaningful documentation of a student's development over time.
Although this assessment technique is quite time-intensive, the
narrative summary is one of the most valuable reflections of a
student's intellectual, behavioral, and affective growth, and
one of the most accessible to students and parents.
Scoring Guides. Scoring guides, scales, or rubrics
define what traits are being assessed and the levels which may
be assigned to them. Traits may be as simple as hitting the correct
piano key to produce a certain note or as complex as the voice
in an author's short story. The levels can be simple as well:
a scale of 1 to 5, l being poor and 5 excellent, on each trait.
Or they may be complex, exemplifying what might be found in a
strong work, a mediocre one, and a weak one through detailed descriptions
Portfolio Criteria/Records. Teachers can provide
students with a list or criteria to guide the development of student
portfolios. The lists can include examples of each of the arts
learning objectives the student is expected to complete. Teachers
can combine scoring or judging strategies (e.g., rating
scales, checklists, self-assessments, and teacher interviews).
Quizzes/Tests. When constructed carefully, quizzes
and tests may be appropriate for assessing student attainment
of certain arts knowledge and skills. Teachers may use a variety
of item formats, including matching, multiple choice, short answer,
and extended essays. Effective test items can be written for assessing
a range of cognitive knowledge and skills, from simpler (e.g.,
naming, listing, sorting, and identifying) to more complex (e.g.,
comparing and contrasting, analyzing, and synthesizing).
adapted from Curriculum,
Instruction, and Assessments for Arts Programs
The Arts Framework Development Committee has collected assessment
ideas and models to act as a guide and resource to teachers. We
encourage educators to use the models as a starting place to design
- Literary Art
- Visual Arts