Posted in GAP News, Mississippi Art News

ARTSEDGE: Thinking Outside the Test

This week’s featured lesson from ArtsEdge, the Kennedy Center’s educational media site, explores a common question in teaching the arts: how to assess student learning well. This helpful overview is a Fact Sheet on their How To section. Learn more about Thinking Outside the Test after the jump!

One puzzle in teaching the arts is how to assess student learning well. You want to be respectful of student artists and their development, but you also have a responsibility to provide assessment for the educational system. The challenge is finding an assessment that balances what is best for the student artist while meeting accountability requirements.

Tests are not bad, (seriously). But testing does not necessarily tell us all we need to know, and should know, about student learning in the arts. The arts are multi-faceted and paper-and-pencil testing is rarely used to assess “real-world” art work. So we need the right tools to understand what our students are learning in the arts.

One answer lies in performance assessment. Performance assessment is often referred to as authentic or alternative assessment. In authentic assessment, student work is examined much like “real-world” work is assessed. Strategies that are found in the “real world” such as performances, critiques, and personal reflection are put to work in authentic assessment.

Understanding Performance Assessments

Performance assessment requires students to perform a task that results in a product (such as a sculpture or a composition) or a performance (such as a concert or a dance recital). Performance assessment tasks often take more time than traditional assessments. They are generally multi-step processes, requiring preparation and revision, and are completed with critique or reflection. There is often not one right answer to be circled on a page—indeed, the outcome may be complex and layered.

Grant Wiggins, author of Educative Assessment and one of the minds behind the influential Understanding by Design, identifies the following criteria for authentic performance assessment:

  • Produce “real-world” work. An authentic performance assessment is much like one found in a real-world setting. Performances can be assessment tasks, whether they are live concerts or mp3 recordings. Visual artwork presented in a school art gallery (or even in the hall outside your classroom) is another representation of “real-world” work.
  • Solve a problem. Students need to identify their own solutions to problems. And, typically, the problems are complex. Students may want to draw on knowledge and skill from other areas and integrate them into the solution.
  • Do the work. Rather than correctly filling in test bubbles to demonstrate learning, students integrate their newly acquired knowledge and skills by doing the work—dance, sculpt, improvise, harmonize.
  • Practice makes progress. Authentic performance assessment allows students to practice as well as receive feedback and have the opportunity to revise their work. In other words, performance assessment looks a lot like time in rehearsal or the studio. Authentic assessments utilize the circular loop of performance, feedback, and revision, ideally giving students the opportunity to develop their art work.

The Student and Self-Assessment

There are opportunities for both formative and summative assessment. Frequently, students document the process of creating the art work as well as creating a product or performance. Documenting the process can take on many forms. Students might journal about the rehearsal process in preparation for the production of a play, or they might collect and describe the sketches made in preparation for a painting. Self-assessments embedded in the process allow students to contribute to their own assessment through self-reflective writing and discussion. These elements give students greater participation in their own learning.

The arts are taught with students doing—they sing, they clap, they experiment with rhythm, they blend color, they improvise a frog’s jump. Assessments need to reflect instruction. Engaged and active instruction is best assessed by engaged and active assessment.

via ARTSEDGE: Thinking Outside the Test.



The mission of the Greenville Arts Council is to promote the rich cultural heritage of the region and stimulate and encourage cultural activities, arts appreciation, arts education, and the creative works of artists. Some of the responsibilities that help define the Greenville Arts Council as the primary promoter of the arts in our area include offering art classes to children and adults, organizing community events, presenting an ongoing series of free exhibits featuring visual artists from the area and the state, and coordinating educational programs which teach arts-integration in local schools. The Greenville Arts Partnership between the Greenville Arts Council, the Greenville Public School District and our three community arts partners, Delta Center Stage, Delta Symphony Association and the Delta Children’s Museum, is focused on full arts integration in the GPSD elementary schools. Plentiful research documents the value of the teaching in and through the arts to help students understand core academic concepts on a deep level. The partnership was the first in the state of Mississippi accepted into the Kennedy Center Partners in Education Program in 2003, joining over 100 other partnerships between school districts and arts organizations across the country. The partnership provides professional development for teachers, arts experiences for students and resource and referral on arts integration issues. Professional development has been provided in two ways, through workshops with Teaching Artists from the Kennedy Touring Roster and grade-level and/or discipline-specific professional development with our local staff. We present a series of model demonstration lessons to teachers in grades K to 6, demonstrating connections between Partnership free arts programming and required state frameworks. The partner arts groups present a series of live performances allowing each elementary child in the GPSD to attend at least once each year. The groups work with the Arts Council staff to develop accompanying curriculum-based educational material for distribution to teachers prior to each performance. Over the years, we have succeeded in providing basic arts integration training district-wide as well as in-depth professional development to allow groups of teachers to increase their level of mastery.