My View: Grading art in a standardized-test world
June 25th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

My View: Grading art in a standardized-test world

Courtesy Dunbar LylesBy Katie Lyles, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katie Lyles has been teaching art in Jefferson County, Colorado, for seven years. In addition to her classroom duties, Katie has been part of her school’s cabinet, the Jefferson County Strategic Compensation Steering Committee, and the Leadership Academy for the Colorado Education Association. She was also a member of TURN and a delegate representative for JCEA.  Katie is part of the steering committee for the Center for Teaching Quality’s New Millennium Initiative.

It takes a thick skin to be an elementary art teacher. And it’s not because of the clothes ruined by paint, the challenge of finding storage space for over 500 sculpture projects, or the glitter that sneaks into the most unlikely places.

No, what requires a thick skin is continually battling public perception that art—especially at the elementary level—is an “easy break in the day” for students. When I tell people that I’m an art teacher, I’m often greeted with a patronizing response that goes something like this: “Awwww! It must be fun to color all day!” That’s usually followed up with a stimulating question such as, “Do you have any students who eat glue?”

Truth be told, I do have fun coloring all day…while teaching color theory, elements of landscape, how to create visual interest through patterns, and the difference between a portrait and a still-life—and this is just with my second graders (who, by the way, have never attempted to eat the glue!).

Sadly, most people’s perceptions about art education come from their personal experience as students. Art classes look a lot different from a seven-year-old’s perspective than from a teacher’s perspective.

For one thing, teachers are responsible for measuring students’ competency and progress in art. With the assessment lens ever widening—and teacher evaluations often based on student performance on standardized teststhe question of how to assess subjects that do not have a standardized test attached to them is a complex but necessary question.

Some may be shocked to know that subjects like art are, in fact, tested, but not in a fill-in-the-bubble-while-your-palms-sweat way.  I test my students in a variety of ways, which I believe leads to a more accurate evaluation than one-time standardized tests.

Using multiple measures may not be ideal for a quick, state-wide assessment, but from my experience, this “portfolio approach” yields more accurate results for a subject like art, where the concepts are demonstrated through project-based learning. A portfolio approach allows teachers to measure different projects and assessments by a student rather than just one test.  This allows for a more accurate view of a student’s learning and growth because it uses a variety of assessments and data points to measure a student’s understandings.

Allow me the indulgence of describing my “perfect world” scenario for assessing art classes.  Teachers would look at the following to evaluate students (and to improve our own instruction at the same time):

• Works in progress: Are students applying concepts and skills outlined in the curriculum guide? In art, it is important to measure the process and not just the final product because students demonstrate many concepts as they’re working. This formative evaluation leads to a more accurate assessment of a student’s understanding.

• Videos of student/teacher interactions: Video can help teachers look closely at students’ engagement during lessons, as well as identify and troubleshoot spots of confusion.

• Written answers to questions: Not only do written questions reinforce writing skills, but they assess students’ understanding of vocabulary, safety instructions, and overarching topics of instruction.

• Final project: How does the end product incorporate concepts and skills that were taught?  Here, teachers are measuring demonstration of the outlined curriculum—meaning students don’t necessarily need innate artistic talent to meet the grade-level standard.

In this ideal world, technology plays a large role. Teachers can collaborate and learn from one another using online data banks of student lessons. Teachers in the same non-tested content area can use similar projects to increase reliability among the outcomes.

Online tools allow for the creation of online galleries that showcase not only students’ finished art products, but the learning process as well—which is so essential in a subject like art.

We already have a great information bank from generous bloggers who devote time to sharing their content area lesson plans. I’ve found projects outlined in a photo-gallery style that align with the curriculum content standards from my district, and have tried them out in my own classroom.

Not only can using online galleries help assess student work, they can also help connect parents to what’s happening in the classroom.  Having an evaluation program like this would also help me improve, since I’d be able to see my teaching through an objective lens. Teaching colleagues could also comment and offer advice.

Best of all? The public can see for itself that my students don’t eat the glue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Katie Lyles.


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Filed under: Art • Curriculum • Elementary school • Practice • Teachers • Voices
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Sally

    She is right on in terms of how I asses my elem. art students even though I am not required to give them a grade for skills in my district-we grade 4 and 5th graders solely based on effort and participation. HOWEVER, that is all changing in VA next year because of the Federal standards for teacher evals. at least in the state of VA. Std 7 will require me to photograph student work (like pre instruction drawing and post instruction drawings). I will then be evaluated by a committee of my peers(as we all will) on whether my students show growth. On the positive side, I will be judged on art standards via a rubric(instead of how well students did on math or reading tests!) but on the negative side, hours of more work photographing/organizing student work as well as helping serve on an unpaid committee to judge other art teachers' student work. As I understand it, this is all coming from the Feds, down to the state level and impacts ALL teachers-music, PE, computers, media, etc... It is left up to your own districts as to how you will be evaluated. Has anyone else heard from their Central Office how your special area teachers are going to be evaluated next school year??

    June 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  2. girlfriend

    Many surgeons have 3 dimensional drawing skills.

    June 26, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  3. mikl longstaff

    sorry ... it lost all it's formatting. email me for an attachment an essay. mikl

    June 26, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • Suzanne

      email?

      June 26, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
      • mikl longstaff

        mikl.longstaff@carey.com.au

        I am a primary (elementary) art teacher in Australia.

        June 26, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  4. mikl longstaff

    In terms of student assessment, the following rubric is used.

    Art Prep – Year Three Assessment Rubric NAME: CLASS:
    WELL BELOW BELOW AT YEAR LEVEL ABOVE BEYOND
    Participation (commitment, self direction, contribution to class, collaboration) Ideas, Planning and Design (idea generation, strategies and application to achieve results) Approach to Work(perseverance, time management completion) Participated and contributed rarely to classroom activities and discussions.Demonstrated a minimal ability to generate individual ideas and develop strategies to achieve desired outcomes.Worked inconsistently and completed some work requirements. Participated and contributed seldomly to classroom activities and discussions.Demonstrated a limited ability to generate individual ideas and develop strategies to achieve desired outcomes.Worked unevenly and completed most work requirements. Participated and contributed generally to classroom activities and discussions.Demonstrated a suitable ability to generate individual ideas and develop strategies to achieve desired outcomes.Worked satisfactorily and completed all work requirements. Participated and contributed frequently to classroom activities and discussions.Demonstrated an extensive ability to generate individual ideas and develop strategies to achieve desired outcomes.Worked consistently and completed all work requirements. Participated and contributed comprehensively to classroom activities and discussions.Demonstrated an advanced ability to generate individual ideas and develop strategies to achieve desired outcomes.Worked consistently at high level and completed all work requirements.
    Skill Development (techniques, working methods, processes, problem solving, materials, experimentation)Conceptual Development(aesthetic understanding, personal judgements, analysis, articulation of ideas) Developed a basic level of skills, techniques, and processes with media and materials in the making of artworks.Developed a minimal aesthetic understanding and articulation of ideas. Developed an emergent level of skills, techniques, and processes with media and materials in the making of artworks.Developed a limited aesthetic understanding and articulation of ideas. Developed a satisfactory level of skills, techniques, and processes with media and materials in the making of artworks.Developed a suitable aesthetic understanding and articulation of ideas. Developed a competent level of skills, techniques, and processes with media and materials in the making of artworks.Developed an extensive aesthetic understanding and articulation of ideas. Developed an advanced level of skills, techniques, and processes with media and materials in the making of artworks.Developed an advanced aesthetic understanding and articulation of ideas.

    Extension (transfer to different contexts, inter/multi-disciplinary approach)Individual Style(personal style or visual language) Demonstrated rarely an ability to extend and transform ideas.Achieved a basic form of personal self-expression. Demonstrated seldomly an ability to extend and transform ideas.Achieved an emergent form of personal self-expression. Demonstrated generally an ability to extend and transform ideas.Achieved an adequate form of personal self-expression. Demonstrated frequently an ability to extend and transform ideas.Achieved a competent form of personal self-expression. Demonstrated comprehensively an ability to extend and transform ideas.Achieved a distinct form of personal self-expression.

    June 26, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  5. Sheryl Bowen

    It was great to read such a well-written article about how art is taught in the elementary setting. Hands on classes such as art, music, physical education and consumer & family studies aka as home economics can make a tremendous difference in the lives of all students. It is such a good feeling to know that Katie is representative of the many young dedicated teachers in our public schools.

    June 25, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  6. Susan Byrd

    I would love to be able to view my daughter's artwork in an online portfolio. I often hear her talking about how much she enjoys creating in Art, but I don't always get to see the finished product.

    June 25, 2012 at 1:02 pm |