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To Measure the Arts, Think Outside the Box

Assessment is the answer to innovative arts ed http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/06/07/to-measure-the-arts-think-outside-the.html?cmp=eml-contshr-shr

June 6, 2017

When the U.S. Department of Education released results from its 2016 assessment of 8th graders' achievement in the visual arts and music, the takeaway for the casual observer was not how well the students scored, but surprise that artistic skills and competencies can be measured in the first place.

This was not news to arts educators. For two decades, the National Assessment of Educational Progress' arts education frameworkhas been used to set student tests administered by the Education Department throughout the country. Not only that: As every arts ed. specialist knows and as a National Endowment for the Arts research report noted a few years ago, standards-based models and rubrics already exist for assessing student performance in arts education, albeit at varying levels of quality.


To nonprofit arts organizations, meanwhile—even to those not providing educational services—the idea of measuring progress in arts achievement may have seemed pro forma. After all, our nation's cultural providers are often on the hook to demonstrate their value to private and public funders who crave user-friendly metrics that show an unambiguous return on investment.

And what about artists? For much of history, they've been largely indifferent toward quantifying the arts' value. And why not? For every critical or commercial success, one can name an artist or a cultural tradition that has escaped the notice of funders or tastemakers hewing to a standard trajectory of artistic accomplishment. But to acknowledge the fallibility of such metrics is not to diminish the need for rigorous tools to assess the artistic contributions of the public sector as a part of its own accountability.

And yet, as prior research has shown (and as practical experience suggests), people's responses to artwork of various kinds, and even their decisions to partake in an arts activity, are governed by how certain artistic disciplines are taught in K-12 schools. Though indispensable for a U.S. overview, the survey results can't be parsed at the state and local levels, where decisions about resource allocation reside. Rather, local measurement techniques—those derived from collective-impact funding models or relying upon data extraction from public school systems or state education agencies —may herald future breakthroughs.

Two: Arts education is frequently integrated with other types of learning (notably with STEM disciplines) both in K-12 and in higher education. What metrics are best used in gauging the success of this integration and any downstream benefits for students, for communities, and for society in general?

"In the spirit of the 'well-rounded education' requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act, we need a capacious measurement strategy for arts education."

Let's home in on this second measurement problem. The integration of arts curricula and teaching methods with non-arts subjects arises from the same impulse that has embedded arts programs with other interventions that strive for broader social impact. We might look at the use of the arts and design in health or justice settings, in galvanizing product innovation, or in improving the cohesion of communities and enhancing their economic vitality. In each case, the measurement dilemma is often the same. How do we isolate the arts'impact within a larger program or intervention, or amid a welter of contextual factors?

The answer is bracingly simple: by fighting on multiple fronts. Arts education, like the arts themselves, is a complex system that requires careful mapping of relationships among actors, inputs, outputs, and outcomes. It demands theoretical spadework along with ongoing data collection to strengthen our understanding of those relationships. Just as no two art forms are alike, no single logic model or theory of change can speak to every arts program in the country. Still, we need not shrink from the prospect of pursuing various strands of research—quantitative and qualitative, experimental and observational—to clarify the value of an arts education, including the value of arts integration.

Those benefits can be traced through psychological studies, basic neuroscience, and econometrics. The research might involve a small-scale randomized controlled trial or a series of comparative case studies. It might use social-network analysis or simulation research. Advanced statistical modeling—or computer-aided text analysis—might feature in such studies. For that matter, these examples of research disciplines, designs, and methods are not mutually exclusive.

Research into arts education should state clearly the questions it wants answered and place a premium on rigor, but it must also be adaptive and innovative. It should learn from other fields of research in the academic, nonprofit, and commercial sectors. And itshould embrace the possibility that for unsympathetic eyes to accept the value of an arts education, it may be necessary to venture into terrain not conveniently marked "arts" or "education"—that studies of creativity, human development, entrepreneurship, and civic and social welfare might be the testing grounds for a new hypothesis or research instrument.

In the spirit of the "well-rounded education" requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act, we need a capacious measurement strategy for arts education. Ideally born of public-private collaboration, this strategy could chart a continuum from basic science research to program evaluations that incorporate holistic assessments of student and teacher learning. At a minimum, it would entail routine monitoring of data from students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members.

In lieu of multiple-choice tests alone, the NAEP in arts education relies partly on the assessment of creative tasks—a technique that might be effectively used in measuring other fields of academic endeavor. Now it's time for impact studies of arts education to reap similar rewards for human understanding of how we learn, work, and play as individuals, teams, and members of society.

Vol. 36, Issue 34, Page 28

Published in Print: June 7, 2017, as To Measure the Arts, Think Outside the Box


10 Reasons Why Arts in Education is So Important for Kids 

Where have the arts in education gone? Over the past several years we’ve all seen the trend of schools cutting the arts from their curriculum. Music, art, theater—gone for so many.

There’s no doubt that the arts are fun for kids. Diving into those finger paints and making a beautiful picture to hang on the fridge is awesome. Acting in a play is exhilarating. But the arts also help kids develop on many fundamental levels.

Here are the top 10 ways that the arts help kids learn and grow:

1. Creativity. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the arts allow kids to express themselves better than math or science. As the Washington Post says, In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Improved Academic Performance. The arts don’t just develop a child’s creativity—the skills they learn because of them spill over into academic achievement. PBS says, A report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who participate regularly in the arts (three hours a day on three days each week through one full year) are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate.

3. Motor Skills. This applies mostly to younger kids who do art or play an instrument. Simple things like holding a paintbrush and scribbling with a crayon are an important element to developing a child’s fine motor skills. According to the National Institutes of Health, developmental milestones around age three should include drawing a circle and beginning to use safety scissors. Around age four, children may be able to draw a square and begin cutting straight lines with scissors.

4. Confidence. While mastering a subject certainly builds a student’s confidence, there is something special about participating in the arts. Getting up on a stage and singing gives kids a chance to step outside their comfort zone. As they improve and see their own progress, their self-confidence will continue to grow.

5. Visual Learning. Especially for young kids, drawing, painting, and sculpting in art class help develop visual-spatial skills. Dr. Kerry Freedman, Head of Art and Design Education at Northern Illinois University says, Children need to know more about the world than just what they can learn through text and numbers. Art education teaches students how to interpret, criticize, and use visual information, and how to make choices based on it.

6. Decision Making. The arts strengthen problem solving and critical thinking skills. How do I express this feeling through my dance? How should I play this character? Learning how to make choices and decisions will certainly carry over into their education and other parts of life—as this is certainly a valuable skill in adulthood.

7. Perseverance. I know from personal experience that the arts can be challenging. When I was trying to learn and master the clarinet, there were many times when I became so frustrated that I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. After practicing hard, I learned that hard work and perseverance pay off. This mindset will certainly matter as they grow—especially during their career where they will likely be asked to continually develop new skills and work through difficult projects.

8. Focus. As you persevere through painting or singing or learning a part in a play, focus is imperative. And certainly focus is vital for studying and learning in class as well as doing a job later in life.

9. Collaboration. Many of the arts such as band, choir, and theater require kids to work together. They must share responsibility and compromise to achieve their common goal. Kids learn that their contribution to the group is integral to its success—even if they don’t have the solo or lead role.

10. Accountability. Just like collaboration, kids in the arts learn that they are accountable for their contributions to the group. If they drop the ball or mess up, they realize that it’s important to take responsibility for what they did. Mistakes are a part of life, and learning to accept them, fix them, and move on will serve kids well as they grow older.