Rachel Evans, today’s guest blogger, is a passionate artist and teacher.  Her post will prove this.  When it comes to the arts, Rachel knows students need to be held accountable.  Read on for some great insights into arts assessment as well as assessment ideas.  Be sure to follow Rachel on Twitter. ~EMP

It’s no secret:  the arts can rev students’ engines and get creative ideas rolling when used in arts integration.  Knowing that “create” is the pinnacle of Bloom’s Taxonomy, teachers’ interest in incorporating music, dance, visual arts, and theatre continues to veer towards that destination.

While it’s a comfortable ride to use arts integration as the vehicle to deliver learning goals and objectives to students, it would be really unfair if it were a free ride.  There’s a fare to be paid for what the arts intrinsically provide: fuel and service.  And that price is the blood, sweat, and tears that only high quality assessment can bring.

Arts integration is more than using an arts-based activity in service of another discipline; it’s meeting two sets of goals simultaneously, allowing students to explore both more deeply.  If we integrate the arts into other content areas, it’s essential that the arts component have identified objectives with discrete methods of assessment.  To neglect assessment of the arts is to contribute to the “the arts are easy,” “the arts requires talent you’re born with,” and “the arts are soft subjects” mentality.  The arts have rigor, need scaffolded sequential instruction, and possess assessable knowledge, skills and values like every other subject.

I am not professing that we need to test the fun out of the arts.  But just like any other educational endeavor, students and teachers alike must be held accountable for progress towards achieving objectives.  Arts assessment may take many forms; checklists, rubrics, reflective writing prompts, peer critique, and oral presentations are just a few options available to the educator using arts integration.

Constructing an assessment plan inclusive of arts learning goals, ones that are fully integrated with other content, will take extra effort initially.   There is a silver lining:  the focus and attention on goals beyond those strictly related to language arts, math, science, social studies, foreign languages or health education may provide much needed variety for learners.  Not only do students benefit from variety in instructional strategies, but they also benefit from a broad assessment spectrum, one reflective of all colors of knowledge.  As a student, I may get bogged down in repeated spelling drills, but completing the visual arts checklist for an accompanying assignment might help me improve my aesthetic vocabulary—literally!

Additionally, while observing student progress in an arts integration lesson, a student’s lack of proficiency in a content area may be more immediately and more easily remediated than if assessment was confined to a summative, content-only format.  Seeing a student’s comfort zone expanded to include arts’ skills may ease discomfort in less familiar curricular terrain.  As a teacher, I may not realize that my students are unclear about the cause and effect circumstances surrounding the start of World War I.  Rather than wait until the exam to identify the absence of understanding, I might notice this sooner if I ask them to write theatrical dialogue between two historical figures.  Synthesis of concepts would be necessary from the first exchange between the characters.

The arts, whether integrated or standing alone, are more inclined towards formative assessment than summative.  In the examples above, the students would need to take ownership of their growth as artists and playwrights, just as they do about grades in spelling and history.  The teachers would need to be clear about expectations for the visual arts checklist in spelling class and for the playwriting assignment in history. The challenge is for us, as educators, to be able to articulate the knowledge, skills, and values needed to create meaningful artifacts as evidence of learning.  It’s a steep fare initially, but the long-term investment will undoubtedly result in a lucrative return.  Hop on and enjoy the ride!

Rachel Evans