Fine Art Assessments

The Edublogs Club prompt #15 was over assessments… it was last week’s prompt and I was drowning in the teacher ocean so the prompt has had time to ruminate in my brain before trying to put my thoughts in print.

This morning, as I get ready for the “Parade of Champions” that our community is having for our school’s state champion girls soccer team and our theatre team, I wanted to reflect on the reality of assessments in the world of fine arts.

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While I might be tempted to say that assessments in fine arts aren’t necessary or accurate, the truth is that assessments are important in EVERY discipline. However, appropriate and authentic assessments are crucial. A rudimentary objective test completed on a scantron is never going to accurately students much less assess fine arts students or programs. Fine arts people don’t process the same way that math/science or english/history students primarily process. This is not to say that fine arts dominate students can’t do well on standardized tests…this is contrary to my experience.

But these tests don’t reflect the whole student. 

Therefore, I think that one of the best authentic assessments for fine arts programs (and all programs for that matter) is to evaluate the sum total of the year. While it’s fun to take a snapshot of success and boast about the quality of our programs based on one big win. If we are a one dimensional program, then the students suffer. The same goes for academics. If everything we have, all of our resources and our efforts are spent on getting students to do well on the state mandated test, but in the process student’s miss out on mastering the rest of the content, then we have failed… but who wants to acknowledge that.

That is one of the reasons why I am so proud that I can say I am part of a fantastic fine arts department at Stephenville ISD. Stephenville High School fine arts students are well rounded students within their disciplines, but are also strong academically and are leaders in the community!

My case in point.. the recent big win by the SHS Theatre Team. UIL (University Interscholastic League) is the governing body for Texas extracurricular events and last week, UIL hosted the state meet for One-Act Play and Theatrical Design. Advancing to the state competition is tough. At this competition, UIL crowned the State Champion Theatre Team. This team is made up of the school’s competitors in UIL Film, UIL One-Act Play and UIL Theatrical Design. SHS won State Champion because of the well-rounded team approach. In order to win, students had to show an amazing variety of skills and an incredible commitment to their work. Students began working on these contests in August of 2016! Film students created in the fall and turned in their work in January of 2017 and advanced to state in March. OAP students performances started in February with the state meet in April, but many students begin working on one-act play in August or earlier! Theatrical Design students started as soon as the topic was given in May 2016, really got to work in August, turned in their work in February and if they advanced, went to State in April. From start to finish, more than 300 SHS students participated in these contests… that is 30% of the student body at SHS.

But that isn’t all we do, it just happened to be the most public as this success came with a plaque, a parade and a pep rally.

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Don’t you just love the fact that we had three of our theatrical design students at the parade and peprally via giant head and facetime?! These three students were at the UIL State Academic meet for Literary Criticism. I tell you, we have well rounded kids!

But all of that while fun, isn’t exactly my point.

My point is that assessments need to define what they are really measuring. So many of the assessments that students are given, don’t measure content knowledge or content mastery, but test taking abilities and game play. I want assessments to measure mastery, not the ability of students to handle high stakes testing that capture a moment in time.  Yes, I am fully aware that these kinds of tests are necessary. I have a junior that is living in the land of ACT and SAT. But I don’t believe that school and student mastery should be assessed in this same manner. I want my students to be given the opportunity to prove their knowledge and ability based on a year’s worth of effort.

So am I pushing for portfolio assessments? Yes and no. As my advanced students are deep into AP Art Portfolio creation, I understand the value of such an undertaking. The portfolio is the best representation of what they can do within a time frame and within a set of guidelines. In art world, this means 24 to 29 of the best pieces that the student has created, 12 developed around and exploring one theme. The depth and complexity of this portfolio is not something that I can do with all of my students. But I could have students build and add to their portfolios each year to finish their high school career with a portfolio that they would be proud to show to a grandparent or even would-be employer.

As our district moves to a 1:1 digital environment, I have looked at having students create and curate their own digital portfolio. Our district has used BulbApp, our elementary students are using Seesaw, my advanced students have tried blogs.. the list is endless.

And that in and of itself becomes one of my negatives. As times change and new software becomes available, it is so hard to figure out what to keep, where to put it and who can access it. Usage agreements are ever changing. Parent policies and parent permissions are ever changing. So it’s hard. And I can’t store thousands of artifacts for my students. Not in real life or digital!

Because of that reality, I can’t support portfolio assessments completely.

So my suggestion is that we assess programs and schools on the sum total of the year, not individual kids, not a single test, not a single anything!

We get so caught up in individual student success and or failure and it shouldn’t be that way. I have students miss my class Thursday after Thursday for mandatory math tutorials because they haven’t passed the Math STAAR yet. It doesn’t matter that art is the only thing that is keeping some of the kids in school, they are yanked in mid-lesson, mid-project.. hopefully this approach pays off.. but at what cost to the student.

At the end of the day I am more than aware that there isn’t a perfect answer or a best case. Only a mixed bag of problems and no real solution. That is the world of education. However, the EdublogsClub prompt asked me to consider the role of assessments in education. So this is my wish.. authentic assessments that evaluate a year of effort.

And how would my program fair?

Here is my year end assessment (yes, I know it isn’t the end of the school year yet… I still have a state competition, a congressional competition, and a local competition to complete..):

  • SHS Art students have created work for numerous contests and have a great many awards locally, within the state and beyond.
  • SHS Art students have participated in numerous community service events and have given freely of their time and talents.
  • SHS Art students have created art work using at least 6 different media and have created more than 1000 pieces of art this school year.
  • SHS Art students are active within all student body organizations from Soy Importante to National Honor Society, from FCCLA to Robotics.
  • SHS Art students have been accepted to colleges and universities,  claim an art field as their degree path and begin with college equivalent hours from the AP Drawing and 2D Portfolios.

I’d consider that to be a satisfactory year end assessment for a program!

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