I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, July 25, 2011

Testing Nation: Arts Edition

More evidence that when it comes to education we have lost our minds:
The City Department of Education wants to judge how well students can cut a rug, paint a picture and belt out a tune.
Even as they face budget cuts, Education Department officials plan to start administering tests for dance, music, theater and the visual arts.
The program, which will start at 80 schools next October, will measure whether fifth- and eighth-graders as well as high school students receive a quality education in the arts.
The move sparked alarm from some parents who are concerned that students already take a full battery of exams in academic subjects.
"I don't think children should have to take a test on anything related to the arts that deals with how to express themselves," said Katrine Crocker, mother of eighth-grader Kiany, who attends Brooklyn's Public School 308, which was forced to cut its music and arts classes.
"It makes no sense," said Patrick Sullivan, a parent leader on the city's Panel for Educational Policy. "Given that we already have too much assessment and too much measurement, let's leave this alone."
The city says that the tests, being developed as part of a $6 million federal grant, won't be used to grade students at the 80 schools. But they could become a high-stakes issue as the city develops ways of judging student learning in all subjects as part of new teacher evaluations required by the state.
The city plans to expand the arts tests to all schools by 2014. The tests, officials say, will not look like a multiple-choice exam, but will assess how a student engages and responds to a work of art. "They look at not only the skills, but the understanding of what students gain from engaging in the artistic processes," said Paul King, executive director of the department office of arts and special projects.
Officials say they hope the plan improves arts education even while those subjects have been hit with budget cuts.
Last year alone the city saw 5% decline in the number of art teachers, leading even those who favor the idea of tests in art classes to question the program.
"Let no one make the mistake of thinking that tests are going to restore arts education to every student in the city," said Richard Kessler, executive director to the Center for Arts Education. [emphasis mine]
I've been doing this long enough to have seen this before. Arts advocates get worried that music and art will get cut if they aren't treated as "real" subjects. And we've all bought into the notion that "real" subjects use standardized tests. Therefore...

There are about a billion ways to do high-quality assessments in the arts, starting with the fact that any art product is, in and of itself, an authentic assessment. I also think there is a place for festivals and judges, and that teachers of the arts and their supervisors should use results to evaluate their work as arts educators.

But bubble tests? Come on: aside from being terrible arts assessments, they are inevitably going to be poor-quality instruments that will vary from year to year. Arts standards in many states are already awful (New Jersey's are particularly bad). How can test designers correlate to standards that are unfocused and

Oh, and one other thing: I keep hearing we out of money. Are we going to pay for this? Every year?

Arts educators, arts advocates, and parents should resist this at every step.

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