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MarylandFine Arts Education Instructional Tool Kit
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Maryland Fine Arts Education
Developing Fine Arts Assessments
Integrating Fine Arts Across the Curriculum
Assessment Outcomes and Implications

Assessing Fine Arts Learning

This section presents information about assessment and how it relates to learning in the arts.  The process of making evaluative judgments about students' knowledge and skills in the fine arts and the underlying relationship of content standards, instruction, and assessment is discussed.

Assessing Learning in the Arts

Assessment is the process of obtaining evidence of learned skills and understandings.  It may be used to establish:

  • What students already know and can do (i.e., prior knowledge);
  • Student progress along a continuum of learning; and
  • The extent of student learning at the end of a given “benchmark” period (e.g., at the end of a course of study, a grade, or an instructional level).

Assessment is also important as a tool that allows educators to obtain feedback on the efficacy of their teaching and instructional practices.

The rationale for assessing learning in the fine arts is the same as that for all curricula.  The definition of  “learning” is based on agreed-upon content standards and learning outcomes.

Artistic literacy encompasses perceptual awareness, historical perspective, and informed aesthetic judgment, all of which are addressed as content standards and measurable learning objectives in the Maryland Fine Arts Voluntary State Curricula.  As with other content areas, teaching and learning in the fine arts require recognition that evidence of what students know and can do is multidimensional.  Although evidence of creative expression, or art making (the dimension most commonly associated with “the arts”) is a significant component of fine arts education, it is only one of many dimensions that contribute to the definition of proficiency.

Through development and use of a variety of assessment strategies that reflect “best practices,” educators have come to recognize that:

  • Valid and reliable judgments about student proficiency in the fine arts can be made using clear and meaningful criteria;
  • Assessment of learning in the fine arts can employ a host of authentic activities that connect the learner with the world while also reflecting the “making” and “doing” that are an essential part of arts education;
  • Integration of learning in the fine arts with that in other non-arts content areas can cultivate student engagement in learning.

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Relationship of Content Standards,
Instruction, and Assessment

Like all curricula, the teaching and learning in the fine arts is based on a triadic configuration of content standards, instruction, and assessment.  Content standards inform instruction; instruction informs what is assessed; and assessment reflects alignment with both content standards and instruction.

The following graphic illustrates this relationship.

Triangle with Content Standars at top, Instruction at one angle, and Assessment at the other with double facing arrows between each.

Content standards (e.g., Voluntary State Curricula for the fine arts), articulate what students are expected to know and do in the four fine arts areas from elementary through high school.  They are useful to all educational stakeholders by defining learning expectations and parameters for both instruction and assessment.  While local curricula may vary somewhat in language from state-level content standards, they should align with the essential learning outcomes set forth in the VSC.  Educators should ask themselves how the VSC maps back to their daily instructional practice.

Instruction should address established content standards in a manner that ensures that a proficient level of student learning of those standards is taking place in the classroom.  As such, the Maryland VSC provides measurable student learning outcomes and objectives that are easily accessible for classroom instructional use, and by extension, for student assessment.

Assessment is a process enabling teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders to connect evidence of student learning with a particular content standard or learning outcome.  It allows teachers to address issues about the effectiveness of their classroom instruction and answers the question "How do I know that my students are learning what I'm trying to teach?"

There are two major categories of assessment: formative and summative.

Formative assessment consists of assessment activities built into various points along the instructional process.  Its primary purpose is to inform instructional practice in order to improve the level of student learning.

Summative assessment reflects the learner's degree of proficiency at the completion of a given course of study or project.  It represents a culminating evaluation such as a grade, a ranking, a certification (e.g., graduation or passage from one instructional program to another), or an award.  Summative assessment is typically used for monitoring or accountability purposes at the school, system, or state level.

Regardless of whether assessment is formative or summative in nature, there are many ways it can enhance teaching and learning.

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Tragedy and comedy masks