Elementary School Music

“Arts Achieve:” New York City’s arts education assessments

Posted in NYC Arts Partners by P. Conrad on November 11, 2011

This past year, the city’s Department of Education joined with a group of local arts organizations and won a multimillion dollar “Investing in Innovation Fund” (i3) grant from the US Department of Education. The project, called Arts Achieve: Impacting Student Success in the Arts, is spearheaded by the longtime DOE arts-partner Studio in a School, and includes Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute; ArtsConnection; 92nd Street Y/Harkness Dance Center, Dance Education Laboratory;  and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, which is a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. An additional partner is Metis Associates, a consulting group that provides research, evaluation, program development and information technology services.

According the Arts Achieve grant application, the project is meant to create “standardized ways of assessing student achievement in visual arts, music, theater, and dance in benchmark years: 5th, 8th, and 12th grades.”  Hopefully, the assessment results will translate into better classroom instruction and higher student achievement. Use of digital technology features broadly in the project and in its eventual wider application, in tools for communication, for assessment feedback, and for accessing arts curriculum.

During the grant period, the project will serve approximately 7,200 students through an experimental design involving the random assignment of 48 schools into 24 treatment and 24 control sites at the elementary, middle and high-school levels. In its outcomes, however, Arts Achieve could impact not just 1 million-plus children attending city public schools, but also serve as a national model.

The project’s stated goals include:
•     Improve student achievement in the arts through the development and implementation of balanced arts assessments that are aligned to high student content and academic achievement standards.
•    Translate the standards and information from assessments into classroom practices that support improved arts achievement for all students.
•    Promote innovations in student and teacher access to content and assessment feedback through the use of technology.

According to its grant application, Arts Achieve will result in the creation of on-line / open educational resources that have been validated and informed by the results of the assessments and made available nationwide. The grant could offer schools new ways to introduce technology into arts classroom practice — for example, to facilitate art-making, documentation, research, feedback, reflection, collaboration and file-sharing within and beyond the schools: student-to-student, student-to-teacher, student-to-parent, and student and teacher to partnering arts institution.

The pilot project will unfold over a five-year period, and its performance and content assessments will be aligned with the NYC DOE’s different Blueprints for Teaching and Learning in the Arts and with Common Core Capacities for Career and College Readiness. The formative and summative assessments will help some of the city’s youngest artists to reflect on and enhance their experience and performance in the arts and also to connect to resources that some high-need students might not otherwise access. The project also hopes to produce objective measures by which the partners can assess what they believe to be the significant correlation of arts achievement on improved English Language Arts performance.

According to a July 2011 article in the New York Daily News, the arts assessments could be extended to all schools by 2014. Unlike conventional multiple-choice exams, such assessments would examine how a student engages and responds to a work of art. As the director of the NYCDOE’s Office of Arts & Special Projects, Paul King, told the Daily News, “They look at not only the skills, but the understanding of what students gain from engaging in the artistic processes.”

Artful Learning Communities

With one of the partners, Arts Connection, the Office of Arts and Special Projects is extending this work in a project called Artful Learning Communities II: Assessing Learning, Transforming Practice, Promoting Achievement. According to the project proposal, the original Artful Learning Communities (described at the Arts Connection website) “successfully changed teacher practice through action research focused solely on formative assessment practices.” The new undertaking is intended to “measure student achievement in the arts with newly-developed psychometrically-validated and reliable summative performance assessments.”

Participating arts specialists “will learn how to take summative data, analyze it, determine what students know and don’t know and use this information to modify instruction practice, plan lessons and deliver on-going formative assessment to measure individual student progress.”

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