Assessment in Art

By Hanson, J. Merrell; Teeter, Lorna | School Arts, February 1995 | Go to article overview

Assessment in Art


Hanson, J. Merrell, Teeter, Lorna, School Arts


Nationally, standardized testing with its "fill-in-the-bubble" mentality has proliferated. The public has demanded more rigorous and visible accountability. They want to know what and how well students are learning. A simplistic answer is to create more tests; however, other voices are being heard. Educators are advocating for "authentic assessment"--real evidence of real learning--which is currently a desirable and worthwhile curriculum innovation. Genuine enthusiasm exists for measuring the varied kinds of learning we teach and that we hope will occur. This has been very helpful for educators and teachers, since it has focused instruction upon student learning and outcomes. We have had to review, analyze and reject things we have done previously, perhaps routinely and conventionally, without real commitment.

Learning That Will Last

The demands for improved assessment in art education, particularly with the enlarged curriculum of discipline-based art education, have stimulated an interest in identifying assessment techniques and practices that better display and demonstrate learning. Art teachers need to become more skilled in these practices so they can determine the performance level of their students, not only in art production but also in art history, art criticism and aesthetics.

With such demands, it is not surprising that Howard Gardner (1988) commented on the deficiencies of traditional assessment practices. Testing, he complained, is a school phenomenon, peculiar to classroom learning. Once you leave school you may never take another test. However, in real life, we find continual purpose in using the skills and knowledge we should have learned in school. Quality art education attempts to provide this wider vision of experience and learning that will last beyond the classroom and the simple tests that are taken there. Quality art education encourages learning that will assist the student for a lifetime.

The Three P's

Today's art teacher must establish objectives and standards for assessment--benchmarks of student's work--in the areas of production, history, criticism and aesthetics. We need to look at evidence demonstrating that students are learning. An expanded repertoire of assessment measures must be considered. For example, O'Neil (1992) suggests the "three P's" of student performance:

1. Performance Tasks: As in outcome-based education, the tasks and performance requirements are publicly stated and clearly identified. They are carefully designed to provide for mastery and engagement of the students.

2. Projects: The student is provided with an achievable outcome. There is a final product, an example of work successfully completed. It represents a tangible conclusion.

3. Portfolios: The student makes appropriate selections of her or his work as evidence of learning. These include artifacts that exemplify art history, art criticism, art aesthetics and art production.

Evidence of Mastery

Each of these points have substantial importance for improving the assessment of learning in art education. Consider art criticism. Criticism refers to the skills and knowledge relative to the judgment, interpretation, analysis and description of an artwork. These become the standards for assessment. The performance task might be ". . . the learner will examine an artwork to describe and to analyze its critical elements and distinguishing qualities." The completion of the task will be evidenced by a project that shows thoughtful, meaningful and critical interpretation of the work. if selected by the student, it could be included in a portfolio as evidence of completion and mastery.

Art teachers understand that assessment techniques will be varied since the curriculum has

Assessment in Art

changed significantly. Whereas art criticism encourages description, analysis, interpretation and informed preference, aesthetics encourages activities that assess the emotional, the feeling and the individuality of a work of art. …

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