Taking Advantage of Standardized Tests

By Stephens, Pamela Geiger | School Arts, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Taking Advantage of Standardized Tests


Stephens, Pamela Geiger, School Arts


Introduction

When I was called upon to assist local schools as they addressed the testing needs of students, my immediate concern was to maintain art as meaningful to learning. My next concern was how I could assist with standardized testing when that concept seems so distant to teaching art. The goal then became multi-layered: to develop classroom material written around purposeful investigation of artworks, while providing students with some sort of practice in taking tests.

After looking at the types of standardized tests given to different grade levels within the schools, a very logical solution presented itself. I call the solution Art Explorations--exploiting standardized test formats to motivate art observation, discussion, and expression. Art Explorations has proven substantial, both to learning about art and to taking tests. Students and teachers are now looking closely at works of art together. They are having sustained and guided discussions about art and artists. And happily, test scores are improving.

This article outlines Art Explorations, a process for taking advantage of standardized test formats while exploring works of art.

Testing! Testing! Testing!

An incredible frenzy of testing has swept across the United States during the past decade. Entire school communities have been overtaken by mandates to test students and to demonstrate through test scores that learning is taking place on American campuses. With teachers and administrators ultimately accountable for student performance, the pressure is year round and unrelenting. It is this accountability that has led educators to look closely at not only what we test, but also how we test.

Research shows us that being familiar with testing formats can be as important to higher test scores as knowing the content of what is being tested. Getting rid of test anxiety can contribute greatly to better scores. Naturally, one way to eliminate some test anxiety is through practice with test formats. This is where Art Explorations comes to the rescue.

Art Explorations

Art Explorations tests have a familiar look about them. Much like other standardized tests, brief text is followed by multiple-choice questions. What is significantly different about Art Explorations is that each "test" is about a work of art or an artist. Each question within Art Explorations is designed to trigger careful reading of the text in parallel to close observation of an art object. Moreover, the questions lead to a writing assignment related to the information that students gather during the exploration.

Because the schools where Art Explorations were field-tested have resource libraries with a variety of study prints, the initial standardized test-formatted materials have focused upon those readily available images. This approach proves successful because study prints (unlike regular posters) include information about the art and artist.

Making Art Explorations

Creating exemplary Art Explorations takes experience and practice. Drawing upon the know-how of others, however, can save time. The best model for writing Art Explorations is standardized testing that is used within your school. Tests from previous years are usually made available to teachers. Use the old tests as guidelines so that Art Explorations has a similar feel.

Note the way the text and questions align on the page or pages. Some tests place the text on one page and the questions on another. Other tests use double columns with the text in the left column and the questions in the right. Still other tests place the text across the top portion of the page and questions in columns at the bottom of the page. …

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