Standards-Achieving Evidence of Student Learning in the Arts


There is a widely acknowledged need, in the arts as well as in other academic areas, to assess student learning well. One of the ideas I share with the field is the emphasis on evidence of student learning. There has been an unusual focus in this country on school reform driven by standards that are not reliably supported in assessments that deliver evidence of student learning.

But it should be noted that the arts were the second discipline to construct and disseminate a set of national standards in 1994. In the early 1990’s, the American Alliance for Theatre & Education, Music Educators National Conference, National Art Education Association, and National Dance Association formed the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations to create a comprehensive framework of national learning standards in arts education. “National Standards for Arts Education” is an early example of a national commitment to standards in arts education, following the 1989 example provided by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. This “affirmation of the arts as important to student learning” (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, p. 3) has changed the way arts educators and policy-makers approach the arts.  Schools across the nation use the standards, either as they appear in this document, or as state standards that have been adapted from this document.

“Arts education standards can make a difference because, in the end, they speak powerfully to two fundamental issues that pervade all of education- quality and accountability” (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 1994). These two features, quality and accountability, are overlapping topics of current and ongoing political discussions regarding American education and therefore are of interest to the literature on arts integration research in Rochester City School District. This was also well understood in the 1990s when arts education standards, “ensure that the study of the arts is disciplined and well focused, and that arts instruction has a point or reference for assessing its results” (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations, 1994).

“In addressing these issues, the Standards insist on the following:

  • That an arts education is not a hit-or-miss effort but a sequenced and comprehensive enterprise of learning across four arts disciplines, thus ensuring that basic arts literacy is a consequence of education in the United States;
  • That instruction in the arts takes a hands-on orientation (i.e., that students be continually involved in the work, practice, and study required for effective and creative engagement in all four arts disciplines);
  • That arts education can lead to interdisciplinary study; achieving standards involves authentic connections among and across the arts and other disciplines;
  • That taken together, these Standards offer, for the first time in American arts education, a foundation for educational assessment on a student-by-student basis. ” (CNAEA, p. 10).

Why is this important? Teachers in our country, especially arts teachers, teaching artists and teachers who partner with teaching artists to deliver quality arts integration have developed a professional stance that asks students to demonstrate their understanding of what is being taught by showing their evidence of learning. It makes sense to teachers and to some policymakers to amplify that professional stance by designing a set of standards and assessments that are more grounded in teacher practice of observing student achievement, rather than assessing student achievement through standardized tests that serve as proxies for student learning.

What would this look like in practice? The current re-do of the national core arts standards continues the field of arts education’s use of Creating, Performing and Responding standards and adds Connecting to those. This is fully displayed in the new national core arts standards example (N.B., Visual Arts Standards taken directly from the National Core Arts Standards,

Example Using National Core Arts Standards in Visual Arts at 2nd Grade

Discipline: Visual Arts

Artistic Processes: Creating, Presenting, Responding, and Connecting

Title: Self-Portraits: Communicating Personal Interests

Student Assessment Task Prompt: Experience and interpret a variety of self-portraits. Select an approach for developing your self-portrait. Use a variety of materials and tools to create a self-portrait that reflects personal interests. Group self-portraits according to student generated criteria/similarities. Share why their work is meaningful to them.

Short Description of Assessment: Students collaboratively examine and respond to a diverse selection of self-portraits. Students select from a variety of provided materials and tools to create a self-portrait that communicates personal interests. Students present their art works and discuss why they are meaningful to them. Students group the self-portraits based on identified similarities and share reasons for the in facilitating this conversation that leads to greater student understanding? (N.B., Visual Arts Standards taken directly from the National Core Arts Standards,

So it is not possible to convey the entire use of the standards, but for this example, there are three anchor standards:

  1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  3. Refine and complete artistic work.


  1. Students collaboratively brainstorm multiple approaches to creating a self-portrait. Investigate/Plan/Make
  2. Teacher provides a variety of materials with which students will create their own self portrait.
  3. Students select from provided materials to create a self-portrait.


  1. Students create a self-portrait that visually communicates something about the student’s personal experiences and/or interests. (N.B., Visual Arts Standards taken directly from the National Core Arts Standards,


  1. Students would produce their self-portraits
  2. Teachers would help them ask why their artwork is evidence that communicates the student’s persoanl experiences or interests
  3. Teachers would grade that on a rubric of, No Evidence, Limited Evidence, Sufficient Evidence and Strong Evidence of student learning.


This is very hard, time intensive work, but it will focus teachers and students on doing work that produces evidence of student learning and that will improve student achievement of standards.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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