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Michigan schools fine-tune arts assessment

Michigan has transformed its arts assessment model by introducing a website where teachers can share assignments and grade them using a common rubric. Many sample projects, above and right, were uploaded to the site during field testing.
Michigan has transformed its arts assessment model by introducing a website where teachers can share assignments and grade them using a common rubric. Many sample projects, above and right, were uploaded to the site during field testing.

Four years of development in Michigan has produced an arts platform where educators can share a curriculum and better methods for assessing student work. The instructional materials align with state and national standards, including the Every Student Succeeds Act, which emphasizes the arts as part of a “well-rounded education.”

Arts can teach students valuable soft skills such as creativity and critical-thinking. But assessing arts is a challenge, due to its subjective and sometimes ambiguous nature. And not having a standard assessment has led to inconsistency in the overall quality of programs, says Ana Cardona, a consultant for the Michigan Arts Education Instruction & Assessment project.

The platform project was completed with help from the Michigan Assessment Consortium, which sets statewide curriculum standards. The consortium intends to give art the same resources as it provides for math and English, says Cardona.

“The ability to come together and share resources is one of the most important things in the arts,” says Cardona.

Measuring quality

Lessons designed by teachers across four disciplines—dance, music, theater and visual arts—are scored 1 through 4 on a range of categories. For instance, a high school-level “Create and Fly a Kite” project on the site is graded on how much flight was researched, the design of the kite and how well it flew.

Academic results can be used by teachers to tailor further instruction to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Districts can also evaluate the quality of their arts program based on a variety of measures, including how students are improving and how much time is devoted to arts instruction.

The project’s website, launched in the summer of 2016, offers arts lessons and corresponding assessments that can be shared among others. And each lesson page on the website has links to specific state and national standards.

Teacher participation in designing such lessons has led to information sharing that would have not taken place without the project, says Cardona.

“Professional learning and engagement since 2012 to today has already infused the arts education field with an energy that wouldn’t have been there if the project hadn’t been there,” says Cardona.

The website also provides professional development. To guide teachers in developing lessons, the project supplied nine certified art trainers through a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, which provides monetary support to arts projects across the state.