ACA Week: Susanne Harnett on Designing Benchmark Arts Assessments

Hi, I am Susanne Harnett, evaluator for the Arts Achieve project in New York City (NYC), which is funded through two US DOE i3 and AEMDD grants. Arts Achieve involves a partnership between the NYC Department of Education and five arts organizations based in NYC. Arts Achieve seeks to improve student arts achievement through the development and use of formative and summative assessment and support for arts teachers in using data to inform their instruction.

To that end, the Arts Achieve partnership developed Benchmark Arts Assessments in each of four arts disciplines (dance, music, theater, visual arts). The assessments measure the knowledge and skills that are expected by the end of fifth grade, middle school, and high school, as outlined in the NYC arts standards or the NYC Blueprint for the Arts. The Benchmark Arts Assessments give students opportunities to view, interpret, and analyze master works of art; engage in their own art-making activities; and reflect on and revise their work.

Lessons Learned:

  • Constructing shared understandings. The development of the Benchmark Arts Assessments was a tremendously challenging, but ultimately growth-producing experience. The development teams included arts educators from both within and outside of the NYC DOE.  While the teams used the Blueprint to closely guide the development of content for the assessments, they found it was necessary to prioritize concepts and understandings, as it was not possible to assess all information in one sitting. This development process, along with the critical inter-rater reliability discussions, led to deep, rich, and fruitful conversations about what instruction and assessment should look like in the arts.
  • Developing innovative assessments. The teams were highly committed to making the assessments hands-on, active learning experiences for the students, rather than the paper and pencil multiple-choice assessments that have been the norm in schools. This commitment to honoring higher-level thinking skills and capacities made the development process much more challenging, but kept it true to learning in the arts. Furthermore, the assessments are being used as models as the city moves toward performance-based assessments in other academic subjects.

Hot Tips:

  • Start with clear, defined expectations for student achievement;
  • Invite key stakeholders into development discussions and be prepared to spend considerable; time prioritizing expectations and coming to agreement on levels of achievement;
  • Study preliminary results and refine the assessments as you go.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Arts, Culture, and Audiences (ACA) TIG Week. The contributions all week come from ACA members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.



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