Why Even Art Teachers Have a Problem With Standardized Testing

Indira Bailey, a New Jersey Teacher of the Year finalist, shares the surprising way high-stakes testing impacts art education.

Should kids get graded in creativity? (Photo: Lou Jones)
is a visual arts teacher at Essex County Vocational School and a 2013 Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow.

Gray is the color between black and white and it can be created in many ways. There is cool gray and there is warm gray. There are light grays and dark grays. The question is, how do I make the right gray? Do I add one percent black to white or 99 percent white to black?

As an art teacher, I can give my students a written test to see if they remember the formula, or I can give them a paintbrush and paint.

Standardized tests are supposed to be more acceptable than non-standardized tests. They are created to gather data about answers to predetermined questions in order to determine the students’ performance and intelligence. In art education, it is not so simple to measure the creative process, performance and aesthetic responses in student learning.

I am not concerned about the percent of colors my students use to make gray. I am concerned whether or not they understand the technique and can demonstrate it correctly.

Standardized testing does not relate to my ability to teach art better. In fact, there is no standardized testing in visual art. Does this make me less knowledgeable about my subject? Do I have to give my students a standardized test to prove they can make gray paint? How do you compare the artistic ability of Leonardo da Vinci to Jackson Pollock? 

The National Art Education Association said it best, “Assessment is ongoing; formative; performance-based; and designed to assess students’ critical thinking and art making skills, creativity, and content knowledge.”

Because I teach at a vocational high school and am considered a Career Technical Educator (CTE), my job is to teach real life skills to prepare students for success in their future. When I walk into my classroom, I know that I’m giving my students the workplace readiness skills they need based upon my experience in working in the field as a professional artist.

As an art educator, I’m fortunate I don’t feel pressure to “teach to the test.” While my curriculum is not based on preparing students for a state-mandated test, I do have to focus on measuring their learning. There are times when I do give my students written tests based on practical skills to make sure they understand the lesson. However, this is not the only source of assessment, nor is it standard.

There are many ways to teach someone how to paint, and that assessment should be based on students’ knowledge, attitude, and performance.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on subjects that are measured on state standardized tests. Unfortunately, standardized testing is often deemed the end all in education. Non-academic subjects, like art, are being cut and teachers’ jobs eliminated because school districts focus on standardized test scores as the only source of assessment for student growth.

Student improvement should not be confined to a single score on a standardized test.

I would encourage schools, teachers, and parents to focus on real student learning and on what students are able to produce, not on how well they fill in bubbles on paper with a number two pencil.

Does a student’s ability to answer a series of questions correctly actually indicate proficiency?

I enter my classroom with enthusiasm knowing that I not only teach my students how to paint a self-portrait using Chuck Close style, but I also know I am giving them freedom to use the right side of their brain and give the left side a rest. 

Student improvement should not be confined to a single score on a standardized test. I know a students’ classroom performance on how they think and perform a task are factors of authentic learning. Students must be challenged to understand integrated forms of knowledge, not just the memorization of terms.

How do you make gray?

These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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