I came across this article on the web today from blogger Dana Goldstein regarding the use (or non-use) of test scores to assess the effectiveness of music, art, and phys. ed. teachers. This is a topic that I became intrigued by when conducting the research for my book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music.

According to a series of reports by the Center on Education Policy that tracks the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (which became law in 2002) entitled From the Capital to the Classroom, 62 percent of elementary school districts reported increasing time for English and/or math since the 2001-02 school year by an average increase of 42 percent. At the same time, 44 percent of elementary school districts reported cutting time from one or more other subjects including science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch, and recess by an average of about 30 minutes per day.

“What gets tested gets taught,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO. “Because so much is riding on reading and math, included on state tests, many schools have cut back time on other important areas, which means that some students are not receiving a broad curriculum.”

The report also notes that these changes are more prevalent in districts that are home to struggling schools. One recommendation from the report is to “include measures of knowledge and skills in art and music as one of the multiple measures used for NCLB accountability.”

That brings up a touchy subject that gets debated in the academic world – How do you implement tests for the arts that truly capture artistic aptitude and competence? By definition the arts are about creativity, and standardization can discourage creativity. How would Charlie Parker or Pablo Picasso have performed on a standardized arts test? My fear is that standardized testing for the arts would drive the move toward memorization of facts rather than creative application, which is essentially what the arts are all about and the greatest benefit of arts in our schools (see item #5 of the 9 Common Lessons of Music Education that Translate into Success).

I asked a group of experienced music educators that question once (“What are your thoughts on standardized testing for the arts, given the fact that funding seems to follow test results but the arts are difficult to assess via traditional test methods?), and didn’t really get much of an answer. It’s a topic that needs more dialogue.

The Answer?
I believe a line at the bottom of the Ms. Goldstein’s post gives us a hint at the answer – Comprehensive Assessments that take into account “multiple measures” not just test scores. As a matter of fact, multiple measures are the answer even in traditional education subjects. As one educator once told me, “Standardized tests are a measure, yet only one element, and likely not the most important one in assessing the effectiveness of educational institutions.”

More about Dana Goldstein.
My letter to the Aspen Institute’s Commission on No Child Left Behind

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