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Arts Education Event Highlights Successful Programs, NAEP Results

Earlier this spring, I had the privilege of attending an event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, for the release of results from last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in music and visual arts (Nation’s Report Card – 2016 Arts). Speakers from around the country discussed results from the assessment, shared videos from various programs that incorporate art into academic study, and led a question and answer session on topics such as art’s impact on their students, skills teachers use to integrate art in other subjects, and community involvement.

The program opened with a video overview of the arts assessment, which is founded on the belief that the arts are essential to every child’s complete development, fostering growth and creativity, providing a strong foundation for a holistic education, and equipping students to navigate through work and life challenges. Overseen by the National Assessment Governing Board and based on an arts framework developed by a committee of artists, educators, and other experts, the NAEP Arts Assessment has been conducted just four times to date: in 1972 (music only) and 1975 (visual arts only), then together in 1997, 2008, and 2016. Rather than reporting on individual students’ performance, NAEP tracks performance by group – such as region, gender, race, and other categories.

The 2016 arts assessment was taken by 8,800 eighth graders, about half in music and half in visual arts. Students earned an average score of 149 on a 300-point scale for analyzing and evaluating works of art or music and for creating their own visual art pieces. These results were similar to those in 2008. The assessment data also showed that enrollment in arts classes remained about the same, but there were some declines in arts engagement outside of school. The Hispanic score gap decreased, and a higher percentage of students in the Northeast reported taking a visual arts course than students in other regions. See the program’s website for other trend data.

“NAEP shows us that arts can indeed be assessed, and it provides us with valuable objective data on eighth graders’ knowledge of music and visual arts,” said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust and board member of ChiArts. “In fact, the Nation’s Report Card – 2016 Arts is the only source of nationally represented data that measures these skills.”

The speakers at the Kennedy Center event offered various creative strategies for integrating art with other subjects. Arts Director Mary Siebert from the Arts-Based School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said her school’s success is supported by a weekly brainstorming session with teachers and arts specialists to come up with ideas to infuse art in the content being taught.

Others cited the positive impact the arts have on their students, especially over time. Principal Mark Benson from Red Lake Middle School in Red Lake, Minnesota, said his school has documented increases in attendance and enrollment rates and in standardized test scores since adopting an arts-integration program. Megan Webb, principal of Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Boston, Massachusetts, said her students begin arts programs between kindergarten and third grade and choose specialties by fourth grade, which they stick with until their completion of eighth grade, building their understanding of the value of practice and persistence.

Students with special and learning disabilities are among those experiencing the benefits of the arts programs at Hilltop Artists in Tacoma, Washington. “We work with students at all different skill levels, and we have seen at times that art, and being able to move and refocus, can help students if they’re struggling,” said Deputy Director Kate Ward. Through art, students are able to focus on learning without getting frustrated, she said, and feel more connected to the subject and those around them.

A related resource was published last week by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the Arts Education Partnership, outlining opportunities and funding for arts education in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The report contains recommendations for states and districts to address the arts in their ESSA plans for accountability, assessment, stakeholder engagement, and other areas. A recent blog post for ECS also highlights arts-related content in the first batch of ESSA accountability plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

For more information about the NAEP arts assessment, visit https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/arts_2016/#/.