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Performance Assessment and the Arts

We often see student eyes look up when an arts teacher arrives in a classroom. We notice how quickly students quiet down as that art teacher starts the class. And we wonder why as the class progresses, students from all levels of academic achievement seem to want to demonstrate their understanding of what is required.

This connection between teacher, curriculum and student is celebrated in arts-integrated classrooms all over America. So how does one know, how do teachers and students know, that their connection is being properly assessed? They know this through the natural outgrowth of this engaged connection, a performance, and its assessment.

Performance assessments have been around for many years. Coming on the heels of authentic assessment, performance assessments have been gaining ground in schools as a more revealing way to assess student learning than standardized tests. Although standardized tests are easy to administer and valid and reliable to score, they promote top-down, one way to think, types of student learning. Performance assessments allow for multiple ways to solve problems, they foster creativity, and promote student engagement by honoring student ideas.

The arts have long used performances, portfolios and exhibitions as public ways to hold artists accountable for their work. Performance assessments as currently understood in schools are refined ways to support student engagement with curriculum. They fall under the highly regarded "project method" as the best way to assess student learning because they require students to engage over time in producing a quality demonstration of student understanding. As opposed to standardized tests or quizzes, which are more of a snapshot of student memorization of learning, performance assessments engage students in the full range of Bloom's Taxonomy: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

Performance assessments might include observation, interviews, learning logs, portfolios, exhibitions, debates and public speaking of all sorts. The arts promote this kind of learning through a clear goal of public presentation of student work, followed by hours of self-directed preparation and culminating in the public dispay of the work accompanied by a rubric of clear criteria for judging the work.

Performance assessments help the integration of the arts, the integration of multiple skill sets and could be quite useful to all academic work.


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