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Grading Art - a bit long


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed Feb 02 2005 - 07:07:44 PST

Are ways to learn art the same as ways to grade art?
I agree that process, effort, and participation are good ways for
learning to occur. Working at the art process helps students learn
to think and develop skills, both mental and physical. The art
process is practice in generating and developing ideas. It is when
compositional choices are made. It is when thinking skills, problems
solving skills, and dexterity skills are practiced. However, I think
that most educators and parents expect a grade to be based on
learning. The grade is supposed to say if the process worked.
Teaching and assessment is so closely related that it is easy to
confuse the two.

We can use the product when grading, but this also is not a very good
measure of learning during the current term. If a teacher has found
positive critique techniques, the product can be exploited to learn
how to see things that were overlooked during the creation and
problem solving phases. These can be great ways to teach, learn, and
even assess a product, but might not be an assessment of learning.
Little of the actual learning can be proved by looking at a product
unless it compared to a similar product that the same student did
earlier. It may not be fair to give credit in this course for
something that was learned two years earlier.

Grades based on verified learning:
So how can we measure learning so that those who learn the most in
this course during this term get the best grade for this class? How
can we know what is learned during the grading period rather than for
what a student already knew. This requires some sort of longitudinal
assessment (before and after) during the term of study.

Longitudinal assessment for grading is based on learning during the
term (over time). At the end of the grading period, each student is
compared her/his their own beginning level. Students who progress
the most from their starting point are the ones who earn the best
grades. This requires explanation in advance to avoid
misunderstanding. Otherwise, some advanced students might think they
can rest on their expertise and get a good grade without learning new
things. Highly capable students should not be allowed to coast.
They need to be challenged to take on more difficult and challenging
versions of assignments. Students with a strong background can also
be given a chance to learn more by helping with some aspects of the

With experience, many teachers get fairly good at intuitive methods
based on casual observations. Others use things like sketchbooks,
portfolios, journals, digital photo records, and so on to keep
longitudinal records for each student. Learning is assessed by
comparing before and after skills, before and after ability to
develop ideas, before and after composition, and before and after
knowledge. Students can even be asked to keep the records for
themselves. Students can even be asked to self-report and list what
they know about art that they did not know prior to the class.
Knowing this, some students actually try harder to practice and try
harder to remember what is learned during the course. Good students
often already know how to do this. That is why they are good
students. It is part of learning to think and act artistically.

Normative assessment for grading is based on a comparison of the each
individual to standardized goals at the end of the grading period.
The standard is the same for everybody in the class. Some say this
is more fair, but how can it be fair to give the best grade for the
least learning if the one who learns the least happened to start at a
significantly more advanced point.

In practice, many teachers use both kinds of grading. In my opinion,
art learning should be assessed longitudinally (on growth and
improvement). Normative grading might be gradually introduced in
high school art. I believe most university art classes are graded on
a normative basis, but the more enlightened instructors give
allowances for those who progress the most from their starting point
in the course. Employers may say they want to know who is the best
so they know who to hire. In reality, if I were hiring an art
teacher or another art graduate, I would hire the ones who can learn
new things the fastest - not simply those that already know the most.
The strongly self-motivated hard working creative students should be
able to get good grades under either system.

Is grading worth the time and effort in art?
Assessment of learning can help determine the effectiveness of an
alternative teaching method. It can be worthwhile for doing
classroom research to learn how to be a better teacher. Otherwise,
if I had a choice, I would favor good critiques and rubrics to give
student feedback and encouragement, but I would not worry about
grading in art. I would rather spend the effort on more intrinsic
Marvin Bartel

Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171
"You can't never know how to do it before you never did it before."
... a kindergarten boy working with clay for the first time.