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Re: artsednet digest: June 21, 2001:In defense of Grad Standards

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From: Kevan Nitzberg (knitzber_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri Jun 22 2001 - 04:58:10 PDT


In Defense of Grad Standards in Art Education:

There have been some posts and certainly a lot of instances outside of this
listserv that have been about standards-bashing in regards to art and other
/ all curriculum areas during the last several years. As someone who
initially was slow to accept their educational validity and was concerned
about how they would impact the creativity and viability of what went on in
my classroom, I would like to say a few things in support of what I have
found the Standards capable of doing for students.

In my district, there was great support for the intent of standards-based
education, and teachers were assembled into standard package writing teams
to make sure that the existing curriculum was being taken into account in
the creation of the packages. There certainly were state models available
for us to examine that in some cases were also adopted by different areas,
but in many others, including art, those models were deemed as having little
to do with what was being taught in our district. As a result, we wrote our
packages that followed the precepts of what needed to be incorporated from
the standards. This proved to be not all that difficult of a task as we
already are a performance-based learning / teaching component in the
curriculum and as a result, what is really being asked of us via the
standards, we essentially have always done. The most difficult thing for us
to do in our district had to do with agreeing on what portion of the
curriculum the specific package being created would be in. My district is
responsible for teaching 40,000 students and is made up of 4 (soon to be 5)
high schools, 7 middle schools and 29 (soon to be 30) elementary schools.
In addition, there are 21 alternative sites as well. In that large of a
population, there are often variations as to what parts of the curriculum
are being taught and what lessons teachers feel most comfortable / equipped
to teach. There was a period of time that was given over to deciding which
areas would have the standards embedded in them.

When it came time to test out the packages that had been written, a number
of concerns erupted in terms of the implementation process. The checklists
needed to be adjusted as what the students were being asked to consider went
well beyond what was actually being evaluated in the final assessment that
actually reflected the tenets of the standards themselves. Time for
implementation became an issue as well due to the fact that the standards
and the packages that came from them, demanded a much more detailed
exploration of the work being done than had sometimes been the case in the
past and as a result there had to be shifting of what else was being taught
in classes. In addition, the scoring of the packages and the examination of
rubric models to help create the scores (no longer simply an A-F scale),
also needed careful thought and development.

As an author of some of those packages, and a teacher in the areas where
they and other packages were being implemented, I found that over time, the
results that I was getting from a much larger number of my students began to
significantly improve. So much improvement was evidenced that I found
myself testifying in front of the Education Subcommittee of the State
Legislature as to the success of standards-based education in visual art.
The members on that committee were literally stunned with the examples of
student work I brought with me to help make my point. Those simple acrylic
monochromatic paintings that I had taken along to show the legislators had
been done by primarily 9th graders, some of whom were special ed. students.
I think that many of the members of the committee were actually intimidated
by the success that these students had realized in their work. Some of that
success, I think, was principally my getting used to managing the new
mechanics involved in teaching with a package. Some had to do with the fact
that students were encouraged to look at the successes of other students'
art that was a result of their having completed the work on the packages.
Most of the success I believe had to do with the systematic delivery and
emphasis imposed on the classroom instruction by the standards themselves.
The various learning precepts that are a mainstay of all of the standards
help to insure both the quality and depth of the material being taught.
There also is a built in common denominator that begins to be established
across what have been artificially drawn curriculum boundaries, encouraging
students to find connectiveness between areas of learning. Relating
information from one subject to another has always been a tough thing to
accomplish and as a result, students have had much of their learning
(particularly at the secondary level), take place in 'small boxes' that had
little to do with each other.

I have heard many people say that art is different than all of the other
subjects and I would agree that much of what we do is indeed quite unique.
However, the students that we teach are the same students that are also
being taught in those other subjects as well and need to be able to
reinforce what they are being taught in all of their subjects. We cannot
expect students to move from one class to another and have to re-invent how
they process information from scratch each time they move into a different
classroom and be able to build connections between disciplines in order to
help make those learning experiences more meaningful. It really is our job
to teach students how to use information and build those skills that will
allow them to do that successfully. That is the primary focus of what we do
as educators. It is also the focus for the math teacher, the music teacher,
the English teacher, the social studies teacher, the foreign language
teacher and the phy. ed. teacher. It is not about creating subject specific
prima donnas. If during the process we are able to encourage students to
excel in specific areas, that is a marvelous thing, but the majority of our
students are not in that population. They deserve to be able to get an
education that will serve them for their entire lifetimes, giving them the
tools to maximize those lives and reach whatever levels of success and
satisfaction that they are capable of achieving.

Kevan Nitzberg
Fine Arts Facilitator
Anoka-Hennepin School District
MN.

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