Friday, August 23, 2013

A Casualty of Testing

cc flickr photo by azjd
In my own philanthropy and business endeavors, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities...the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.  ~ Paul Allen
I worry about the arts.

The current political obsession with assessment testing, and accountability, has left us with public schools that, by and large, marginalize courses that emphasize creative expression.  The emphasis on standardized testing, coupled with severe under funding, has forced schools to focus resources on core instructional elements (reading, writing, and mathematics) at the expense of classes that develop, or enhance, student appreciation for the fine arts.  In a world in need of creative problem solvers, I think this is a potentially devastating mistake.

I sometimes struggle with the fact that my daughter (who is passionate about music, acting, and drawing) attends a school  where, until this year, she has only had music class about once a week, and has never, in her elementary school career, had an actual art class, during school hours.  This isn't a knock on the school--or the leadership and staff members--but it is a black eye for an educational system that views the fine arts as expendable.  Unfortunately, my junior high is not much better.  Over a ten year period, as budgets have tightened, and accountability has increased -- elective courses have been whittled to the bone in terms of class time, and choice.  As a society, I think we have to recognize that many students have an intense interest in the arts, and when we marginalize the content students are passionate about, we also marginalize the students.

There is also an issue of equity in this dilemma.  As a family, we have been able to supplement my daughter's limited to exposure to the arts through our own efforts.  I have traded attendance at sporting events, for musicals, plays, art exhibits, and concerts.  My daughter takes after school art and music classes.  We have the means, and access, to do that.  The same is not true for all kids, and all families.  

I understand, and support, the emphasis on mathematics and science, but exposure to the arts should not be an "either/or" proposition.  My wife (@ideanad) has earned her PhD in electrical engineering and is a self-described "math geek," but she is also an accomplished pianist.  She would tell you that fine arts encourage students to look at things from a different perspective, developing a unique eye (and ear) for problem solving.

As usual, I don't have an immediate solution.  I know many schools that are finding creative ways to integrate the arts and expose students to this medium of learning.  However, I fear that until funding improves, and the emphasis on standardized testing is diminished, fine arts will be continue to be a casualty of assessment testing.

Breakfast - Still Life by Alina


  1. Hey Jeff... Sad when creativity is a skill that is so important in life... Let alone The passion that people have for arts.

    I find it interesting that the term "assessment" is used so negatively in the US. Standardized tests have ruined that term. Assessment can be a powerful tool for learning in all areas... Including the arts and sports. Without assessment, we cannot determine where we are, where we are going, and how we are going to get there.

    It is so unfortunate that standardized tests have not only ruined the arts... But also how we view assessment.

    (I realize you were not talking about assessment as the formative... But it just shows how context can create such different definitions as, up here, I say I am passionate about "assessment" when I would hesitate to say this in the US).

    As a husband of a dance teacher and dance studio owner... I know the power that a passion in the arts can have. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the comment Chris. I really appreciate your perspective on the term "assessment." That is something I really need to watch, because, as you point out, there is a dramatic difference between testing and assessment. As educators, we need to be cautious about how we use those terms -- assessment is definitely a powerful tool! I did some editing on the post...think the terminology is much better!