Policy Issues in Arts Assessment in Canada: “Let's Get Real”

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    Policy Issues in Arts Assessment in Canada: Let's GetRealBetty HanleyPublished online: 24 Mar 2010.

    To cite this article: Betty Hanley (2003) Policy Issues in Arts Assessment in Canada: Let's Get Real, Arts Education PolicyReview, 105:1, 33-38, DOI: 10.1080/10632910309600750

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  • Policy Issues in Arts Assessment in Canada: Lets Get Real

    BETTY HANLEY

    here is a widely accepted and politically supported interest in testing students in Canada. By testing, using generally T accepted terminology, I refer

    to large-scale measures of student achievement and the use of the data for public dissemination, comparison, and accountability across the Canadian nation. Students write provincial exams in selected subjects either as a gradua- tion requirement or to demonstrate lev- els of competency at intervals through- out school years and take part in national testing programs such as the School Achievement Indicators Pro- gram (SAIP) and the Program for Inter- national Student Assessment (PISA).

    The province of British Columbia pro- vides a typical rationale for large-scale testing. The purpose of the British Co- lumbia Provincial Examination Program is to accomplish the following five goals:

    Establish performance standards at the provincial level

    Provide grade 12 students with the opportunity to demonstrate excellence

    Promote accountability through data obtained from the provincial exam- inations and school marks

    9 Ensure equity to students who plan to enter into postsecondary studies, or for employment purposes

    Enable schools, school districts,

    and the Ministry of Education to make informed decisions

    British Columbia has provincial ex- ams in English, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, geography, histo- ry, languages, and communication, but in none of the arts (meaning visual art, dance, drama, and music).

    In excluding the arts, British Colum- bia is typical. If we were limited to dis- cussing extant policy and practice in provincial testing in the arts, there would be little more to say. There is no explicit provincial policy about testing in the arts. With the exception of the adoption of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs by some schools and credita- tion given certain diplomas from exter- nal institutions such as conservatories, there is currently no provincial testing in the arts in Canada-never mind national testing. Despite acknowledg- ment of the economic impact of the arts by the Government of Canada (1999) and the Cultural Human Resources Council (2001), research in multiple intelligences (Gardner and Perkins 1988, Gardner 1999), acknowledgment by the business community of the need for skills fostered by the arts (the Getty Institute for the A r t s , 1996), and the increasingly evident need for an empha- sis on human values (Jensen 2001;

    Moore 1992, 1994), the arts have been generally marginalized. When it comes to large-scale measurement of student achievement in Canada, the arts are vir- tually ignored.

    This situation represents the current status quo. In this article, I intend, how- ever, to delve into the issues more criti- cally, hopefully comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. In doing so, I will use a W5 approach. That is, I will examine issues related to the why, what, who, when, and where of testing in the arts, and then I will conclude with some issues for policymakers.

    Why? Why should there be testing in the

    arts? The issue is complex. MacGregor, Lemerise, Potts, and Roberts (1994) explain that there is a tension between the need to demonstrate skill mastery and the desire to embrace autonomy and incomparability in the arts (3). On the one hand, there is a widespread notion that artists should be free to pursue ideas and that external assessment will hinder individuality and creativity. Many artists share this viewpoint. The arts are subjective, they argue; you cannot measure the outcome without destroying the art. How, many would ask, can you evaluate artistic creations? Why would you want to? On the other hand, artistic creation does involve the

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  • development of skills and crafisman- ship, and there is a body of knowledge and past practice to be learned.

    In fact, the arts are judged, by critics and consumers alike.2 But they are dif- ferent from other subjects, runs the counter argument. Hoffa (1994) claims, for example, that the arts do indeed, defy the norms of objective measure- ment by which learning is assessed in other subjects (1 8). To date, testing and subsequent measurement have focused on the products of the mind. In the arts, the mindhody dualism defined by Des- cartes and evident in large-scale stan- dardized testing is undercut (Reimer, 1999, 23). The arts involve the senses, the emotions, the soul, and the intellect. How do you measure creative output? Therein lies the ~hallenge.~

    Given the complexity of the issues, should there be large-scale testing in the arts? One compelling reason for provin- cial (or national) testing in the arts is to establish the credibility and generaliz- ability of student achievement in visual art, dance, drama, and music. Unlike in subjects such as math or the sciences where common floors or levels of achievement are in use, to the point where international comparisons may be made (MacGregor, Lemerise, Potts, and Roberts 1994, 3), arts programs tend to produce more idiosyncratic out- comes. Therefore, universities as a rule do not accept arts courses for entrance even into arts degrees, never mind non- arts degrees: This point has long been contentious among artists and support- ers of the arts, who insist that arts cours- es are as rigorous as other courses (albeit in different ways). The evidence to support this claim for rigor, however, is not abundant, and the claim runs counter to the common sense notion that the arts are fun and could not pos- sibly require the same work as a science or mathematics c o ~ r s e . ~ A second rea- son for having the arts involved in large- scale testing is out of sight, out of mind: We are witnessing a nationwide diminishment of curricular attention toward any subject that isnt included on a high-stakes test (Popham 2001, 19). Recent cutbacks in arts programs and the politically-driven emphasis on ac-

    countability in the core subjects lend credence to this suspicion.

    In Canada, provincial efforts at test- ing have included the Manitoba Art & Music Assessment Program for grade five students (Young, Bowman, and Par- ratt, 1983) and the Alberta Music Diug- nostic Tesr (Alberta Education, Grade 5 , 1989). To my knowledge, the results of these tests have not been published in scholarly journals, so the tests have not become part of an arts testing tradition in Canada. There has, indeed, been some interest in assessment in the arts in Canadian schools, but this work re- mains largely inaccessible to the schol- arly community. In addition to the pre- viously cited national project, As- sessment in the Arts: A Cross-Canada Study (MacGregor, Lemerise, Potts, and Roberts 1994), there has been little of a national scope published or widely dis- seminated. Here is one example. In 1989, Hanley, McIntosh, Van Gyn, Ver- riour, and Zuk collaborated in writing Fine Arts Assessment compiled for the B.C. Ministry of Education A r t s Educa- tion Evaluation Team. The result was an overview of theoretical issues and frameworks in each of the arts and a compendium of assessment and evalua- tion strategies that was presumably used to lay the groundwork for lat