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 later curricu- lum development. However, like other background documents for government ministries, the work remains unpub- lished, at best languishing in some musty archive.

    The United States has been much more visibly active in arts education. In the United States there have been many statewide and three national assess- ments in the arts (National Assessment of Educational Progress 1971-72, 1978, 1997). According to Colwell(1999), the first NAEP assessments were designed to measure student competence, where- as the last version sought to determine to what extent the voluntary national standards in arts education for music have been implemented and to promote selected instructional objectives (34). This decision, Colwell claims, was political rather than educational. Over thirty years, the NAEP assessments have moved from an interest in student

    achievement to the implementation of a curriculum that is in many ways a polit- ical document. An increased politiciza- tion in education and assessment is all too evident in Canada as well.

    Indeed, the political reason for testing cannot be overlooked. Why there should be testing is a question that needs to be carefully examined. Several key ques- tions come to mind immediately. Who is being served by this testing? Who should be? In my view, politicians sup- port testing because they want to be per- ceived to be accountable to parents (the voters) and corporations. They want to appear to be competent and in control by ranking high in international testing venues, ostensibly to be competitive in the global economy. Keeping a close watch on government policy, the On- tario Secondary School Teachers Fed- eration (OSSTF 2001) speculated that the Harris govemment might use high stakes testing to rank schools and teachers, base student promotion, allo- cate funding, and introduce merit pay schemes (1), whether or not test results can legitimately be used to justify judg- ments of this kind. Raising test scores thus has become a national priority established by government and corpo- rate interests, with public support for accountability generated by claims that schools are in a state of crisis, a view the media seems quick to support. In this scenario it nearly seems as if no one cares if students are truly learning and learning something that will be of value to them and to society. Are students being served by this testing anxiety? It is clear that the bureaucratic view of service to clients does not parallel the view of teachers who serve students, not clients. When it comes to political intent, Roberston (1998) concludes that it is the corporate and global economy that are driving accountability and test- ing, not the welfare of students. I agree.

    Recall the stated purposes of the British Columbia Provincial Examina- tion Program detailed above. Surely the criteria apply as well to the arts as to the core subjects. Why are the arts ex- cluded? There are a number of possible reasons, some of them more valid than others, but, in the end, it comes down to

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  • what politicians think the voters (read parents and even more so, corporate in- terests) want.6 It is fair to question where the political will resides.

    What? The question of what should be test-

    ed in the ar ts brings us to the crux of the matter. Outcomes in the ar ts are not readily tested, if by tests one means paper-and-pencil tests. Certainly, one can test theoretical knowledge with pen- cil and paper (as do the Advanced Placement tests in music), but these tests do not address the core of arts classes or programs, many of which fo- cus on involvement in producing art. The first NAEP test in 1971-72 includ- ed a number of performance items: Few of the 150 music items developed for the 1971 test were of the traditional paper-and-pencil variety (Colwell 1999, 33). The second effort in 1978, however, eliminated the performance items due to cost. In Canada, the 1983 Manitoba test referred to earlier had both a written component and a practi- cal component that used a much smaller student sample than the written test, but that is the extent of the trials. There is currently in Canada (and international- ly) one example of assessment that addresses what is done in ar ts classes that could serve as an entry point: the International Baccalaureate (IB) uses a portfolio and reflection process for its art examination.

    The literature in the arts consistently supports the need for more than the tra- ditional kind of testing. Meaningful provincewide assessment and evalua- tion in the arts would require a holistic approach if the data were to provide useful information (Wilson 1996). A holistic approach includes assessment practices that do not diminish the value of arts education through distorting artistic inquiry and learning (3). The reductivism evident in traditional test- ing programs only addresses peripheral (albeit important) learning in the arts. A holistic approach is indeed proposed in provincial arts curriculum documents where criterion-referenced and authen- tic assessment strategies are suggested. Assessment and evaluation at the local

    level provide feedback for students, teachers, and parents: These strategies ironically...

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