New Standardized Test Measures Artistic Ability



“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up,” Pablo Picasso once famously mused. These words are emblazoned on the arts education webpage of the New Hampshire Department of Education, a leader in the charge to reduce the rush of high-stakes standardized testing in schools. Any way you score them, those bubble sheets can’t capture the potential young artists and creatives hold. This spring, the state put forth a pilot arts testing program cultivating alternative ways to measure creative learning, following its similar programs already in place for math, science, and language arts. But can these reimagined assessments (say drawing and reflecting on a self-portrait) actually push forward teaching and learning in the arts—and aspiring Picassos into careers?

The initiative is the latest step in a new model for education that moves away from standardardized tests as a sole measure of accountability and instead focuses on measuring students’ abilities in ways more akin to how they will eventually be measured in the real world. (New Hampshire is one of a small number of states, including Michigan and Florida, exploring this method for the arts.) The arts tests were developed by a cadre of teachers across the state. They score students through a series of tasks that more clearly map onto the actual process of arts disciplines.

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“It sits much better with art than a multiple choice test, because that can only give you a small slice of information about what students can do,” says Marcia McCaffrey, an arts consultant for the New Hampshire Department of Education. “Those are really about what they know, and not what they can do.” In a 21st century armed with iPhones and computers that can answer our every question, memorizing knowledge solely for test-taking is already deemed by some an outmoded skill. But for fields in which creative problem-solving, never mind artistic expression itself, are most highly valued, it’s downright antithetical.

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