High Quality Student Data in the Arts

Updated October, 2021… see below.

Original text from May, 2021

Arts education isn’t known for it’s heavy reliance on data. Unlike tested subjects like English-Language Arts and Math, there is little capital investment in creating assessments that might create actionable data in the arts. Maybe this is a good thing.

What data is actually useful to arts educators? What data can actually drive arts instruction?

There are various measurements of the overall impact of the arts in a community or society at large. Thus, I meet very few school leaders who do not express some sort of appreciation or value for the arts. Nonetheless, I can’t find a lot of agreement on what kind of data might be most helpful to arts educators.

As the State of Ohio creates a new teacher assessment system – dubbed OTES 2.0 – there is a new call for data in all school areas. This time around, we are asked to use High Quality Student Data as a means for driving instruction.

This is actually an improvement over previous iterations of the teacher evaluation system. The emphasis on data that drives instruction over the previous growth-based accountability measures is notable. It’s not that arts teachers don’t want their students to grow – of course we do! Instead, it is really hard to prove that a kid is growing each time they create a new work or performance. We certainly believe they are growing, but quantifying that growth has been very challenging.

In the past Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (now called OTES 1.0), we were looking for proof that kids were learning, so we created things like value-added measures and Student Learning Objective (SLO) systems. In some cases, we boiled instruction down to the most definable and countable elements. We began counting for the sake of counting – not for the sake of driving instruction. That was a real challenge for the arts. It drove many arts programs to create low level tests where students would regurgitate art information. It wasn’t an authentic arts experience which is best shown through actual art performance and production.

If you don’t have multiple choice tests in your art room, please don’t add them.

If we’re not trying to prove growth anymore, per se, I’m left with wondering what would actually be helpful in driving arts instruction? What kind of High Quality Student Data (HQSD) might an art teacher actual find useful – as opposed to data created forthe sake of checking a box on an evaluation.

The complete Ohio Teacher Evaluation System 2.0 system can be found here.

The specific ODE requirements on High Quality Student Data (HQSD) is here.

I was especially struck by these ODE bullet points below. They give us a clue about what makes a data set high quality and worthy of inclusion in the assessment model.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, High Quality Student Data should:

  • Align to Learning Standards
  • Measure what is intended to be measured
  • Be attributable to the specific teacher for course(s) and grade level(s) taught
  • Demonstrate evidence of student learning (achievement AND/OR growth)
  • Follow protocols for administration and scoring
  • Provide trustworthy results
  • Not offend or be driven by bias

After reading this, I had a thought: We can do this in the arts without creating an inauthentic bubble test.

Prototypes for Experience-Driving Arts Data

However, below are just a few ideas; prototypes that resulted from a brainstorm. They’re incomplete, not read to go, and need tweaking before being used in the real world. I am happy to continue the conversation with anyone interested. There are quality controls that are still needed with all of these ideas. Nonetheless, I’m hoping some arts educators find these ideas helpful. I have to admit my own bias as well: I have far more experience with secondary schools than elementary schools. I am familiar with the elementary arts classroom, to be sure. However, because of my design bias, these ideas may need further tweaking for the elementary arts classroom.

Idea #1: Using Social Emotional Data

Ohio has also adopted a body of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards. These standards are not meant to be scored or graded in the traditional sense. Instead, many districts are planning measuring SEL standards via various surveys. According to the University of Chicago, “art practices, also includes social-emotional components.” They put together a really manageable study on connecting arts and Social Emotional Learning. It’s clear that the connection between the arts and social emotional learning is high.

As districts gain clarity on their SEL data they will discuss what they might do with that data. How might they intervene? What kind of programs might they create? The arts can also react to that data. If an arts teacher gets access to the same SEL survey data, they would undoubtedly have some high quality information with which they can plan and adjust instruction. And, of course, planning and adjusting instruction based on data is at the heart of the new teacher assessment system.

The only thing I’m unsure of is whether or not this fulfills the requirement to be “attributable to an individual teacher.” Maybe SEL measurement systems can be brought into the context of the arts room by phrasing survey questions that start with “when in your theater classes…” or “when I work in my painting class…”

Idea #2: Qualitative or Experiential Learning Data

The HQSD requirements do state that the data should be focused on learning goals. Would arts teachers find it helpful if students assessed themselves toward specific big picture goals.

I wonder if teachers could use artwork and performances with standardized rubrics to measure student achievement. A theater teacher might use a one-point rubric on a performance and follow that up with some notes for the performance. Undoubtedly, that rubric would give actionable data to a theater teacher. It would also give meaningful holistic feedback to the student-performer. That seems to check the boxes from ODE while staying true to what makes theater special.

Idea #3: Student Goal Setting

This one is my favorite. Arts teachers could ask students to create their own arts-focused goals that they feel they can achieve during a particular time period. For instance, the student could say that they would like to grow their creativity by creating more idea sketches before an upcoming painting project. The teacher could then give feedback on the quantity and quality of sketches. At the same time, another student in the same class may set a goal about learning a new painting technique. Again, the teacher gives feedback on that goal. The goals themselves serve as meaningful data to adjust and personalize instruction.

This would probably require some professional learning around goal setting, perhaps some standard goal setting templates could be used in a given arts department. This might be my favorite of the three options, however, because it gives students a great deal of the data ownership.

In Conclusion

These ideas also only works because the teacher is not being evaluated on whether or not students grow (of course, we hope they do!) but they are evaluated on HOW they use the data or information that they’re presented with. If a student sets a goal and then present data (or information) that they’re not going to meet the goal, what might the teacher do to intervene? How might the teacher help the student meet the goal? If a student takes SEL-based surveys and they show a need for more time reflecting on a particular topic, what might the teacher do with this information?

In many ways, the lack of traditional test-based assessment data is a bonus for arts teachers. If they can expand the traditional vocabulary of what schools consider assessment to be, they can really find new ways to reach and grow students. They can continue to create learning evidence based in portfolios, performances, and products. Hopefully, we can continue to generate ideas on authentic and meaningful data in the arts – not rushing to a test for the sake of data production.

These are just a few fresh ideas off the top of my head today. I’m sure there are many other great ideas out there. What ideas do you have for getting usable data in arts education?

Update: October 20, 2021
I’ve noticed an uptick of hits on this article as the demand for classroom data use hits hard this school year for many educators. I have continued to think about this area and have a few updated thoughts that educators may find helpful.

Discipline Based Fundamentals

Art history and art criticism are two fundamental disciplines in studying the arts. **Visual and cultural literacy **can also be a key outcome for many arts education programs. By engaging in these disciplines, learners are put in a reflective state and become more aware of their own performance as an artist. Focusing on history and literacy outcomes helps students understand their own work as a piece of a wider story of human art making. Criticism helps students speak more eloquently about the works they see.

In each case, teachers may choose to use formative and summative assessments to learn more about student progress. Scored on a rubric, teachers may find some student accelerating their analytical skills while others may need support. Formative assessments are short, quick-hit assessments of skills. They may or may not be scored and put in the grade book. They are, however, used to adjust instruction in the short term. That might mean creating small groups, building a station rotation, or re-teaching of concepts to groups of any size. Summative assessments tend to be scored in the grade book and can help give a bigger picture view of instruction to teachers.

Nonetheless, I still remain generally opposed to creating a standardized bubble test for these types of disciplines. Bubble tests tend to (but not always) encourage low depth of knowledge thinking. Teachers and students can brainstorm together the ways that they might meet these discipline based goals and design success criteria together. As far as learning evidence, creative educators can expand their horizons beyond tests. Perhaps a video scored by a rubric would be the right fit. Written assignments – long and short – can also provide key insights to a student’s understanding.

WIth that said, you may find yourself in setting that demands traditional tests be used. I know this can be exasperating for many arts educators as it is a rather inauthentic instructional move in an area that lends itself so well to authentic applications — namely artmaking. I’ve never been shy about sharing that insight with educational leaders and I’ll continue to do so. However, if this is your situation, these art disciplines (history, criticism, literacy) are probably the disciplines that lend themselves best to a traditional test if that’s what your school or community demands.

Learner Preferences as Data

We tend to think of achievement data when considering measuring our students. Students expressing preferences can also be considered a type of data. That might mean an artistic prompt which students then group into similar interpretations of the prompt. If you are brave enough to allow multiple mediums used at the same time, students could be grouped into medium-alike groups.

The Art of Ed

This is an unsponsored plug for the Art of Education University. This organization creates professional learning experiences (including a full masters degree) that teachers can explore. I did a quick search for the word “data” and found that they had two articles, an assessment rubric, and a “learning pack” that includes a number of videos, tools, and practical ideas for teachers. These experiences are NOT free, but if I were still in the arts classroom, I would definitely ask my leadership team to tap into some Title II funds or other sources to get a subscription.

One response to “High Quality Student Data in the Arts”

  1. I am thinking similarly right now. I have been at the elementary level for ten years now and I have been obsessed with tracking artistic development (more and more kinder come to me every year drawing “tadpole” people). This helps drive my instruction because I can target students who need introduced to ideas about schema-building, spatial understanding, and extended access to materials. I can also target others for enrichment. Kind of a Lowenfeld/ Vygotsky approach that encompasses fine motor and cognitive artistic development.

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