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  Assessment in Visual Art:

Scholarly Recommendations Compared to
        Teacher Implementation

             Adam Ross
              LAI 667
          December 8, 2005


        Assessing and evaluating students‟ work may be second nature to experienced

teachers in the visual arts. It may also seem like an easy and instinctual act that many

novice teachers assume they can accomplish based on intuition alone. However, it takes

far more than mere intuition to provide valuable assessment to the students. In fact,

assessment and evaluation is one of the most difficult challenges facing any teacher in the

visual arts.

        What tools do teachers have available to them to aid them in valuable assessment?

What are the different assessment methods and to what performance tasks should these

assessments be applied? What factors must a teacher keep in mind when selecting a

method and should they follow one method exclusively, use different methods for

different tasks, or combine several methods to create their own style of teaching based on

the specific needs of their class?

        States and teachers utilize rubrics, paper tests, and other methods to assist in the

process of constructing an accurate evaluation of a student‟s artistic performance. Why

and how should they choose which methods and tools to use?

        First, the evaluating method must be consistent and fair. While a teacher can

claim they graded fairly, if there is no solid method to back up their grading the situation

can rapidly degrade into arguments with students and possibly their parents about

whether or not a grade is fair. Reducing the subjective nature of arts assessment and

bolstering fair grading is extremely important for this reason. The assessment tools force

a teacher to look at their own guidelines in a concrete form, since it is all too easy to give

a student a few extra points because they are in a teacher‟s good graces, or vice versa.

        A more encompassing reason to create effective arts assessments is to increase the

validity of arts as a whole. Over the past several decades, and arguably since the 1950‟s,

public schools nationwide have undergone severe cuts in their arts education programs.

During the 1950‟s, the fear of a communist threat caused the US to form committees like

the Committee on Science, which was charged with the goal “that American young

people did not fall behind the Russians and other competitors in math and science skills.

In other words, when the United States felt threatened, Congress looked to engineering

solutions and better engineering education as part of the answer.”(Gordon, 2004). A

revamping of these programs caused by the fear of communist superiority shaped the

focus of educational reforms. This was the beginning of the marginalization of the arts as

a whole.

        As time went on, the nation‟s attention became increasingly focused on math,

science, and English courses, seeing them as the core (and occasionally sole) focus of the

educational community. The arts, for whatever reason, were not “core” classes or

“necessary”. As funding became scarce, art and music was among the first to suffer

because they were “unimportant” when compared to the core three. According to several

of the teachers interviewed later in this report, even today some perceive the arts as

frivolous, unimportant, or even irrelevant to education.

        One reason for this could be the lack of what some see as concrete testing used to

judge math and science scores. Visual art, and many of the other arts, frequently present

problems or issues that do not have one solution. Therefore, a standard test to measure

how students handle artistic problems is extremely difficult to create and impossible to

evaluate fairly.

       The difficulty of creating these kinds of assessments and measurements perhaps

led to the existing positions towards the arts.(Schultz, 2002) “If we can‟t test it, it must

not be as important” seems to be a common attitude in today‟s society, particularly with

so much focus on high-stakes testing since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

mandated them in order to monitor annual yearly progress.(Wiley, 2005)

       It is therefore important for teachers in the classroom to create solid,

understandable, justifiable terms of assessment in their classrooms. Assessment is

necessary to prevent further disregard for the arts despite their requirements as set forth

by both the state and the federal government. Additionally, having a transparent grading

system and way of assessing student work in the classroom validates a teacher‟s grades to

students, parents, colleagues, and themselves. More importantly, it aids the students in

understanding their own abilities, knowledge, and goals.

       While individuals in the education community strive to create high-stakes

assessments, I believe that the focus of assessment should be the students and their

individual needs. Many educators will agree that one standardized test in the arts will

provide an unbiased, thorough, and fair assessment of all students, particularly those who

may have differing environmental, physical, or mental backgrounds.

       The main question that I attempt to answer within the context of this paper is

“How do teachers in different schools with differing student bodies and environments in

Western New York assess their students, and how does it differ from current attempts

nationally to create high-stakes assessments?”

       I will use observations in several schools located throughout Western New York

to see what kind of assessments teachers are using in their classrooms and gauge student

reactions to them. I will also conduct interviews with them focusing on why they use

particular assessments, or conversely, why they choose not to use any at all. I intend to

reinforce the importance of good assessments with literary citations as well, and endeavor

to learn some of the existing assessment methods.

       Through comparing and contrasting the teachers‟ techniques and exploration of

theoretical assessment methods in my literary reviews. I hope to develop a working

knowledge and understanding of assessment methods and their applications within the

class room.

                                     Literature Review

       The problem of assessing the arts has long plagued the academic community. To

quantify art in any manner seems, to a layman, an impossible task, but that is exactly

what educators in the arts must necessarily do. Any small amount of research into this

dilemma reveals that there are various schools of thought as regards assessment methods.

Through careful examination of the thought process behind the creation of assessment

tools and their evaluations, we as educators can learn and develop these theories and

create our own styles of teaching.

       The literature reviewed herein includes scholarly resources, government reports,

and journal articles regarding assessment methods in the Visual Arts. This survey of

material provides a general scope of the differing approaches to assessing a student‟s

artwork used on international, national, state, and local levels. Through these materials,

one can better understand the varying performance tasks, how to assess them, and how

each technique compares to the rest.

       The reasoning behind a review such as this is to obtain a better idea of the broad

scope of assessments and assessing techniques that are available in order to create a base

of knowledge to help answer the question, “Which assessments do teachers feel are the

most effective?” Research such as this, in tandem with observation and field work,

creates a working knowledge from which to begin a practicable and applicable

assessment style.

       To give dilemmas of creating reliable and valid testing and assessing in the arts

scope, please note that national policies regarding assessments and assessing is not

exclusive to the United States. A number of the reference materials on this subject

involved studies and research in other countries concerning visual arts education, high-

stakes testing, and assessing. One example was from Australia in September of 1996.

The report discussed the development and implementation of system-wide assessment of

arts learning in primary and secondary schools, and some of the issues that arose during

the development of the test and the outcomes highlighted in the data analysis.

       Interestingly, the paper claimed that this high-stakes test was the first like it in the

world, though it gave recognition to the Educational Testing Service of Princeton that

was conducting studies for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) of

the arts disciplines in the U.S. Another fascinating discovery in the readings was that the

Australians were using very similar standards to the four used by New York State to rate

the tests. The report described the different tests given to each discipline and samples of

the kinds of questions given.

           “For each of the disciplines the test followed the same design, being
       guided by the following overreaching principle: to gain a good indication
       of student knowledge in an art form it is essential to assess both the
       student ability to practice art, that is, the „doing it‟ or „making it‟, and the
       students‟ ability to „understand‟ and „appreciate‟ that art form. This
       meant, therefore, that each student had to complete two tests, a practical
       test for the student‟s ability to make art – a Process test and a pencil and
       paper test to measure understanding and appreciation of art – an Analysis
       test.” (Church, 1999)

       The sample questions included were multiple choice and constructed response to

the visual prompt, in this example the painting used was “Waiting For Broth” by George

Duerdin (printable image was unavailable). Students typically had to select an answer in

the multiple choice section, and then give a short response justifying their choice.

       In addition to the type of assessing mentioned in the above quote, the developers

felt it necessary to monitor the efforts of the students‟ in the two points by asking them to

provide both written or diagrammatic planning as well as a self-critique of their work.

Even though they were separately tested, the researchers found the results disappointing.

They wanted to “give it a try” in order to attempt a link between year levels of the

students despite that they knew there was little student experience in the area of self-

assessment. Other problems cropped up when they realized not all the students had

English as their native language and that there could be issues with proctoring since many

of the teachers had never administered anything of the sort before (Church, 1999).

        The only conclusion drawn from the report is that the researchers now had a firm

background to from which to expand. Creating the assessment on such a large scale to

cover every discipline, let alone a visual arts test, proved to be too big a task at that time,

and they would need to gather the results and continue to make modifications. One item

discussed in depth was the rubric used to grade student answers. Set zero to four marks,

each represented a students‟ level of understanding. This nearly universal quality of

assessing was prevalent throughout this report and the other literature. The rubric

(discussed in further detail later) turned out to be not only a useful tool for objective

grading but also for teaching.

        The NAEP, as the Australian article mentioned, was conducting its own studies

into the assessments and techniques in the arts disciplines. They used a very similar

method to test both content and process; having one performance task section and one

pencil-and-paper section that involved multiple choice, short constructed response, and

extended constructed response questions. Another similarity was the handling of the

short and extended constructed response questions. Rubrics were constructed

substituting four general levels for numbers:

       Again we see that a rubric was used (as well as multiple judges) to create an

objective assessment of a students‟ performance. However, the NAEP researchers and

testers chose to forgo the rubric for a checklist-type assessing tool for the performance

tasks. Strangely, the article gave no reason for the change in assessing technique or why

each was more appropriate for its respective task.

       Another similar finding to the Australian report was that, even though the NAEP

was able to gain a general idea of where cognitive and performance levels were within

each art, the researchers ran into significant difficult in the creation and the execution of

the tests. While they came away with more useable background information, they were

unable to create a satisfactory standard high-stakes test.(Vanneman, 1998)

       One major recommendation from both the Australian and NAEP reports to

increase student learning and better assessment was to involve students in the creation of

their own assessments. The claim was that this increased the self-assessment and

analyzing skills of the students, while providing the teacher with the ability to be more

objective. These results began to suggest to me that perhaps high-stakes arts testing on

national or even state levels might be too difficult to implement and that, due to the time

and implementation difficulties, it would probably be ideal to have the individual

teachers become reliable, expert assessors in their own classrooms.

       There was research that also suggested the idea of increased accountability for the

arts teachers in the classrooms. Norway was another country looking to develop a better

arts assessment tool and conducting active research into the issue. Researchers stated that

classroom assessment is dependent upon the teacher, and that the goal of the study was to

create a theoretical framework on how to study the assessments in the arts, a way of

testing tests and testing how teachers assess. The authors used in-depth pedagogical

research and made suggestions geared towards helping classroom teachers in the arts

become better assessors and suggested that increased teacher accountability would

increase student performance.(Puurula, 2000)

       One teacher/researcher in the United States agreed with the suggestions of

increased teacher accountability and used her own students as test subjects through

several experiments with teaching grading. The teacher used a rubric to not only involve

herself further in an objective grading method, but also as a teaching tool. The teacher

provided the students in one class with rubrics before the start of a project, while another

„control‟ the teacher gave only the assignment instructions.

       Her reason for doing this was to prove that the rubric begins to blur the distinction

between instruction and assessment. The rubric was easy to understand and flexible, so

adjustment to the rubric is possible if necessary. The hypothesis was that students who

were given the rubric would have more detailed knowledge of both the expectations of

the assignment and would retain more knowledge about the subject.(Andrade, 2000)

       After giving the assignment and collecting the results, interviews of the students

commenced. Students who had the rubric ahead of time not only performed better on the

assignment, but also achieved higher marks on their tests than students who had not.

When asked about how the teacher graded, each group of students provided interesting


           “When your teachers read your essays and papers, how do they decide
       whether your work is excellent (A) or very good (B)? …Broadly, the
       control students tended to have a vaguer notion of how grades were

           “Well, they give us the assignment and they know the qualifications
       and if you have all of them you get an A and if you don‟t you get a F and
       so on.”

           Note that this student knows that the teacher has her standards or
       “qualifications” but he does not suggest that he himself should know what
       they are. The treatment students, however, tended to refer to the rubrics …
       as grading guides and often listed criteria from the rubrics they had seen:

           “The teacher gives us a paper called a rubric. A rubric is a paper of
       information of how to do our essays good to deserve an A. If they were to
       give it an A it would have to be well organized, neat, good spelling, no
       errors and more important, the accurate information it gives. For a B it‟s
       neat, organized, some errors and pretty good information but not perfect.”

             Another treatment student wrote:

           “An A would consist of a lot of good expressions and big words.
       He/she also uses relevant and rich details and examples. The sentences
       are clear, they begin in different ways, some are longer than others, and
       no fragments. Has good grammar and spelling. A B would be like an A but
       not as much would be on the paper.”(Andrade, 2000)

       It is relatively clear from the study that the rubric created a strong understanding

of not only the assignment and the teacher‟s expectations, but it was actually assisting the

students in learning. The difference between the responses of the control students and the

treatment students was also pretty striking. The experiment as a whole was a very strong

argument not only for the use of a rubric, but for using an assessment technique as a

teaching tool and making it accessible to the students.

       In a separate article, another teacher described her experience when she used a

different assessment technique as a teaching tool. The author wrote the article to share

her experience, as the school she taught at suddenly required her to have criteria

reference testing (CRT) that measured the courses yearly outcomes. The author knew

that art was performance based, and had to create a CRT to measure that performance.

The CRT was essentially a yes/no checklist of qualities that a student‟s work should


       The teacher‟s idea was to start every fall with an “all white project” which was

essentially a still life with hard lighting on recognizable objects that had been painted

entirely white. First the teacher utilized their CRT, and then the students would create

their own for a second “all white” later in the year. Both CRT‟s would be stored in the

student‟s portfolio and progress could be monitored (Buck, 2002).

       Again, the teacher had a very positive outcome from the students being involved

in their grading process. They received knowledge on how to self-assess and were able

to see the difference in their own work by comparing the two projects. The results from

Andrade and Buck both suggest that bringing the assessment technique to the students,

making assessments more accessible and more understandable, and using them as

teaching tools are very successful ways to increase student learning.

       This may also be the cause of so much difficulty in the national and international

studies mentioned earlier. Consider that most high-stakes tests in the arts are hard

enough to create (seeing, as no state or country has been more than marginally successful

in doing so). High stakes tests are difficult for the students due to a wide range of artistic

literacy among the test subjects, but the ways in which they are graded are almost entirely

unknown to the students. Students used to one of the two above mentioned methods

would have significant difficulty on a performance task unless there were clearly stated

requirements laid out in the task description. Some teachers have even suggested the

elimination of high stakes testing entirely, allowing the teachers to be the main source of

gauging student ability (Nathan, 2002).

       Mary Stockrocki was another researcher/teacher who recommended using

assessing as a teaching tool in her journal article “Reconsidering Everyday Assessment in

the Classroom: Ceramics and Science”. She stated that feedback is important for students

in their learning process, and that teachers should provide opportunities for students to

learn how to self-assess before, during, and after a project (Stockrocki, 2005).

       The author explained how she began to incorporate „everyday assessment‟ into

her class by asking specific types of questions that required higher level thinking. The

questions included having students perform on-demand self-assessments for the artistic

portion, and science related questions like “How does a kiln work” to have the students

thinking about what they were doing each day. There was strong emphasis on avoiding

simple rubrics and tests to give a student a grade.(Stockrocki, 2005)

       While her technique was unusual, her results were successful and her students had

a significant understanding of the material. The one drawback to her method is that it

could easily backfire on newer, less experienced teachers. Giving useful, appropriate

feedback while asking students questions to force thinking in the higher cognitive

domains can be difficult on a constant basis. Failure to create the right questions and to

give adequate feedback could create more confusion as opposed to increasing learning.

       The “best method” for assessing students in a classroom environment, if there was

or ever will be one, does not seem to be a single answer. Rubrics, testing, CRTs, and

constant interaction with students seem like strong suggestions, but none was a magic

bullet for all instances. One report by the National Center for Educational Statistics

(NCES) even suggests that there should not be a single way of assessing students, and

that a teacher should use different types of assessments and different techniques to assess

their students‟ work (N.C.E.S., 2003).

       Despite the difficulties and issues involved, many states continue attempts to

create high-stakes testing for the arts, visual or otherwise, in an attempt to comply with

the NCLB act. Maryland took enough interest to perform its own survey of the tests

given in other states. Their findings were similar to the NCES study in that there were

several different kinds of assessment being used nationally, though none were supplying

any resounding successes (NEA, 2005; Westat, 2001).

       While there seems to be some dispute over the kind of assessments given to

students and how, there is apparently a trend in the research suggesting that increased

transparency in grading methods and involvement of the students in their own evaluations

increased learning. The successes of the teachers who wrote articles about their

experiences reflected this, but also in the weaknesses of the massive high-stakes tests in

the U.S and in other countries as well.

       The involving of students in the creation of their own evaluations caused them to

think more critically about their work at a higher cognitive domain. While not always a

form of metacognition, this activity allowed for greater retention of student knowledge

and a clearer understanding of the teacher‟s expectations. This in turn increased student

performance on several levels (Andrade, 2000).

       This indicates that there is a possibility that adjusting the way teachers assess

students in a classroom setting may very well increase overall class performance. While

there may not be a standard, if all teachers are using these methods of assessment and

having their scores reported there is less need and less pressure for the creation of a

standardized high-stakes arts test.

       To gain a better understanding of the techniques that utilized in classrooms as

opposed to relying on research alone, it is necessary to couple this theoretical approach

with observation and field work. I conducted my observations in various schools in the

Western New York area. There, I observed classes and interviewed several teachers

about their techniques and philosophies pertaining to the assessment of students and their

work, the results of which are in the next section of this paper.

                                  Field Observations

         The preceding “Literature Review” explored and explained varying philosophies

on assessments and evaluations in the arts. The next logical question that one must pose

in this course of study is which of these theoretical techniques are being used and how do

they translate in the classroom? The best way to determine and evaluate the performance

tasks and assessments utilized in the classroom is, quite simply, to view them in practice.

In order to deepen my understanding of assessment, and rubrics in particular, I was

fortunate enough to be a guest in several Western New York schools. I was able to visit a

wide variety of educational facilities ranging in different levels of funding, designation of

school (charter and public), grade level, and experience of the teachers. While at each

school, I not only passively observed each class, but I participated in class activities when

prompted by the instructors, conducted interviews of the teachers, and discussed certain

aspects of each class with the instructors and the students when appropriate.

         One of my earlier interviews was with Mr. „D‟ (multiple meetings, September

2000), a teacher in a suburban middle school who taught visual art at the seventh grade

level. He has been teaching seventh grade classes for several years, and had a wealth of

information about his grading techniques on particular assignments. My first question to

him was, why grade at all? I mentioned that I was forming my own philosophies on the

subject, and wanted his input so I could better understand the methods he would explain

to me.

         “I assess to improve learning”, he explained. In Mr. D‟s opinion, grading was a

secondary albeit important outcome of his assessments. He used his assessing techniques

primarily to teach and reinforce the concepts he had put forth to the class, which was one

              of the methods recommended in the literature review (Andrade, 2000). A sample was

              provided of the kind of rubric he typically used in his class.

                      The assignment that corresponds with this rubric is one that is common in many,

              if not all, visual art curriculums at one level or another: the creation of a color wheel. In

              this case, the required media was watercolors to create a standard color wheel. Mr. Dulak

              created four separate criteria with four gradations of quality to assess each student‟s

              work. Below is a layout of the specific rubric he utilized in this assessment:

   Criteria                    1                                2                            3                           4
                          Unacceptable                    Below Average                    Quality                    Excellent

Drawing of the    Color wheel has 12 unequal             Color wheel has 12            Color wheel has 12         Color wheel has 12
 color wheel,     „pie‟ pieces am dos 5 inches        unequal pie pieces and is     almost equal pie pieces    equal pie pieces and is 7
  the words       or less in diameter. Circle is     more than an inch off of 7      and is near 7 inches in   inches in diameter. The
“color wheel”,     drawn wobbly. The words            inches in diameter. The        diameter. The words       words “color wheel” are
   and the         “color wheel” are drawn in         words “color wheel” are      “color wheel” are drawn       drawn in blocker or
 overlapping          sloppy and are not in         drawn in sloppy, in blocker       in blocker or bubble        bubble letters. The
   shapes.          blocker or bubble letters.           or color letters. The     letters. The overlapping    overlapping shapes vary
                   The overlapping shapes do         overlapping shapes do not        shapes vary between       between geometric and
                  not vary between geometric          vary between geometric         geometric and organic     organic, and fill the rest
                  and organic and only fill ¼ -     and organic and only fill ½     and fill 3.4 of the open       of the open sheet.
                      1/3 of the open space.              of the open space.                  space.
Painting with     Watercolors are not painted            Watercolors are not       Watercolors are painted     Watercolors are painted
     the          within the designated shapes            painted within the            neatly within the         neatly within the
watercolors.      and there is a lot of bleeding        designated shapes and       designated shapes with     designated shapes, with
                      of the colors between         there are many shapes with       very little bleeding of    no bleeding of colors.
                   shapes. The color wheel is       bleeding colors. The color     colors. The color wheel       The color wheel is
                    not painted in the proper        wheel is not painted in the    is painted in the proper    painted in the proper
                    order of colors; all of the      proper order of colors, 1-2         order of colors.          order of colors.
                       colors are jumbled.             colors are out of order.
  Mixing of            Mixed colors do not           Some mixes colors do not       Mixed colors closely       Mixed colors resemble
watercolors to     resemble the needed color,       resemble the needed color,      resemble the needed           the needed color,
  create the        demonstrating improper            demonstrating improper        color, demonstrating        demonstrating proper
colors for the    mixing. Overlapping shapes        mixing. Some overlapping           proper mixing.           mixing. Overlapping
  wheel and        and color wheel mixes are           shapes and color wheel      Overlapping shapes and      shapes and color wheel
 overlapping      painted with inappropriately       mixes are painted in with     color wheel mixed are         mixes are painted in
   shapes.                 mixed color.              the inappropriately mixed       painted in with the        with the appropriately
                                                                 color.             appropriately mixed             mixed color.
 Work Effort       Very little focus or effort is      Spending ¼ - ½ of the       Uses class time wisely       Uses class time to the
                    put into the class work or        class time talking, very     with very little talking.    fullest. Concentrating
                  discussion. Choosing to talk       little focus on class work     Is attentive in class.       and giving your best
                         instead of work.                    or discussion.                                       effort on your class

         From merely reading the different criteria descriptions, the general scope and

specific expectations Mr. D is expecting from his students in this project is apparent.

Students had to create a color wheel, and on another sheet of paper create several

overlapping shapes. The shapes had to be primary colors, and the overlapping areas had

to be the secondary colors the mixing of the two primaries would normally result in.

         Mr. D would show students the rubric before a project began along with an

example of a finished assignment. Students could then ask questions if they felt the

rubric was unclear. “Nothing is ever perfect and you‟re never [always] right,” Mr. D said

when questioned on whether he has ever adjusted his rubric. He said he was always

changing it and customizing it because every class was a little different. The

personalities of the individual students in any given class could greatly affect how he

changed his assessments. For example, he might re-work the “Work Effort” criteria to

cite specific examples like misuse of art tools if it ever became a problem in a particular


         He also mentioned that he did not use the rubric to start. He proffered several

examples of his older grading methods. One was a list of criteria with a number of points

next to each ranging from ten to twenty five. Each student would receive a number of

points in each section for a final score out of a possible score of seventy five. He also

had a printed scale to refer to that had point ranges and grades they represented which

covered 75 point projects, as well as others worth different total amounts.

         This method turned out to be less successful that the rubrics for two reasons.

First, while the criteria were fairly straight-forward and understandable, the quality scale

was simply a number of points out of a whole. This meant that students would only have

a vague idea of what they did or did not do to deserve the grade they received. Second,

the process proved to be needlessly complicated with constantly having to refer to

another sheet and look up different total values for the assignments. With the rubric, total

points were already available and straightforward.

       An additional benefit to the rubrics that Mr. D offered to me was that it allowed

for a great deal of transparency into a teacher‟s grading methods. “If a kid doesn‟t

understand why their getting the grade they did, chances are the parent won‟t either.”

The use of the rubrics cut back on the number of parent inquiries into student grades and

gave him a solid justification for any marks he gave his students.

       He also gave two other examples of how he used his assessments to teach through

the utilizations of both self-critiques and vocabulary tests. The critiques were useful to

get students to think on a metacognitive level and also used two of Gardner‟s seven

intelligences (spatial and intrapersonal) to help students learn about why they had made

certain choices in the work (Gardner, 1993). He used the vocabulary tests to double

check his students‟ knowledge.

       “A student can give you a really great copy of the example work without

understanding what they did”, he explained. By using simple vocabulary tests, and

expecting the students to use the vocabulary in their self-critiques, he was able to

reinforce the knowledge and not just rendering abilities.

       While most teachers tested vocabulary in one form or another, there were a couple

of exceptions. Mrs. „W‟, an instructor at a suburban high school who taught Ceramics,

Sculpture and Advertising classes, said that she did not give tests in ceramics and

sculpture. She also had significantly more experience than some of the other teachers,

and had a very refined teaching style (Multiple meetings, September & November, 2005).

       “We use the vocabulary every single day that they‟re here.” She said. “There

really isn‟t any need [for a test] because if they don‟t know the vocabulary, it is reflected

in their projects.” She said while she did give them one test during finals week on the

tools, their uses, techniques & procedure, and much of the vocabulary, she hadn‟t had

anyone fail who had been to class regularly and did their work.

       While she disagreed with Mr. D‟s opinion on testing, she strongly agreed with the

use of the grading rubric. In fact, she took it one step further. After the students in her

primarily Sophomore, Junior and Senior level classes became familiarized with her

rubrics and how they worked, they were asked to participate in the creation of the rubric

for the next projects.

       For example, after going over the attributes and techniques involved in the

making of a type of North American Indian pottery, she asked her students to list ideal

qualities that an exemplary pot should exhibit. She then used these qualities to create her

rubric, which she then went over with the students. She said that this not only had the

students review the knowledge of the pottery they should have picked up, but also gave

students a very clear perception of her expectations and also tended to increase the

quality of the student work.

       Another similarity to Mr. D‟s rubric method was to keep one or two items on

every rubric the same. Mrs. W said she typically had „neatness‟ in one form or another to

remind students that quality work was always expected. „Deadline‟ was also another

frequently used criterion, particularly in her advertising class where deadlines would be

important in the careers of the students who were interested in graphic design. These

repeated criteria created a sense of consistency in her grading practices and gave many

students an opportunity to pick up extra points from where their artistic skill may have

been lacking.

       This method (having the students participate in their own grading) was another

technique raised in several of the articles reviewed in the “Literature Review” (Andrade,

2000; Buck, 2002; N.C.E.S., 2003; Puurula, 2000). The research indicated that students

who were involved in their own assessments achieved higher standards. The quality of

work that I saw presented by most of the students in Mrs. W‟s classes can easily attest to

this fact. She added, “Students tend to be tough graders of their own work, and the more

they feel they „own‟ their grade and have control [over it], the harder they work”.

       Mrs. „H‟ incorporated the idea of having students „own‟ their grade into her

instructional approach. Mrs. H taught Studio in Art at an inner city high school in

Buffalo. This particular school was severely under-funded and had many students

considered „problem children‟. According to their teacher, some of the students had

difficult home lives, were involved with drugs or gangs, and several students I met

suffered from classifiable behavioral or social disorders but were without individualized

education programs (IEP‟s) (Multiple meetings, September – December, 2005).

       Mrs. H would explain to the students at the beginning of the semester that

everyone in her class started with the grade of an “A”. In order to keep that grade,

students had to show up, remain non-disruptive, and complete the assignments.

Struggling students who sought to improve their GPA found this class to be an enjoyable

opportunity to boost their grades and had the added bonus of motivating them to find

pleasure in an academic experience.

       Whenever a student was truly off task, all she only need mention that they „were

going to loose their „A‟ and the student would immediately adjust their behavior and

focus on their work. Obviously, this technique only worked for students who cared about

their grades, and some students chose to either sleep or socialize during the class. As

time and resources were limited, Mrs. H (and their classmates) ignored these students, as

she could not jeopardize the education of those who wanted to learn by directing the

focus of the class from the material to disciplinary actions (which would be fruitless and

constant). However, there were many students in several of her classes who would come

in to see Mrs. H and boast about being on the honor roll, merit roll, or in the National

Honors Society. Several students who otherwise ignored their education and had taken

her class previously would actually cut the classes they felt were boring or unnecessary to

sneak into her class in an attempt to participate. While some may balk at this, it is

important to note that many of these children were seeking out an educational experience

that they enjoyed, not loitering or falling into delinquent behavior.

       One student would regularly cut his Health class to come to her room and draw.

He would also make his presence known by asking her how his work was, and she

constantly had to ask him to leave and go back to his scheduled class. Other students

kept coming back because they wanted to receive another „A‟ on their report cards,

despite Mrs. H‟s explanations that the could only take her class once and that just

showing up did not mean they were taking her class.

       This constant return of students to her class in attempts to get high marks a second

time was very unusual and this location was the only school in which I saw such

behavior. However, it does say something about her technique. While her grading on the

individual projects was more relaxed than that of the other teachers I observed, and her

classroom was often a scene of utter chaos to the common observer, students produced

quality work for their level on almost every assignment. It demonstrated to me that many

of the students were hungry for success, but lacked the prerequisite knowledge,

environment, or motivation to thrive in the other academic classes. Many of the students

also wanted to take more advanced art courses, but due to the lack of any other teachers

and lack of proper funding, they could not. (Mrs. H‟s Studio in Art class was the only

visual art class offered in this ninth through twelfth grade school, and students may only

take this class once in their careers at this school.) Many of Mrs. H‟s students viewed her

class as a sanctuary from failure, a chance to succeed and improve, and a motivator to

strive to reach other educational goals.

       Mrs. H expressed to me her concern that many students did not retain the

knowledge of things like the elements and principals of art, the color wheel, or the value

scale. But she said that with thirty to forty students in any of her five classes in the

cramped art room at any given time, it became difficult to test for knowledge and

reinforce some of the artistic ideas. Explaining grading procedures presented a problem

and she was not able to use rubrics she had developed because the hectic nature of the

classroom did not allow for it, and only her most attentive students were able to perform

well on tests. Her class became a beacon for positive feedback and an outlet for student

creativity, and the devotion to her expressed by many of the students was testimony to

her instructional approach given the circumstances.

        Having positive feedback and student „control‟ over their own assessments as

main assessment techniques were also used at a city charter school where Mrs. R taught

grades kindergarten through eight (Multiple meetings, December 2005). A unique

quality of her school and her assessment techniques was that students did not receive

grades at all, either in the class or on their report cards at the end of the semester.

        I found this somewhat difficult to understand at first, as it was wholly different

from my realm of experience. A few questions that immediately arose one of which was

why a student would perform any assignment if they knew there were no grade and what

learning could this method possibly facilitated and/or evaluate?

        Mrs. R explained that students did get feedback on every project, and the teacher

sent reports or written reviews of the student‟s performance to their parents throughout

the semester. However, no scores or grades accompanied or were included in these

mailings. According to my observations and Mrs. R, students still wanted a good review

to show their parents, and they also knew that being at the charter school was a privilege

that could be lost if they chose not to perform.

        Mrs. R noted that with older children, this particular assessment system acted as a

catalyst for self-motivation and taking responsibility for their performance in class. The

reviews offered the students specific, personal goals, standards, and evaluations that

pushed them to perform their personal best. Rather than being vaguely grouped into one

category, the reviews addressed their personal needs. This helped some to achieve goals

that were beyond what they may have achieved when compared to a common

denominator or receiving grades without insight into their work and progress..

       She also admitted that this method of assessing could be a huge success with

some students, but fail horribly with others. Students who had come from schools and

performed well were often confused and needed more attention and more detailed

responses. They would sometimes be uncomfortable or even disruptive in class due to

the “unknown” quality of their grades. Other students would thrive, having come from

an environment where scores were everything and the perception was that learning was

less important.

       The „no-grades‟ method worked best with children who were accustomed to it

early on, thus there were often issues with older students who had not been in the

program since grades 1 and 2, or new transfer students. In addition, some parents became

irritable with received reports as opposed to concrete grades regarding their children‟s

performance in school. As a result, Mrs. R had to come up with another method to

provide more clarity for the older students on her assessment method.

       Ironically, her solution was a rubric. She decided to „cheat‟ the no-grades policy

with her rubric by dividing it into two separate sections; one with general domains and

components with their requirements, and the second a performance assessment with

specific criteria, core components, and quality levels. The second section took each of

the three domains (Artistic Representation, Art & Society, and Class Participation) and

divided them into subsections.

       Below is an example from the rubric in the Artistic Representation subsection:

           EMERGING COMPETANT EXEMPLARY                                          CRITERIA
                                                                            Student exhibits an
                                                                            understanding of the
                                                                            principals of design
                                                                            (balance, repetition,
                                                                            contrast, and unity)
                                                                            and elements of art
                                                                            (line, color, value,
                                                                            space, texture, shape,
                                                                            and form)

       Here, she has eliminated what specific letter or number grades and replaced them

with descriptors. She sent this rubric, combined with a written assessment, home with

students at the end of the semester. Mrs. R had her 7th & 8th graders for the first time on

one of the days I was observing, and took the entire class period to go over the rubric.

She took extra time to answer questions, and to emphasize that “emerging” was not an

acceptable level of work.

       After the class, she explained to me that this rubric also helped create a language

in her class that she could use when students asked how they were performing. If she let

a student know that they were performing on an exemplary level, they knew that they

were doing good work so far. If the student found out they were at the emerging level,

they knew that they needed to focus on that area to make their review at the end of the

semester better.

       Additionally, this kind of grading provided a greater level of transparency to the

parents who now had a clearer understanding of their children‟s assessments. Mrs. R

admitted that this was, in essence, a rubric with the numbers removed, but it had proven

to be very useful and easily understandable. At the very least, this technique spoke to the

true versatility of the rubric and further identified it as a very powerful assessment tool.

       It was interesting to note that while Mr. D, Mrs. W, Mrs. H, and Mrs. R‟s

approaches varied greatly from one another, the use of a rubric of some kind was

consistent. Each method seemed successful in each respective environment, and

provided the students with a proper understanding of what was expected, required, and

valued within the class. These assessments were essential to the development of each

student and the maintenance of a formalized curriculum. It was easy to see how each

method linked to the theories presented in the “Literature Review” and how each

instructor modified the theories to fit the needs and capacities of each class. This study

of assessments continually provided new insights and I look forward to learning more

and applying what I lean to my career in education.


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