Alignment of Assessment

I interview a lot of art teacher candidates this time of year, and I always ask them about assessment. I ask them to explain how they know whether or not students have learned what they set out to teach, and I also ask how this translates into grading in their classroom.

Photo by Ashley
Photo by Ashley

I love nothing more than getting a great answer, but it is almost shocking how often teachers — even those recently graduating from quality art education programs — will tell me about all kinds of great formative assessment strategies they use to check for understanding, and then say, “When it comes time for grading I mostly consider effort.”


Why are we, as art teachers, able to check for understanding as we teach actual skills and content, and then willing to throw that out when it is time to evaluate students?

I’ll tell you why… We can’t get past grading the artwork! Well, I’ got news for you folks. We’re not supposed to grade the artwork. We are supposed to grade the student’s LEARNING!

Christopher Gareis says we must align the prompt, the response format, and performance criteria. If we look at this backward (by design), we identify those specific “Intended Learning Outcomes” — the performance criteria, FIRST.

We must plan instruction and assessment in terms of the specific learning we are working toward. There is an abundance of possible learning goals in art, but we must pick and choose among the possibilities for each lesson. We should NOT always assess every aspect of artmaking. It’s too much! Assess what  you are teaching! This, in turn, means we don’t always assess every aspect of artmaking!

(Now I’m going to take a deep breath…)

I am very excited about the work of the curriculum writing team this summer who is revising our program of studies to be more precise about the learning we expect at each grade level. This work will help more of our teachers move in this direction, and strengthen the validity of the assessment and grading practices in our art program.

Kudos and thanks to Deirdre, Laura, Leah, Cali, Anna, Marielle, Shannon, Ashley, Jean-Marie, and Carol. You have done great work over the past two weeks!


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