Why We Assess

I received a note from a teacher that really made me wonder if we, art educators, know why we assess. Let me give a little background so you can understand what was said.

Stage 1 by Anna Dee, art teacher
Stage 1 by Anna Dee, art teacher

In our schools, we have a common art assessment that art teachers deliver to all 6th grade students. The assessment is designed to be as similar as possible to regular art instruction — the teacher presents an art making challenge, the students plan a response, create the artwork, and reflect on the work. There are two versions of the assessment, one in painting and one in ceramics.

The teacher who wrote was delivering the ceramic assessment for the first time this year. She told me she had not “taught the same children since kindergarten,” which I take to mean between the two art teachers at the school the students are getting different learning experiences. She said this about the assessment:

I followed the guidelines for delivering the assessment and did not demonstrate any clay techniques. A lot of the children did not slip and score their work so their pieces fell apart upon drying.

Then she followed by saying this:

I don’t feel like the assessment is a valid evaluation of their learning. Are the assessments permanent? Is there any discussion of their merit?

In the same short email, the teacher described specific learning deficiencies she observed in her students and claimed the assessment is not a reflection of student learning.

I certainly understand the frustration the students must feel to spend time constructing something only to have it fall apart, and how difficult it is for the teacher to watch it happen, but the purpose of assessment is to figure out what the students know and what they don’t know – data we can use to improve future teaching. This teacher has that now! If, next year, she modifies her instruction to make sure her students know to slip and score — or better, works with the other teacher at her school to make sure all of the students learn this better — then the assessment is a success.

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