Revised July 2001 Errata Notice
Authors: Hilary R. Persky, Brent A. Sandene, and Janice M. Askew
The last several years have seen a growing resolve among educators and policymakers to assure the place of a solid arts education in the nation's schools. There are many reasons for this resolve, but certainly among the most important is the contribution the arts make to the quality of education. As stated in the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, "The Congress finds that the arts are forms of understanding and ways of knowing that are fundamentally important to education."
For over 25 years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has reported on the knowledge and skills of children in the United States. If policymakers, educators, and concerned citizens are to reform and improve the United States educational system to ensure that students receive a solid arts education, they need valid and reliable information about the arts skills and abilities of our nation's students. As the nation's only on-going survey of students' educational progress, NAEP is an important resource for understanding what students know and can do. NAEP assessments have explored students' abilities in a range of subject areas, including reading, science, U.S. history, and mathematics. Based on assessment results, NAEP reports levels of student achievement and the instructional, institutional, and demographic variables associated with those levels of achievement.
In 1997, NAEP conducted a national assessment in the arts at grade 8. The assessment included the areas of music, theatre, and visual arts. (Though an assessment was developed for dance, it was not implemented because a statistically suitable sample could not be located.) For each of these arts areas, this Report Card describes the achievement of eighth graders within the general population and in various subgroups. Taken with the information provided about instructional and institutional variables, this report gives readers a context for evaluating the status of students' learning in the arts.
Readers should note that this report is intended to be read with a CD-ROM. The CD features the complete text of the report, as well as many more examples of student responses to assessment exercises.
The arts assessment was designed to measure the content specifications described in the arts framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The central principle underlying the arts framework is that dance, music, theatre, and visual arts are crucial components of a complete education. The arts have a unique capacity to integrate intellect, emotions, and physical skills in the creation of meaning. Further, (according to the framework), at its best, the teaching of the arts will emphasize Creating and Performing works of art as well as studying and analyzing existing works. Thus, meaningful arts assessments should be built around three arts processes: Creating, Performing, and Responding.
In order to capture the processes of Creating, Performing, and Responding, the arts assessment exercises included the following:
The NAEP 1997 Arts Assessment was conducted nationally at grade 8. For music and visual arts, representative samples of public and nonpublic school students were assessed. A special sample was assessed for theatre.
The decision to assess a special sample of students for theatre was made based on the results of the 1995 NAEP field tests in all four arts at grades 4 and 8. Field test data indicated that small percentages of students were exposed to comprehensive theatre programs in the nation's schools. (Eleven percent of students that were part of the random sample taking the 1997 visual arts assessment had some exposure to theatre education.)
To ensure rich results about what students who have been exposed to theatre in school know and can do, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), members of the arts community, and Educational Testing Service (ETS) decided that a "targeted" sample of students should take the theatre assessment. Schools offering at least 44 classroom hours of a theatre course per semester, and offering courses including more than the history or literature of theatre, were identified. Students attending those schools who had accumulated 30 hours of theatre classes by the end of the 1996-97 school year were selected to take the theatre assessment.
In this Report Card, discussions of student performance on the theatre assessment refer to this special sample of students, not to the nationally representative sample of students who took the music and visual arts assessment.
Also based on the results of the 1995 arts field test, a decision was made to have a targeted sample of students take the dance assessment. (Results from the 1997 arts assessment indicate that 3 percent of students in the national random sample received dance instruction in school three or four times a week.) The NAEP staff responsible for drawing NAEP samples and obtaining participation worked with the arts community to set criteria for the dance student sample and then to locate schools offering comprehensive dance programs. However, after considerable effort, a sample suitable in size and national distribution could not be found.
So that readers will have a picture of the performance assessment in dance that was developed based on the arts framework, the dance exercises that were intended for administration to students are included in this Report Card. (Appendix A contains information on sample sizes and participation rates for the assessment.)
In this report, student performance on the arts assessment is presented in several ways. Overall summaries of results for Creating, Performing, and Responding in terms of student-and school-reported background variables are featured. For theatre, student results are also discussed in terms of teacher-reported background variables.
The overall summaries of results deal with Creating, Performing, and Responding separately. Responding results within music, theatre, and visual arts are grouped for summarization on three NAEP arts Responding scales, each of which ranges from 0 to 300. Average Responding scale score results are presented by demographic and "opportunity to learn" variables (such as frequency of arts instruction, arts facilities, and classroom activities in the arts) based on student-, school-, and, in the case of theatre, teacher-reported background information. Creating and Performing results are not summarized using a standard NAEP scale. Instead of a scale, Creating and Performing results are presented as average percents of the maximum possible score on exercises, in relation to demographic and opportunity-to-learn variables. (These average scores represent the overall mean percentage students earned of the possible number of points for the components of Creating and Performing tasks.)
The reader is cautioned against interpreting the relationships among subgroup averages or percentages as causal relationships. Average performance differences between two groups of students may result in part from socioeconomic and other factors. For example, differences among racial/ethnic subgroups are almost certainly associated with a broad range of socioeconomic and educational factors not discussed in this report.
Additionally, readers should avoid making comparisons in scores across arts areas. The scales in each subject are independent, and the same score in two arts areas may not mean the same things in terms of student achievement.
Finally, readers should note that NAEP administered assessments in music and visual arts in 1974 and 1978. However, the assessment results for 1997 examined in this report are not comparable with the results from the earlier assessments, because of considerable changes in the nature of the 1997 assessment, based on the recently created Arts Education Assessment Framework.
There is much to be learned from the process of developing, administering, and scoring an innovative performance assessment in the arts intended for a national sample. This information could not be accommodated in this Report Card. In order to share this information with the public, NAEP will be creating a report detailing the creation, administration, and scoring of the 1995 and 1997 arts field tests. (In 1995, NAEP field tested dance, music, theatre, and visual arts at grades 4 and 8. In 1997, NAEP field tested those four subjects at grade 12.) The forthcoming 1995 and 1997 Arts Field Test Process Report will also include examples of exercises and student work. This will enable readers curious about measuring student performance at grades 4 and 12 and about measuring performance in dance to learn about the methods used in those field tests.