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Development Strategies

Arts Tasks in This Report

Encourage Students to Be Creative Without Losing Sight of the Need to Create Clear, Standardizable Tasks

When developing an arts assessment, educators often consider the differences between creative activities that are appropriate for instruction versus those that are appropriate for assessment.

Assessing students’ creative, expressive abilities was just as important in the 1997 NAEP arts assessment as was assessing their technical or historical knowledge about different art forms. The most important way to encourage students’ expressive abilities was to create engaging, authentic tasks.

But tasks also had to be appropriate for assessment. Educational Testing Service staff and the Arts Assessment Development Committee needed to strike a balance between making tasks authentic, open, and engaging enough to allow students to demonstrate their imaginations and expressive abilities, and making tasks structured enough to yield meaningful responses that could be fairly scored.

For example, in a dance creating and performing task students were asked to create and perform a dance built around the theme of metamorphosis: changing from one form to another. Students were told they needed to incorporate two different shapes, levels, and movement types into their dances. The task specified the amounts of time allowed for creating and practicing the dance.

Within this structure, students were free to

  • work with their partners in any way they chose;
  • create dances of any genre or style as long as they incorporated the criteria; and
  • experiment with any idea of metamorphosis that engaged them.

Giving students a theme to focus on and clear specifications for their dances gave them a useful structure within which their imaginations could play. This gave students a general starting point and helped them to respond to the task. It also ensured that student dances, even if they represented different dance styles, would be clear and comparable enough to score fairly. Finally, timing different stages of activities kept students focused and engaged, and also ensured that all students in the sample would have the same opportunities for creating and performing.

As another example, look at an exercise from a visual arts paper-and-pencil task. Like many NAEP arts exercises, this one pushes beyond asking about technical characteristics of works or their historical contexts. Instead, students are encouraged to explore their own interpretations of works and the expressive qualities of those works. To elicit clear responses and ensure that student responses can be scored, students are asked to focus on particular aspects of the artworks and to tie their observations to specific references to the works.

View a note about allowing students to choose in an assessment context.

NEXT: Strategy 6: Take Into Account Practical Constraints That May Limit What Students Can Be Asked to Do

Last updated 7 March 2003 (HM)