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Board Set To Approve Framework for NAEP Arts Assessment

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A federal panel of educators and policymakers meeting here late last week was set to approve a new framework for national arts assessments that are modeled on national standards for arts education.

The framework slated to be approved by the National Assessment Governing Board will guide the development of the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in the arts for students in grades 4, 8, and 12.

National assessments in music and in visual arts have been conducted before, during the 1970's. But in the 25-year history of the Congressionally mandated testing program, no assessment in any subject area has been so closely linked to national standards for that subject as the proposed arts assessments will be.

"What you have is two systemic-reform strategies coming at the same time,'' said Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which led the development of the framework.

The $1.2 million framework project was launched in 1992, just a month before work began on the development of national standards outlining what students should know and be able to do in the arts. (See story, page 1.)

A. Graham Down, the chairman of the arts-standards panel, also was a co-chairman of the assessment project. Seven other panel members served on both projects.

Like the standards, the new assessments are expected to be difficult for many students in schools with weak arts programs.

"The standards and the assessment are founded on the notion that we're describing what ought to be and not what is,'' said Frank Philip, the project coordinator. "If those expectations are made ... we need to describe the gap.''

Grading Performance

The new assessments would also be broader than earlier assessments, evaluating student achievement in four arts disciplines: dance, music, theater arts, and visual arts.

Students would be judged according to their ability to critique and analyze art, as well as to perform and create it.

To measure their performance, videotapes or audiotapes could be used to record students playing a musical instrument, performing a dance, or acting in a dramatic presentation. Those tapes would later be judged by trained adjudicators.

The multiple-choice and open-ended questions in the assessment would be embedded in the context of the performance exercises. The framework suggests that in a theater exercise, for example, a group of students might assume characters and act out a scene from a story. Then they might be required to individually answer written, open-ended questions about what they might change in their characters and why.

On multiple-choice questions, the students might be asked to identify the elements of the scene.

"We have pushed the envelope in some pretty significant ways here,'' Mr. Philip said.

But the framework falls short in its use of portfolios of student work, he said.

"These assessments will be 60 minutes long for 4th graders and 90 minutes for 8th and 12 graders,'' he said. "That kind of time frame does not allow for a complete portfolio review, and you can't do it ahead of time with NAEP.''

For that reason, the assessment panel recommends launching a special study to look at ways in which portfolios could be used in future assessments.

Those kinds of assessment methods, however, are more costly than traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

And it is not yet clear whether Congress will allocate money to pay for administering the new arts assessments. Although the assessments have already been authorized, lawmakers will not decide until next year whether to fund them.

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