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Teams Finishing Work on NAEP Arts Assessment

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Teams of teachers in 15 states are expected to finish work this month on developing exercises for a national assessment in the arts.

Work on the assessment, set for 1996, is being carried out under a contract between the Educational Testing Service and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The assessment will measure students' abilities in dance, music, theater, and the visual arts in grades 4, 8, and 12. It is part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a Congressionally mandated program that tests as many as 20,000 students in key academic subjects each year.

Music and the visual arts have each been included twice before in the national assessment--music in 1972 and 1978, and the visual arts in 1975 and 1978. But this will be the first time that the content and design for such an assessment will be based on the new national standards for arts education. (See Education Week, March 9, 1994.)

It also marks the first time that a national assessment in the arts will make extensive use of performance exercises, which ask students to directly demonstrate what they know and can do rather than just answer multiple-choice questions.

In a theater exercise, for example, a group of students might assume characters and act out a scene from a story. Then they might respond individually in writing to some open-ended questions about what they would change in their characters if they could do the scene again. They also might answer some multiple-choice items asking them to identify elements of the scene.

'Classroom Expertise'

In the past, the Princeton, N.J.-based E.T.S. has contracted with consultants, including teachers, to write assessment exercises. But it has never before brought together groups of teachers to develop some of the exercises jointly.

"We're extremely concerned that we produce an authentic assessment,'' said Hilary Persky, the arts-assessment coordinator for the testing company, which operates NAEP under a federal contract.

"We don't want to produce anything that teachers don't actually think about in terms of classroom practice,'' she added. "So there's a real efficiency in gaining the participation of groups of teachers who can bring their classroom expertise to bear in the development of assessment instruments.''

Over the winter, teams of teachers in the 15 states that volunteered to participate were trained to develop assessment tasks that would elicit students' abilities to perform, interpret, create, and respond to various art forms. This month, the state chiefs' council will review the exercises and select some 200 for review by the E.T.S.

Any other exercises will be placed into a pool of test items that could be used by the participating states to develop their own arts assessments. The project is an outgrowth of the C.C.S.S.O.'s State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards, which helps states share expertise in developing standards and assessments.

Tying the state tests to the NAEP framework, said Frank Philips, who is coordinating the project for the council, "will allow states to provide some exercises at the state and local levels that will be tied into the national vision for arts education.''

June Hinckley, an arts specialist with the Florida education department, said her state expects to get a "big payback'' from participating in the project because of the training and expertise that teachers have gained in developing performance assessments.

'Stretched as a Teacher'

"It has stretched me immensely as a teacher and as a musician,'' agreed Grace Jordan, an elementary school music teacher in Orlando, Fla. Having teachers involved, she added, has made a "huge difference.''

"We actually are in touch with what's going on in the classroom and what should be and is expected of children,'' Ms. Jordan argued.

"I know where kids are coming from in elementary school. I know the kinds of things that they're excited about and interested in,'' she said. "So we've come up with some neat ways to be able to find out some good test results in an exciting manner.''

As an example, she said, children might be asked to use a karaoke machine, an electronic system that supplies recorded instrumental music, to sing on pitch or a synthesizer to engineer a piece of music.

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