Monday, June 29, 2015

New Arts Standards: Creating, Performing, Responding and Connecting

This month, Kentucky took a giant step toward new arts standards, with the Kentucky Board of Education holding a second reading and a vote to adopt the National Core Arts Standards as part of our Kentucky Core Academic Standards.  The documents are attached to item VI in the KBE June 2 agenda.

There are still several more steps towards a final adoption, but this is a good time to start thinking about what these standards may mean for Kentucky students. Accordingly, here are some notes on major features I've noticed in a first round of study, followed by some questions that still puzzle me about how these arts standards will work.

Dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts are included, with media arts as an important and innovative entry.    

Anchor Standards 
Eleven overarching standards apply to all the included disciplines: three each for creating, performing/presenting/producing, and responding, plus two for connecting. As an example, the second anchor standard calls for students to "Organize and develop artistic ideas and work" as part of the creating process.

Performance Standards for Each Level
For elementary and middle school, there are year-by-year standards specifying what students should know and be able to do for each anchor in each discipline. As an example, in the section on visual arts and that second anchor standard:
  • Kindergartners are expected to "Use a variety of art-making tools" 
  • Grade 4 students should be able to "Explore and invent art-making techniques and approaches" 
  • Grade 8 students should "Demonstrate willingness to experiment, innovate, and take risks to pursue ideas, forms, and meanings that emerge in the process of art-making or designing"
For high schools, the performance standards describe proficient, accomplished and advanced work for each anchor and discipline, but without assigning elements to be developed each year. That gives high schools the flexibility to set up their schedules in multiple different ways. To complete the visual arts example:
  • Proficient high school students are expected to "Engage in making a work of art or design without having a preconceived plan"
  • Advanced high school students will be able to "Experiment, plan, and make multiple works of art and design that explore a personally meaningful theme, idea, or concept"
To go with the examples above, visual arts also has performance standards for the rest of the eleven anchors, and the other four disciplines also address the full set.

My Current Puzzles
Do remember that this post comes from my first round of study. It's completely possible that there are answers to all these puzzles and I just haven't found them yet. Reader comments or e-mails pointing out what I've missed will be deeply welcomed! 
Puzzle 1: Creative writing isn't in these arts standards and it also doesn't seem to be in our English language arts standards. Is artistic mode now optional while the others are required parts of what students learn?

Puzzle 2: If a student meets the anchor standards, do we say that they are ready for college and career? For participation in the arts? For artistic engagement in their communities?

Puzzle 3: Are we aiming for all students to reach the high school proficiency level in all five disciplines? The accomplished or advanced level?  These are really bold, exciting standards, and reaching all of them could mean big changes in the high school experience.

Puzzle 4: The performance standards do not identify specific artists and works for students to study. By comparison, Shakespeare and the Bill of Rights are included in our standards for English language arts as requirements and a handful others are listed as examples right in the grade-level expectations.  Will students get the connections they need to the greatest works of the past with that kind of silence?

Even while puzzling, I think I'm seeing an opportunity for much greater clarity about what we want all students to know and be able to do under these new arts standards.

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