What is assessment?

ASSESSMENT DOES NOT MEAN TEST. Assessment in education is a systematic approach to finding out where students are and using that information to improve learning. Tests are one tool used in assessment, but assessment is a process that is much bigger than a test.

From Indiana University's Medical Sciences Program:

The term “assessment” may be defined in multiple ways by different individuals or institutions, perhaps with different goals. Here is a sampling of the definitions you will see:

Mirriam-Webster Dictionary:
Definition of Assessment: The action or an instance of assessing, appraisal
Definition of assess: 1: to determine the rate or amount of (as a tax) 2 a: to impose (as a tax) according to an established rate b: to subject to a tax, charge, or levy 3: to make an official valuation of (property) for the purposes of taxation 4: to determine the importance, size, or value of <assess a problem> 5: to charge (a player or team) with a foul or penalty

Palomba, C.A. & Banta, T.W. Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999, p. 4:
"Assessment is the systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving learning and development."

The Higher Learning Commission defines assessment of student learning in the following way:
“Assessment of student learning is a participatory, iterative process that:
  • Provides data/information you need on your students’ learning;
  • Engages you and others in analyzing and using this data/information to confirm and improve teaching and learning;
  • Produces evidence that students are learning the outcomes you intended;
  • Guides you in making educational and institutional improvements;
  • Evaluates whether changes made improve/impact student learning, and documents the learning and your efforts.”

University of Oregon, Teaching Effectiveness Program:
“We define assessment as follows: Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning.”

Questions to guide thinking about assessment

The following are questions to ask yourself as you think about assessment in the arts classroom. They are meant to get teachers thinking about how and why they assess students.

  • How should we assess student learning in the arts?
  • Should we assess participation and/or skill?
  • Should we assess creativity? If so, how?
  • Should we assess knowledge or skills that cannot be or are not directly taught?
  • How should we write student learning objectives so that they are directly linked to assessment? In other words, what verbs can we use to write learning objectives so that we can observe whether or not students are meeting them?
  • Should students receive grades in the arts? Do those grades accurately reflect a child's artistic development?
  • How do teachers accurately assess students in performance-based classes?
  • Should we assess process, product, or both?

Assessment in Pennsylvania

What does the Pennsylvania Code say about arts assessment? (Click on each item to see the full text of the code)

If you're ready to create your own local arts assessment system, this workbook can help.

Mt. Lebanon School District Arts Assessment System

Pennsylvania Chapter 4 regulations indicate that all content areas not assessed on the PSSA assessment system must be assessed locally by the individual school districts through the development of an assessment system showing that all students are achieving all academic standards in all content areas. In the 2005-2006 school year, Mt. Lebanon developed an arts assessment system to meet this Chapter 4 requirement.

The arts assessments will help to provide all students with equitable opportunities to demonstrate learning. These assessments will help determine the degree to which students are achieving the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for the Arts and Humanities. They are the measures selected to collect data to track student progress and to help identify areas of improvement to move all students toward meeting the target of 95% proficiency set by our school district's strategic plan.

The common assessments were developed around current curriculum, aligned to the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Arts and Humanities and conducted as part of regular instruction during class time. The performance tasks were designed by district faculty based on those standards we determined as essential learnings. Currently we have common assessments in 3rd Grade Music, 5th Grade Visual Art, 7th grade Music, and 8th Grade Visual Art. We also developed assessments at the course level at the high school level.

For a power point presentation explaining the process used please click on this link For more information, please contact Mariann Fox at or 412-344-2030.

NAEP: The National Assessment of Educational Progress

The U.S. Department of Education conducts a national assessment of student achievement in the arts approximately every 10 years. The 2008 NAEP results were released in June 2009.

The USDoE publishes some of the assessments and tools used as part of the NAEP. These assessments are performance-based, authentic and available to teachers to adapt and use for their classrooms.

The Arts Education Partnership released an analysis of the 2008 NAEP in September 2009.

Other assessment resources

"Assessment in Art Education" by Donna Kay Beattie, published by Davis Publications - Excellent book for visual arts educators, but its principles apply to all of the arts disciplines

Envisioning Arts Assessment - a handbook for creating state- and district-level assessments from AEP and CCSSO (PDF)

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) - SCASS Arts Assessment Handbook, 1999 (PDF)

An Unfinished Canvas: A Review of Large-Scale Assessment in K-12 Arts Education - Study commissioned in 2008 by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; highlights from this report can be found here. (PDF of the full report)

Achieving Balance in Districtwide Arts Assessment Systems: A Review of Issues and Promising Approaches - Study funded by the California Alliance for Arts Education and the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association through grants awarded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (PDF of the full study)