Student Assessment as Communication
We have an amazing group of graduate students in the NIU Art + Design Education program. I polled some of them to discover what they thought I should write about. The most requested topics were assessment and standards. I’ve written a lot about student assessment and program evaluation over the years, but one point can’t be stated often enough.
The aspect of art and design education that people who work outside the arts seem to find most difficult to comprehend is how we know a student has learned something by making art. To help people outside the field appreciate our work is especially important now that it is being challenged (again), and in some places, even being pushed outside the school curriculum.
The major problem is that many people who work outside the arts don’t see how works of art reveal knowledge. To see this, one must have a good grasp of how and why people use aesthetics. Aesthetics are used by humans for many reasons: to beautify (or uglify), to attract attention, to aid communication, and so on. But, one of the historical uses of aesthetics is to illustrate artists’ and designers’ (sometimes experimental) learning about media, design, and subject. Similar to poetry or written research reports, the aesthetic character of art shows us what an artist has learned about both form and content --- it may demonstrate technical skills, design concept proficiencies, symbolic capabilities, or other types of tacit knowledge.
We need to use numbers and words in rubrics and other assessment tools in education to help students, parents, and administrators come to see what we see. These tools translate what art educators see as a result of expertise into languages that people outside the field can understand.