Good assessment practice is synonymous with an increase in student understanding. It is amazing to see students perform better when they understand exactly how they will be assessed. An effective approach is to ask the question: are the students learning as much as the teacher from the assessment? A well-drafted learning assessment increases learning while providing better diagnostic information for the teacher to assess student learning. This increases the quality of the professional judgment of teachers and administrators about student achievement and/or audience appreciation. When theatre education directors look to other subjects’ use of assessment in schools they see it used as “a lever” to increase student achievement of standards. For example, one cannot ignore a growing field of research that is influenced by the emphasis on interdisciplinary learning (Gardner 1999; Mansilla 2004), brain research that supports learning in the arts (Gardner 1982; Gardner 1999), and the trend of accountability (Consortium of National Arts Education Associations 1994; Ravitch 1995; Congress 2001). Arts educators today are expected to design effective lessons, use learning assessments to collect evidence of student learning, and help students achieve standards in the arts (Goals 2000 Arts Education Partnership 1997; Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education 1997; Southworth 2001).
TEAM’s goal of providing useful models for assessment in theatre is also in concert with national trends of realizing the importance and centrality of the arts to students and their lives:
“The arts help to make learning matter to students…the arts put students in active and meaningful roles in their classrooms and connect schools to student’s lives and cultures. They opened possibilities for students to contribute to their communities and made learning an authentic project in which students explored not only the content of academic subjects but their own lives and identities” (Deasy and Stephenson 2006, p. 17).
Developing models that more accurately measure student learning parallels the transformation in core subjects and their assessment strategies from using standardized formats for measuring student memorization toward using more nuanced ways of understanding student learning and comprehension (Southworth 1997-1998). Instead of measuring the standardized product of learning, we hope to provide models for assessing student learning that realize Dewey’s main contention that art is “a quality of experience” rather than just a product (Dewey 1934). The SchoolWorks Lab, Inc. has previously worked on large scale projects such as San Diego, CA, Rochester, NY and The New York State Council on the Arts that have demonstrated that the most valuable outcome from those projects was the increased capacity of the teachers and administrators to achieve quality and realize accountability through more accurate assessment of student learning (Southworth 2002; Southworth 2003; Southworth 2006).
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