Artistic Development

Teaching with consensus about artistic development

How do artists develop?  An understanding of artistic development is a starting point of any plan for schools concerned with developing artists. A consensus on the topic may propel art education forward. Doug Boughton, in Research Themes in Art Education: Making Sense of the Discipline (2014), briefly summarizes a history of findings on the topic.

Universal stages of development in drawing

Boughton’s overview begins with Victor Lowenfeld’s stages of drawing development, which were widely accepted in the 1950’s, assuming a direct line of growth toward realistic representation in art (an end goal actually abandoned by many artists). Accompanying the theory was the notion that an artist grew from within, best protected from outside influences that might taint a distinct individuality.

Mapping nonuniversal development

The history continues in the 1980’s when David Feldman justified outward influences on development, challenging the universal development theory that all humans move through similar stages of artistic development of their own momentum. He recognized stages of growth specific to various domains of skill and knowledge, but he credited what he called “coincidental forces” of culture, family, and training, to name a few, “for all developmental change, successful or unsuccessful, optimal or less than optimal, universal or nonuniversal.” (p. 85, Feldman, 1985)

Feldman’s concept map placed artistic development in an outlying zone of knowledge beyond simply learning to draw. While all children attempt to draw and develop aesthetic sensibilities to some extent, to become an artist is a highly specialized path that wouldn’t even begin until early adolescence, “when the Lowenfeld stages have all but run their course.” (p. 86) Feldman perceived that beginning to draw is as universal as learning to speak, as if hardwired into the human brain, but argued that such universality ends at Lowenfeld’s earliest stage of representation. After that brief universal development of drawing in young children, outward influences begin to shape their artwork, according to Feldman’s nonuniversal model. First and most broadly influencing the development of art are cultural forces, as investigated initially by Marjorie and Brent Wilson (1982). Next come influences specific to the domain, resulting discipline-based knowledge, followed by idiosyncratic knowledge gained from intense artistic inquiry, and finally unique knowledge. Artists operate on levels of knowledge and skill beyond what is expected of other members of their culture. The eminent artist even finds unique knowledge that may reorganize or revolutionize the world of art.

Nonuniversal model of development prevails

Research into artistic development persisted for thirty years with interchanges between tests based on universal and nonuniversal assumptions. Lowenfeld’s universal theory seems to have resonated with some researchers who have elaborated upon the notion of universal development toward realistic representation of drawings, while others have worked to confirm the argument that outside influences play a significant role in the artistic development of children, as Boughton’s overview concludes.

Implications of teaching for artistic development

When we take art education seriously, with authentic learning and assessment that resembles the work and evaluation encountered in art beyond school, we can’t escape the need for a consensus about patterns of artistic development. Artistry is our goal for all.

Our serious art programs are pushing beyond the general requisites of our culture toward the knowledge and skill of the discipline. So, when we say we are developing artists in K-12 art class, are we planning only for the small subset of students who will take their knowledge and skill to the next level of specialization, and the even smaller subset who will make unique discoveries in visual art to redefine the discipline itself?

Focusing teaching for these few may be seen as regression for the field, since one purpose of the Discipline-based Art Education movement of the last three decades seems to have been to promulgate the idea that art knowledge is accessible to all, expanding the boundaries of what our culture expects everyone to know. But justification for maintaining the highest expectations for art class has been, ironically, that the dispositions demanded in the most specialized role in visual art are very similar to those demanded of all citizens of the 21st century, “with the potential to transfer to other areas of learning.” (p. 1, Hetland, 2007). The idea here is not that an accomplished visual artist, achieving a pinnacle of knowledge and mastery, has knowledge and skill no different from the general population. Rather the thinking tools artists master to get to that knowledge are shared and can be useful in any and all disciplines. (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999) While Hetland articulates processes that are common across disciplines, they are accessed in unique experiences of creating and experience the visual in school, centered on what Samuel Hope (2004, p. 101) distills as the essence of the field: creating and attending to things visual. It follows that in order to contribute uniquely to education, art educators need not only to teach in a visual context dispositions shared with other disciplines, but also evenly and simultaneously teach a myriad of domain-specific knowledge and skills. Despite increased pressure on art education (Hope, 2004, p. 103), technique and craft can’t be boiled away.

A problem of assessment and pedagogy

A persistent problem with assessment in visual art has been the perception that we need to agree on a universal trajectory of development for the discipline with predictable, sequential stages as steps toward a singular goal. Observational drawing skills, for example, were once seen as universally valid in visual art (Clark, 1993) until strong arguments were made for Visual Culture Art Education (Dorn, 2005) arising from the postmodernist paradigm. Highly refined observational drawing skills are no longer as valid a foundation for new media artists of the 21st century as they had been for painters of the 19th century. Realistic drawing ability has lost validity in the discipline. The visual arts landscape encompasses many paths of inquiry in parallel, each with its own epistemology, aesthetic, and body of knowledge and skill.

The consensus we need is an acceptance of having no single universal foundational path of artistic development, but multiple trajectories, micro-disciplines and subdomains within the domain of art, resulting in pedagogy that accommodates multiple directions of knowledge and skill development while also teaching for universal artistic dispositions. We will be closer to consensus about stages of development toward mastery of micro-disciplines such graphic design, pottery, computer animation, fashion design, figurative art, or naturalistic drawing and painting. We may even agree on logical sequences of learning in each subdomain. Even so, there is still a problem of pedagogy. Without a universal foundation of discipline-based knowledge, what will we teach about art in elementary and secondary school? The best answer would be to teach a little bit of everything all the time, allowing school-based artists of all ages to choose their paths as do artists outside of school.

Teaching multiple art subdomains with Choice-based Art Education

Much has been said in the past decade about teaching for artistic dispositions. (Hetland, 2007) Now art education needs a pedagogy that will teach and assess the domain-specific skills and knowledge in many directions at once. The gap to fill is in the acquisition of discipline-based knowledge without prioritizing one medium or aesthetic over others. Teaching for Artistic Behavior, also called Choice-based Art Education, is a pedagogy that meets the need for a well-developed teaching approach accommodating multiple learning trajectories and teaching for artistic dispositions, (Jaquith & Hathaway, 2012) with current attention to matching the pedagogy with appropriate assessment strategies (Personal communication with Jaquith, 2016). Appropriate assessment will address the need for tracking and recognizing skills practiced and learned as well as knowledge gained and dispositions exhibited in as all students develop artistically.

Serious Art Ed

Constructing Authentic Alternatives in a Multidirectional Discipline

The creative art educator wrestles with the task of constructing authentic assessment items for artistic decision-making and artistic behaviors. Charles Dorn, Stanley Madeja & F. Robert Sabol describe the task and its implications in Assessing Expressive Learning (2004):

Alternative assessment calls for authentic performances, which include real-life decisions, such as the behavior of aestheticians, architects, art historians and critics, artists such as folk artists, people working in all forms who confront art in their daily lives, and people whose advocational activities relate to art. Authentic learning in art implies purposeful, meaningful application of relevant information, as opposed to the acquiring of factual knowledge for its own sake.  (p. 98)

But does the rest of their project evidence fully authentic assessment, in which student work most resembles the decision-making of those in the arts beyond school?  Seeing art as an “ill-defined field,” the project limits students’ decision-making within the confines of teacher-constructed assignments “in order to insure that what it is they want students to know and do is at the center of every instructional assessment.” (p.100) Performance tasks designed for the project offer little room for top-level decisions, such as how much time to spend on a work of art, or when to abandon it and take the work in a different direction.

Ill-defined or multifariously defined?

Is art an ill-defined field? Are other fields well defined or is this a distinctive characteristic of visual art? I think the authors describe the field as ill-defined in the context of setting learning standards for all ages and considering how the learning objectives early in school might set a foundation for later more complex learning objectives. Some of the most significant work art outside of school, however, has been meaningful in part because it regresses, backing away from existing knowledge. Artists must sometimes follow a path others see as backward, abandoning accepted know-how (and “know-that”) in order to move forward.

So how is this different from science, history, or music, for a few examples? Eminent scientists, historians, and musicians  also dismantle existing knowledge, and we follow them to a new paradigm, but I see three main differences:

  1. New knowledge in visual art coexists with old art knowledge in our society. Society doesn’t unify around an aesthetic proposition that might drive economics, education, and government policy.
  2. Many artistic paths are valid. No one line of artistic inquiry is considered current, and each path has its own concepts and procedures distinct from others.
  3. Economic prospects are greater for scientists, historians, and musicians who maintain generally accepted knowledge than for visual artists to do the same in their discipline.

Visual art is no less defined than other disciplines, but it is less unified. We like it that way, so why fight it? The implication of the discipline’s multi-directionality is that authentic approaches in art education must accommodate the multifarious aesthetics.

Serious art education, then, helps students to learn to make top-level decisions about what direction to take and when to change directions. What should follow is not a linear definition of art knowledge to be acquired in school, but many well defined branches with bridges between them. The risk of selecting one direction as the school-preferred standard is that school art learning will lose validity when compared to out-of-school art, and authenticity will suffer.

Multidirectional assessment

So what does assessment look like when we embrace art’s multidirectionality? Art teachers may say that if students had art class in school every day every year, just as they experience math or reading, the discipline might better follow a well-defined path. Even so there would be a need to design assessment for students who would make top-level aesthetic choices, authentically, that carry them away from the lesson plan.

Samuel Hope (2004), p. 93) calls the diverse trajectories of artistic inquiry “artistic and intellectual traditions of work in and about visual form, each of which with its own habits of mind, approaches to achievement, and history.” Given this complexity in the field of art education, authentic assessment must accommodate each tradition with measures appropriate to distinct habits of mind, approaches to achievement, and historical contrext.

Towards specific objectives amid choices

One solution is to reach for higher level learning objectives from among the overarching performance standards and anchor standards. Anchor standard #1 of the National Core Art Standards, “Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work,” is an example of standards that are general enough to apply to any artistic investigation. The studio habits of the Studio Thinking Framework (Hetland, 2013) are also used in art class as overarching learning objectives related to artistic dispositions. Yet more specific learning objectives are needed in order to provide more specific understanding of the learning that happens in art class, whatever direction it may go.

For specific, authentic, multidirectional assessment, art educators would have to prepare learning sequences that align with many directions of artistic inquiry, one for each direction a student may choose to pursue in the wide world of visual art.

In the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) art classroom,  students choose directions for learning. Learning centers become “silent lesson plans” (p. 15, Hathaway, 2013) including instruction, studio materials, and assessment. Although much of the assessment in TAB classrooms is dispositional, there are examples of assessments that focus on product as well.

Authentic, product-centered assessments for choice-based art programs are aligned with the work of artists outside of school and set a straightforward standard for mastery that varies by developmental level. One example of a product-centered assessment in a TAB classroom is the Attachment Test, invented by Diane Jaquith (2015) in the early 2000’s. In order for elementary students to learn to experiment and know the capabilities of materials as an artist experiments and knows them, Jaquith looks for competency demonstrated on the Attachment Test. Criteria for a product to show mastery include:

  1. Count materials and attachment methods:
    • The minimum number of materials are used in the product. Third-graders must use 6 different materials, fourth-graders must use 8, fifth-graders must use 10.
    • The minimum number of attachment methods are used in the product. Third-graders must use three, fourth-graders must use four, fifth-graders must use five.
  2. The object is stable (nothing falls off when shaken).
  3. The work shows artistic thinking.

As with the best authentic assessments, this test empowers students:

Everyone who tries the Attachment Test passes by summoning his or her curiosity, patience, and playfulness. Just as a deep-water test determines which swimmers may swim out to the raft, the Attachment Test acknowledges students who have practiced with materials and are now empowered with a toolbox of strategies for future endeavors. (p.13)


Authentic Art Achievement Data

Amid the encroaching “testing mania” in the US, Stanley Madeja (2004) justified the need for authentic, standardized achievement tests in art based on student portfolios. Quantifying art achievement and producing normed test scores, he reasoned, would rely on the same evaluative processes taking place in grading student art and observing their learning and progress “in areas such as visual perception, aesthetic decision-making, critical analysis, visual problem solving, and studio competencies.” (p. 8)


Authenticity is an educational ideal aligning what happens in school to what happens outside of school. Authentic school art experiences parallel the experiences of working artists outside of school. Authentic assessments may improve measurement validity, meaning the measurements correlate more closely to the “real world.” Evaluation is a part of every artist’s growth cycle, whether self-evaluation or as the subject of others’ evaluation, yet in the studies Madeja cites, the criteria artists use to evaluate their own and others artwork differ significantly from the criteria art teachers and their students prioritize.


While portfolio assessments of student artwork have been a longstanding practice in art education, resulting in evaluator narratives and pass/fail decisions, the quantification of student learning in a portfolio, as Madeja suggests, was less common in 2004. Madeja’s confidence in the reliability of judgements made by trained art teachers of all levels is based on studies that show  99% or better agreement between raters about the quality of artworks. He also points to case studies as evidence that quantifying achievement would not stifle creative and artistic thinking in the art class.

Types of portfolio

Madeja describes the following portfolio formats:

Journal portfolios would contain a written log by the teacher and, as much as possible, the student.

Teacher’s portfolios would contain a variety of media and records.

  • student work: writings, artwork, audio or video, photos
  • teacher assessments on rubrics
  • records of student performance [dispositional records]

Controlled task portfolios would contain examples of student work showing growth on teacher-directed tasks over time.

International Baccalaureate (IB) school portfolios would compare student work to exemplars of varying achievement levels in the studio arts. (A current overview of IB art assessments is available online.)

Advanced Placement (AP) portfolios include photos of student work and artist statements about intent and direction of their work. (A current overview of AP portfolios is available online.)

Madeja’s portfolio system

A full analysis of all that could constitute an assessment portfolio, the Madeja Visual Modeling of Information System (MVMIS) coalesces all of these types of portfolio and draws upon examples of creative journalling from art history. MVMIS classifies three streams flowing from the start to end of the portfolio timeframe:

  • The acquisition of knowledge stream is the actual collection of data from beginning to end, and may include visual, verbal, and numeric data.
  • The analysis and interpretation zone organizes and explains or summarizes knowledge and may rely on diverse visual, verbal and numeric representations.
  • The reactions stream, is the place for meta analysis, or reactions to the collected data, and may involve whatever symbol system suits the portfolio creator or audience.

Visual expression throughout

Although portfolios are used for authentic assessment in all fields of education, the significant contribution of Madeja’s system is recognition that visual modes of expression may model or represent ideas in any or all of the three streams. Visuals are the best evidence of the artist’s knowledge, and possibly the best medium for analysis, interpretation, and reaction as well.

Individualized assessment

Madeja makes a strong argument for quantifying artistic achievement by training individual raters to evaluate portfolios. He supports the argument with evidence that the demand for valid measurements of achievement seem to originate with teachers and artists in and out of school.

Stakeholder accountability aside, evaluation may be meaningful to the developing artist, especially if the artist maintains control over the parameters of evaluation. When an artist selects criteria for evaluation and selects the work subjected to evaluation, that individual secures and maintains artistic agency over the evaluation. School art programs that Take Art Education Seriously empower young artists of all ages to find their distinctive voices.

In the twelve years since Madeja published his MVMIS proposal, the online phenomenon of e-badges has demonstrated democratization and individualization of learning, allowing individuals to acquire credentials along trajectories they find interesting and meaningful. Along the same line it may be possible to allow artists to choose from a menu of evaluative criteria when posting portfolio evidence. Technological developments such as this may add to the value of the proposed digital portfolio system.

Crowdsourcing art assessment

Consider the evaluation of a developing artist’s knowledge and skill were crowdsourced? Crowdsourcing has been defined generally as problem-solving by a large group of individuals using on online platform (Estelles & Gonzalez, 2012). Where evaluators are members of a large crowd assessing the quality of artwork using digital images and artist statements on the Internet, inter-rater reliability may be variable, but computer data systems are well suited to maintaining reliability through ongoing statistical analysis, tracking the reliability of each evaluator and providing them with feedback to improve reliability over time while reporting only the most reliable evaluations to the artist. Evaluators in this situation would be trained on-the-job.

Needs and next steps

Has an individualized, crowdsourced approach to art assessment already been rolled out somewhere online? Digication, Inc., a company that provides an online portfolio system in partnership with the National Art Education Association, does allow for inputing and reporting student assessment data but does not advertise the system’s potential for individualized or crowdsourced assessment. There may be a need to find out to what extent other existing online portfolio programs such as IB, AP, Scholastic Art Awards, or Artsonia provide for art assessment.

Narrative Inquiry

Hetland’s Narrative Assessment

A well-chosen case study or a collection of narratives may shed light on an area of inquiry, revealing perspectives and experiences needed to understand a phenomenon–a different understanding than we get interpreting quantitative measurements (Kramp, 2004). That’s the post-positivist researcher’s perspective, more common in recent decades.

Assessment for today

A 21st-century approach to teacher and program evaluation could focus on the telling of specific learning experiences, rather than standardized test data. But our 21st century public schools have felt the full force of a tsunami of scientific data demands. The wave must have originated many decades in the past and deep down in national consciousness, then radiated outward from there in all directions, before impacting bridges, paths, ports, and other metaphorical structures in education, shocking the population of schools and leaving a devastated landscape.

In contrast, Lois Hetland suggests a narrative design for assessment based on her eight studio habits, relying on rich description of specific learning episodes. In her chapter, Can Studio Habits Help Teachers Assess Arts Learning? The Case of the King Cobra, (pp. 123-130 in Jaquith and Hathaway, 2012), Hetland analyzes deeply her observation of a 5-year-old student’s learning during her visit to a choice-based art class. In this case study, she illustrates how a teacher, after briefly describing the learning episode, may consider how it relates to each studio habit and what those observations suggest about what a student understands and does not understand.

Sampling for rich description

It’s not necessary to assess learning for every student every week with this level of depth and intensity. Sabol’s study of teacher attitudes about assessment places at the top of the list of teachers’ misgivings, “Too many students and not enough time to assess.” (p. 21, Dorn, Madeja & Sabol, 2004) Less frequent samples may still meet needs for formative and summative assessment, reports on student progress, teacher reflection, or program evaluation, especially if teachers are “selective and strategic” (Hetland, 2012, p. 125) in selecting the episodes. By using the assessment form she has designed to analyze a student or two each day or week, the teacher documents learning for all students over time. For each of the eight Studio Habits, Hetland’s assessment tool (p. 126) has three prompts to consider:

  • Studio Habits: Consider and add to your observations in these categories
  • Understanding: What do your observations suggest the student understands and doesn’t?
  • What do you want to do next with and for the student?

Teacher as guide

A key characteristic of the narrative approach to assessment is the freedom it gives students to inquire and grow in any direction in school, just like an artist out of school. Hetland presents this tool as an approach to assessment in a choice-based art classroom. Students can choose their trajectory, while teachers observe, interpret, and plan for each individual. Hetland suggests that a teacher who knows what each student needs will guide them individually within a framework of studio habits, intended to be a comprehensive classification of art learning.

Assessment for the future

Is phenomenology the future of school accountability? Could story take the place of grades, percentiles, standardized tests, or achievement norms? That’s a line of inquiry worth considering, but Hetland’s idea for assessment in art seems promising, especially for the growing number of constructivist art programs.

Next steps:
  • If the studio habits are a classification system for the kind of learning that happens in art class, then next we need a taxonomy of the possible observable abilities, inclinations, and alertness within each category. Though it would complicate the framework, it would streamline the assessment process.
  • More could be explored for how to connect students to the assessment. Would they be in charge of observing and documenting their own learning?
Serious Art Ed

Bartel on Art Assessment

Professor Emeritus of Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana (US), Marvin Bartel contributes to the movement I’m calling “Serious Art Education.” He posts insights and ideas online on his old website, last updated in 2009, as well as a new website, updated through 2013 at the time of this writing. The two interweave, preserving older and refining his newer ideas. Teachers look to Bartel for guidance in teaching ideation and creativity in art class. With relevant interests and experience dating back to his 1970 doctoral dissertation, he also recently contributed a chapter (p. 131-142) on self-directed learning to the The Learner-Directed Classroom: Developing Creative Thinking Skills Through Art (Jaquith & Hathaway, 2012).

His career emphasis has always been teaching to engender what Hetland (2007) calls dispositions, including abilities, behaviors, inclinations, attitudes, awareness, etc., in a class that is “directed toward generating creative ideas rather than getting preconceived end products.” He promotes what he calls upside down art curriculum and inside out grading. Given the 21st-century sea change in the writing of educational standards toward process skills in all disciplines, we may begin to see classrooms reorient themselves with new vectors matching Bartel’s sense of up and out.

What to assess in art

In a website section entitled, Turning Grading Criteria Inside Out, Bartel proposes basing grades on observable and testable criteria as listed below:

Observable Empathic & Creative Behavioral Criteria.

  • team participation
  • observed skepticism of existing experts
  • inquisitiveness
  • class contributions
  • affirmative art studio building contributions
  • ability to empathize with other student ideas
  • ability to promote creativity in others
  • awareness of surroundings

Testable and Measurable Criteria

  • knowledge of the creative processes
  • ability to learn new strategic thinking abilities
  • demonstrated creative thinking skills such as flexibility, fluency, skepticism, opposites, similarities catching, etc.
  • employing unique ideas that work
  • divergent thinking ability
  • ability to phrase insightful questions
  • ability to think critically with an open and inquisitive mind

Bartel’s page on Grading Art lists the kinds of things he wants learned in art classes, which he says should be reflected in the grade.

Mastery of creativity strategies — If I know that accomplished highly creative individuals have certain traits and strategies, I need to assess my students accordingly, and they need to realize that these traits and thinking strategies may help them become more creative. Are they learning to habitually use creative strategies?

Imaginative ability — Are my students becoming more imaginative or more dependent on preconceived ideas?

Visualization ability — Do they sketch things to see how well things will work? Imagination and visualization are very closely related.

Divergent thinking — In the typical classroom, a lot of problem solving is taught as convergent thinking. There is one answer, and students have to figure out the one right answer. In art and in life, most problems have many alternative solutions. Where and when do our brains get practice in divergent thinking? Studio art class is the ideal place to ask for multiple alternate ways to approach a problem.

Empathy & Relationship abilities — As we work as artists, we constantly imagine how others will experience out work. If we were wired to a brain scan, empathy neurons would be lighting up. During critique sessions, we learn to phrase our questions in ways that other art students will become more aware while being encouraged and affirmed. Studio art may be one of best places for students to learn empathy.

Helpfulness & Collaborative ability — Art studio classes offer many opportunities for students to work creatively in teams. In the art world, there is an assumption that creative artists generally are isolated in studios. In some cases this may be, but many artists work in teams and lots of creative tasks and projects in life are too big for one person. Teachers can foster a studio culture that encourages the sharing of ideas in ways where students learn how to ask each other questions in ways that multiply options and alternative solutions and experimental approaches. Some teachers include this in their grading by sharing a collaboration rubric in advance. Like anything that is graded, advance notice is only fair. The rubric might be very formative for students who have not yet learned the various ways in which they can make a contribution and how they might benefit from being in a team.

Passion — Ken Robinson calls it The Element. He has a whole book of stories about how creative people and how they found their passions.

Experimentation skills — Are students learning how to design and learn from experiments that respond to questions that come up?

Appreciation for Mistakes — Do my students fear mistakes or are they beginning to notice that mistakes often show them ideas that they would have never been able to think of on their own.

Discoveries — Are students making unexpected discoveries as they work and in the work of peers. Do they discover things in works that they have never seen before?

Skepticism and the need to question the status quo. Are students developing the ability to generate positive ideas because they just do not like what they are seeing.

Original ideas — How original are their ideas?

Technical skills/dexterity

Juggling ability — Highly creative people have many unfinished tasks. They know that the brain can work on unfinished ideas when they are unaware of it. As they return to tasks, they make new discoveries.

Transfer learning — Students need to earn credit for using what they learn in one project when they are working on another project. Unless we know how to use things in new contexts, most of what we learn in school is not ever needed in life. Teachers who give credit for transfer of learning are more apt to help students practice it.

Compositional skills — Whether a work communicates, depends on how things are arranged. Are students discovering and using principles that they learn?

Expressiveness/evocative aesthetic skills — To what degree to students experiment with unexpected things as they work?

Three distinct assessments

Other than a carefully crafted universal artwork grading rubric, Bartel points out three ways of assessing artistic dispositions. He suggests that observable characteristics and behaviors become visible in critique sessions, for which he provides guidelines that support authentic and empathic critiques. He also writes about using art awards as a pedagogical tool, with “Smart Awards” for exhibited artwork that indicate 50 different ways student artwork can succeed. He briefly outlines art test items, presenting them in order from those that require maximum divergent thinking to those that require a minimum. The stated goal of art tests is to be valid, relating as consistently to what the course teaches, and reliable, eliminating variation due to other factors than learning in the course.

Bartel’s top 6 art test items for assessing creative thinking:

  1. Flexibility test items Give more points for the least expected and most unusual correct answers to a question. Tell the class how you are scoring these items. Give correct answers credit in relation to their infrequency as well as a feasibility ranking.Example question: How does an artist get the viewer’s attention? Common responses would get less credit than uncommon responses that seem equally feasible.
  2. Fluency test Items. Ask questions that have more than one acceptable answer, and give credit based on the number of correct and tenable answers a student offers. Ask the student to rank the answers according to which answers are best, which are average, and which are less than average in quality. Example question: What are the reasons that an artist might be inspired to make a drawing of a landscape?
  3. Draw the opposite test. Ask students to create a one-inch drawing next to each test word or concept that illustrates the opposite of the meaning of the selected word. This provides creative thinking practice because it requires both knowledge and imagination.
  4. Write the opposites test. The students are asked to fill in the blank after each word by writing the opposite meaning of the word. In research, highly creative people have been found to intuitively come up with opposites faster and more frequently than average creative people.
  5. Draw it test. Ask students to create a one-inch drawing next to each word to illustrate the meaning of the selected word. This requires both knowledge of the meaning as well as imagination or memory to think of a visual example of the concept.
  6. Essay test. Essay tests can assess creative thinking or they can be directed at only memory and knowledge. Good questions can be posed to require imagination and problem solving that builds on knowledge acquired in the course and on thinking skills practiced in the course. For example, “List and describe the drawing and seeing skills you practiced during our ‘Negative Space’ assignment. Then write a different assignment that you could do at home to practice the same skills. Make it as different as you can, but still practice the same seeing and drawing skills.”

Grading for growth

When it comes to assigning grades or marks for an art class, Bartel promotes what he calls longitudinal assessment, in which “students who progress the most from their starting point are the ones who earn the best grades.” Ultimately, however, he maintains the belief that good critiques and rubrics are more important than grades.


Serious Art Ed

Taking Art Education Seriously

Back to the first edition of Studio Thinking, by Lois Hetland, (2007) in which the eight Studio Habits of Mind (SHoM) crystallized before we heard of Language Arts Anchor Standards, Math Practices, and Science and Engineering Process Skills from the national standards movement. This was my first exposure to what they then called a “dispositional” perspective to teaching.


Dispositions are qualities of mind and character. The Studio Thinking researchers observed teachers working to develop artistic dispositions of their students, grouping them in three overall categories:

  1. Ability includes skills, processes in thinking and doing.
  2. Inclination includes both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to engage.
  3. Alertness is described as attention, awareness, recognition, and perception.

Taking art education seriously

Although SHoM is now so big it is recognized by the mantra-like monosyllabic pronunciation of its acronym, the roots of it are in just two schools chosen by the Studio Thinking authors for their institutional commitment to art education. While the last decade has seen art teachers across the country encounter and embrace the eight Studio Habits, we also soon realize how our situations contrast with fertile soil that sprouted the framework. Though we do, most of our schools don’t show the same commitment to taking art education seriously, characterized in the first edition of Studio Thinking (2007, p. 9) by . . .

  • defining themselves as dedicated to the arts,
  • hiring practicing artists as teachers,
  • admitting students selectively considering students’ portfolios, and
  • programming intensive arts instruction.

Adapting the framework

I noticed this information doesn’t appear in the second edition, Studio Thinking 2 (2013), but the new conclusion addresses how public school teachers use the framework in curriculum planning, teaching, and assessment.

Though I’m really interested in this topic, all I have right now are questions and hunches.

  • What works in teaching, curriculum design, and assessment, when I take arts education seriously in an environment that is less committed to art education?
  • What implications would there be if I acknowledge the dissonance between my own commitment to serious art education and that of my teaching context?
  • How do we generally transition to teaching, designing curriculum, and assessing student dispositions of ability, inclination, and alertness?

I have played out some hunches this year in my middle school gifted education seminar, where dispositional approaches also make sense, but contrast sharply with the status quo. I’ll write about the dispositional self-assessment tools and conference records I’ve developed in an upcoming post.



Art Teachers’ Attitudes About Assessment

The perfect place to begin this collection of findings: teachers’ attitudes about assessment. Find this survey data online from a 2004 report by Charles Dorn, Stanley Madeja, and F. Robert Sabol,  Assessing Expressive Learning.

The project

Over a decade ago, as the notorious and now defunct No Child Left Behind Act began to pressurize US public School systems, three university art education faculties and fifteen public school districts cooperated in a federal and state grant-funded project to research and develop K-12 art assessment models.


Researchers expressed full confidence in the value and meaning of student artwork. It is seen as interaction between the student and his or her environment, reinforcing the perspective that art students are emerging artists who engage in meaning making and artistic expression. There are other justifications for art programs, but this point of view prevails in the current National Core Art Standards anchored by processes of Creating, Presenting, Responding and Connecting, all closely associated with the work of an artist.

How familiar and current are the old survey data?

Survey data gleaned from Assessing Expressive Learning based on the study by F. Robert Sabol in 1999 may seem familiar and current to art educators today.

What percentage of surveyed art teachers . . .

. . . shared assessment results with administrators? >50%

. . . felt parents expected  assessment in art? > 50%

. . . believed assessments should be used for instructional purposes? >67%

. . . believed portfolios were the best assessment of learning in art? 58%

. . . believed paper-and-pencil tests were NOT the best assessment of learning in art? 84%

. . . believed assessment was too time consuming? 20%

. . . felt they had enough time to asses students regularly? 54%

. . . felt they did not have enough time to assess regularly? 34%

. . . felt they knew how to evaluate learning in art? 85%

. . . felt they had sufficient knowledge about assessment methods? 51%

. . . strongly agreed that student artwork should be assessed? 82%

. . . appraised art learning as not entirely assessable? approx 60%

. . . felt that personal expression in art could be assessed? approx 75%

. . . felt assessment has had a positive effect on art education? approx 50%

. . . strongly supported assessment in art education? 86%

. . . felt assessment had no negative impact on their art program or the field of art education? approx. 10%

. . . felt assessment had no positive impact on art education. 8%

Negative Impact of Assessment

Drawbacks of assessment as reported by art teachers surveyed across instructional levels, listed in prioritized order:

  1. Too many students and not enough time to assess.
  2. Lack of uniform performance standards, guidelines, procedures, inefficient assessment tools.
  3. Changes the focus of art education from art learning to assessment results.
  4. Involves too much subjectivity.
  5. Inability of assessments to measure a broad range of learning.
  6. Increased student anxiety, lowered self-esteem, emotional upsets.
  7. Inability to accurately and precisely assess personal expression.
  8. Stifling of creativity, restrictive.Increased teacher anxiety.
  9. Lack of assessment knowledge and training.
  10. Assessments drive curriculum.
  11. Takes away studio time. (p. 21)
Positive impact of assessment in art

Teachers reported the following positive effects of assessment in art, listed in order of priority:

  1. Makes students more aware of goals for the program and more accountable.
  2. Provides feedback for students and teachers about learning shows growth.
  3. Helps students better understand assignments, improves work.
  4. Improves student motivation, provides accountability for students.
  5. Provides credibility for the art education program.
  6. Indicates whether goals and objectives of the program are being met.
  7. Improves student self-esteem.
  8. Improves teaching and makes teachers more introspective.
  9. Improves students’ understanding of their grades.
  10. Makes parents aware of the program’s goals.
  11. Increases respect from administrators.
  12. Motivates students to work harder. (pp. 21-22)