Art Assessment - Introduction
Art Assessment: An art teacher's guide
When an artist stands back and looks at their own art work they are self-analysing their creative process and evaluating the outcome, trying to establish what is working and what isn't, what they need to develop and what they have done well. They might seek advice, but this internal struggle the artist faces is often a tough and lonely one.
Students in your art room need to understand this process and be aware
that it is perfectly 'normal' to feel unsatisfied with what they have
done and yet be able to give themselves credit at the same time. The process
of making art is really a cycle of; actions, evaluations, mistakes and
corrections. Often all the artist sees is their struggle; I've yet to
meet an artist who doesn't get frustrated. Such is the nature of creativity.
Assessment in the art room therefore, should only one purpose: to teach students how to become independent artists, to be able to know and understand the creative process, ask themselves the right questions and to be able to accept praise and take advice in equal measure.
To enable this process to happen, students need to be conversant in the
language of art. They should be taught to understand the formal elements
of art and take part in regular critiques and discussions about their
own work and that of others. The more fluent your students are in discussing
art work using the correct terminology the more successful they will be
as artists and the more able they will be to assess art. For how can they
possibly know how to improve their work if they don't know what to say?
Over the years I have designed many assessment sheets aimed at making students more aware of their direction, learning focus, the National Curriculum, their progression etc. What has also become very apparent to me is that the majority of my students aren't in the least bit interested in my well designed bits of paper. They invariably fill them in dutifully with the minimum amount of information possible. But do they learn anything extra by doing it? I don't think they do.
It has also become clear to me that assessment does as much harm as it
does good. The act of creating anything is usually a very insecure process.
When assessing work students are very self-conscious and are often very
worried about being humiliated in front of their peers. For that reason
I dislike levelling, marking and grading work in too much depth because
what it really does is reinforces the idea in the student's mind that
their artwork has a hierarchical structure. 'His work is better than mine'
and; 'mine is not very good.' It has as much of a negative impact as it
does a positive one. With this in mind I try to keep grading to a minimum
and try to focus on what we were trying to learn and how successful they
have been on an individual basis in demonstrating that learning.
National Curriculum levels in Art
We live in an educational world of targets, levels, sub-levels and progression,
it just doesn't cut the mustard to be too 'wooly.' School leaders and
many well-informed parents and pupils want to know their exact grade at
any moment of the day or night and of course we have to enter these into
our SIMS reports so that office bound data managers can drool over them.
I personally dislike this incessant inspection of every minuscule piece
of work and I can tell you with certainty that it is bad practice, but
hey ho, I don't have a choice if I want a job as a teacher.
Many teachers (myself included) have clear wall displays showing students what the characteristics of levels/grades are. Prominent examples of work at key Levels with bold annotations to highlight the main assessment criteria help students enormously. They are a constant source of reference to enable your students to understand what they need to include in their own work to make the grade they are aiming for. The posters I have designed on this site are a good starting point for you.
But why do all of this work yourself? Why not make it a student project
to create a display that shows levels of progress? That way they are learning
at the same time. Give them a staple gun, some art work and access to
WordArt and they will be very happy and learn at the same time.
However, to assess in more detail, you have to have to have provided a clear picture to your students what the difference is between these minute sub-strands or grades. This is extremely difficult to do and it should be planned and written into your scheme of work before you start teaching it. You can do this by identifying what the characteristics of a high, middle and low piece of work will look like for EVERY lesson, then judge your students against this criteria. This isn't as harsh as it sounds and might simply be short statements of what you expect them to achieve. For example: by the end of this lesson ALL students should have completed x, y and z. High ability students might have completed a, b and c and those not making sufficient progress will not have completed the required work.
If these learning stages are well planned in advance, you can break lengthy progression down into small, manageable steps. This is a much better way of managing projects, especially for weaker students. By recording this progress in your mark book on a week-to-week basis, you can clearly see what each student has achieved (or not) and take earlier action to prevent small holes becoming a giant catastrophe.
In relation to National Curriculum levels, you need to identify what your benchmarks are for each year group. If we follow the National Curriculum as our guide then we can apply these benchmarks for assessment purposes:
Year 1 Most students will be working at or around Level 1.
Year 2 Most students will be working at or around Level 1 or 2 (Most students will begin Year 2 at level 1 then work towards achieving level 2 in that Year. Only exceptional students will achieve level 3 in Year 2)
Year 3 Most students will be working at or around Level 2 (Some students might only achieve level 2 within this year)
Year 4 Most students will be working at or around Level 2/3 (Most students will begin Year 4 at level 2 then work towards achieving level 3 in that Year.)
Year 5 Most students will be working at or around Level 3 (Some students might achieve level 4 in this year but I would be wary of giving level 4 too freely here)
Year 6 students will be working at or around Level 4/5 with the majority of students at level 4.
Year 7 Most students will be working at or around Level 4
Year 8 Most students will be working at or around Level 4/5 (Most students will begin Year 8 at level 4 then work towards achieving level 5 in that Year.)
Year 9 Most students will be working at or around Level 5/6 (Most students will begin Year 9 at level 5 then work towards achieving level 6 in that Year.)
Most Schools now use a system of grading work within the level in High, Middle and Low areas, or A, B and C. This helps enormously to differentiate work in the levels. From experience I can tell you that most work I see in Year 7 (the class average) is Level 4B. In Year 8 it is harder because students should move up to level 5 here, so at the start of the Year I am looking for students to hit level 4A then achieve 5C by the end of the year.
When you have the Class Average Grade it is easy then to work out the grades for the higher and middle students. If my class average is level 4B then the Above Average grades will probably be level 4A and exceptional students might achieve 5C or even higher. Needs improvement students will usually be working at 4C or even 3A for example.
Remember this is MY interpretation of this, not any official guide. I think it exposes how poor the whole NC levels system is, when few teachers can understand what the levels mean and how to apply them. Trust me, even many experienced Art teachers haven't got a clue. The high, middle and low (or A, B and C) divisions after the grade go some way to helping, but in my opinion it is still very poor.
In Key Stage 3 many students might only move from level 4 to level 5 in three years. This is also true at Key Stage 1 and 2 where a student might achieve level 2 in Year 2 then not move from that level until Year 4. Primary teachers are steered into awarding level 5 in Year 6 by the marking system and yet Secondary teachers know that level 5 is hard to achieve in Year 7 since level 5 is where many students are in Year 9.
To make matters worse, it is common now for school leaders to demand
that all students make two or three sub-levels of progress each year.
In art that is quite absurd since if you use the National Curriculum as
your guide, it says that:
"The majority of KS 1 students should end the key stage at level 2, KS 2 students should end year 6 at level 4 and KS 3 students should end year 9 at level 5/6."
So, if everyone made one whole level progress each year (3 sub-levels) as some school manager's demand, then every student would be have completed level 8 in year 8 and be in Exceptional Performance by year 9! This is clearly ridiculous and aspirational targets such as these are merely paper exercises for OFSTED and outstanding school status. Since there is no official requirement by the DFE to report any levels for art, then you can pretty much say what you like anyway.
My own school demands 2 sub-levels of progress so I use the following
system: end year 6 on level 4C, end year 7 on 4A, end year 8 on 5B, end
year 9 on 6C which just meets in with NC expectations. It is a bloody
awful system. Good Luck with it! If you want to discuss assessment, if
you think I have made some errors here or have your own opinions then
please contact me.