Art, craft & design assessment advice
Art assessment should never be a judgement passed from teacher to pupil, it should be positive guidance for improvement. Art assessment should promote and improve learning and build confidence and motivation. Too often, especially in Secondary education, assessment is wieldy, onerous, and negative. It focusses on what pupils cannot do, and what they must do to improve, instead of emphasising what pupils can do, what they have done well, and how they might make it even better.
When it comes to inspection, inspectors are looking to see that a school’s assessment system supports the pupils’ journeys through the curriculum. Inspectors do not need to see quantities of data, spreadsheets, graphs and charts on how children are performing. What inspectors do want to see is the assessment information your school uses, in the format that you find works best, to help you know how well your pupils are doing at the point they are at in your curriculum. And then, crucially, what you do with that information to support better pupil achievement.
National Director of Education Sean Harford
How do you gather assessment information to identify how well your pupils are doing in art and design? Then what do you do with it?
You would know them as circle time, and art students know them as crits. Either way, a group discussion about our art is the most effective way I have found to s]assess art. A group discussion gives us multiple perspectives on our work. A group discussion allows pupils to visually see their work in relation to other pupils. This could be a good or a bad thing, (they usually see it as bad), so the discussion has to alter misconceptions. A teacher should steer the conversations towards building pupil confidence, whilst identifying areas for future development. What went well and even better if.
There are no judgments in art, no grades, no written comments, ticks, or crosses because there are no right or wrong answers. There are no national standards in art, no mandatory levels or essential knowledge, and no non-negotiables. Put your purple pens in the drawer. Throw your verbal feedback stamps in the bin. You don’t need them. We do not measure attainment in art. We do not compare ourselves to others. There is no best and worst art.
Despite this, it is important to know that assessment in art isn’t a free for all. It isn’t patting everyone on the back and telling them they are brilliant. What we do have in art is our own personal progression. We take starting points, then measure progress from them toward our agreed objectives and endpoints.
I’ve created ten assessment points you should consider when assessing art and design:
Know the purpose of your assessment
Identify your pupil’s starting points
Assess a broad range of artistic abilities over time, linked to content
Feedback should move the learning forward
Feedback should motivate
Assessment should be inclusive
Some forms of assessment are more visible than others
Your assessments should be reliable, replicable, and accurate
Feedback should be efficient & effective
1. Know the purpose of your assessment
The first, and probably most important, purpose of assessment is as a formative tool to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Examples of this in art might be to gather information about existing technical ability in a particular medium before you begin an activity or to identify your pupil’s ability to find, read and extract information from research text.
You must know what you want your pupils to be able to do and they have to know what you want from them. The clearer this is, the more effectively it is communicated, and the more effective, and easier, your assessments will be.
The second purpose of assessment is a summative tool for reporting back to the school and to relative stakeholders. In each case, the purpose of the assessment dictates its appearance and form. Summarising attainment in art as a grade or number in a SIMS spreadsheet is a very reductive form of reporting that labels students. I would hope that modern technology can be used to much greater effect to make meaningful statements about pupil performance in the subject.
2. Identify your pupil's starting points
You can’t measure progress until you know your student’s general ability in the areas of my Pyramid Progression: Skills, Knowledge & Creativity. I developed a simple exercise to do this that takes about an hour to do and I would do it at the beginning of each year.
Skills assessment for Key Stage 3 pupils; Traditionally, an observational drawing task is undertaken at the start of Year 7. You can set a still-life arrangement on a table or provide an interesting, stimulating object to draw and produce a drawing within 30 minutes, to get a good understanding of basic skills. What you are seeing here are your pupils' Fine Motor Skills ability and their basic draughtsmanship. You aren't getting an understanding of their skills in any other areas of art, including sculpture and Gross Motor Skills, which is often why boys don't excel in art - the subject isn't geared towards their abilities, (but that's another topic!).
Creativity assessment for Key Stage 3: I've developed a variation on a Torrance test for creativity. You can measure a pupil's creative potential by giving them an outline of a simple shape, such as a kidney bean or circle, then asking them to produce the most imaginative, original picture they can think of, that includes background. Emphasise the need for originality and imagination. This takes about 20 minutes maximum.
Alternatively, you can provide a small object such as a key, bottle top or screw, and ask them to make a detailed observational drawing of it. Next, transform the drawing of the object into an original, imaginative picture. This combines both of the exercises above.
That is my baseline assessment complete! Note, you can simply look at pupils' sketchbooks or folders from the previous year if it's easier. You may also have transitionary data and summative reports from previous years which can all be used to assess the starting points across all three areas. Some teachers tell me they do a portrait project each year to assess pupils' starting points, but all this does is tell you how good they are at drawing faces. It doesn't give you other essential information about literacy or creativity.
Measuring the Results: Next, I get everyone into a circle or group, and we celebrate and enjoy our pictures, commenting on what is most interesting and successful. As the teacher, I am looking for distinct assessment areas here. I can choose to share this information with the class or not, but I want to measure; drawing ability in terms of the level of skill, attention to detail or successful transference of their idea and their level of original, imaginative thinking. I make judgements about their work to the three assessment strands of working towards, working at or greater depth, ‘where working at’ is the expected standard of drawing for their age and being able to describe an idea that few other people have thought of in the room. (Sometimes, we can draw the same idea in different ways!)
Reading Age: The only other information I will need now for my baseline assessment is their reading age described as working towards, working at or working at a greater depth. This gives me vital information about pupils' ability to engage with the literacy elements of my curriculum. Literacy is a key driver of attainment in art. Those with lower reading ages will struggle to achieve higher grades because they lack the ability to articulate their thoughts and opinions.
It will have taken about an hour to do the assessment and discuss/assess it in the group, but this now gives me three measurements of ability:
1. Their general drawing ability is described as working towards, working at or working at a
2. Their level of creative imagination is described as working towards, working at or working
at a greater depth.
3. Their ability to access and describe their own and others’ artworks using verbal and
This last measurement can be used to measure the two curriculum attainment areas of knowledge and evaluation that we have outlined above. What you should find from doing this is that some pupils are very skilful at drawing, but not so imaginative. Some are imaginative but not so skilful and some are literate and articulate but not imaginative or skilful. In our current art education climate, it is usually the skilful ones who receive the most recognition, rather than the budding art critic or most imaginative ones.
3. Assess a broad range of art abilities over time, linked to content
To be honest, it is fairly easy to spot who the most skilful artists are, you could probably do that without any formal assessment, but hopefully, you will be able to make more meaningful judgements such as you work most successfully with your hands when making in three-dimensions, or you really performed well in our printmaking project. This is time-dependent of course, but if you judge everyone on their ability to draw or paint it is like saying you are no good at sport if you can’t play football. When making assessment judgements about making skills, always look for what they can do, as opposed to what they haven’t done.
Our level of creativity is very dependent on how much we use it, so if your curriculum only has only one creative activity per term; to come up with four ideas for a monster, then you aren’t really developing it. Try to devise lots of quick, creative exercises. Imagination needs feeding! In this way, you can make more meaningful judgements about their level of imagination.
When making judgements about children’s ability to engage with their own and others’ work, you should make allowances for hurdles that prevent success in this area. Some pupils are introverts and don’t like speaking out loud. They might prefer writing their thoughts down. Some pupils have poor handwriting, and some don’t like writing anything at all and prefer to speak. Some pupils have incredible levels of vocabulary but have very little to actually say and vice-versa. You know your pupils but try to provide a diverse range of ways pupils can engage with their own and others’ art in order to make meaningful judgements about their level of Knowledge and Evaluation attainment. Personally, I never made teacher records of my art conversations, but some schools insist on it and others like to do it for evidence. All the evidence I needed was in my children’s love of art.
4. Identify Endpoints
There should be clear endpoints that the children are working towards. If you download my progression guide, you will see that I have provided a set of descriptors that outline endpoints at significant stages so that staff and visitors can be sure that children are making good progress in the subject. In this way, assessment is much easier to implement and it should be visible for both pupils and staff to ensure everyone knows what achievement looks like.
5. Feedback should move the learning forward
Art feedback should never be a judgement passed from teacher to pupil, it should be positive guidance for improvement. Art feedback should promote and improve learning by providing children with an awareness of their personal development over time (the big picture), and how they have performed in a particular task and provide them with advice on future direction.
The minute you start putting grades on pupils' work and writing extensive comments about what they've done wrong you risk demotivating them. Creativity is already a very anxious process that for most people is riddled with self-doubt. Assessment should not crush creativity but promote it, to inspire people to want to keep making art. It should help pupils understand that we are all trying to improve, and that even so-called experts are rarely satisfied. Through good assessment, we learn not to judge ourselves, but to enjoy the process, to relish the journey of creation.
Create a culture of learning conversations and dialogue in your classroom. Make space and time for thinking and reflection. Teach children how to ask questions of themselves and their work and make sure they understand that in art we don’t grade or judge our performance – we only reflect on it. We don’t use purple pens to deface children’s art, we don’t stamp it with verbal feedback given stamps or stick things on top of it.
6. Feedback should motivate - measuring attainment is not the same as measuring progress
When we measure attainment we ask- Have the pupils demonstrated sufficient evidence of meeting the lesson objectives you have delivered? There are always common patterns here and you need to be mindful of some pitfalls. If you always and only ever measure attainment, then the same students will be successful, and the same people will fail. You only end up reinforcing their
pre-held convictions about their ability and this actually demotivates those that don’t think they will ever be as good as the ones at the top. Measuring attainment is less important at primary than it is at secondary education where the drive for good GCSE results is paramount. To be honest, high attainment rarely needs pointing out in art because it is usually very evident. That said, when you ask children to pick out work they think is most interesting, they usually pick out very different choices from each other which breaks down misconceptions about which is ‘best’.
When we measure progress we make it clear to everyone what their basic starting point was. Then use your learning conversations to highlight the progress that has been made from where they began. This is fundamentally different to assessing the quality of outcomes and makes for a very different art room because often, you realise that high-ability students aren’t making as much progress as the less able.
This is actually quite normal because it’s harder to make big learning steps when you already possess the skills being taught, but it really helps the less able to feel more confident. By focussing on progress and what has been learned you will develop the
children’s understanding of what they need to do next and how to improve. And this for me is what assessment is all about.
7. Assessment should be inclusive
There are two other strands of assessment to mention; students with special education needs & disabilities and those who are very talented at art. These are complex, separate subjects in their own right, but they still need consideration when making classroom judgements.
Essentially, if a child flies through your lesson easily and still achieves a very high standard of outcome, then your lesson has clearly been too easy for them. The national curriculum advises that you should provide challenges and, if required, extension activities related to the same topic, rather than moving them on to something new. To do this, you need to raise the bar. You might even need extra specialist help and support to develop distinct activities for these pupils, in which case they can’t take part in your whole class dialogue when tackling them. Either way, it’s important to outline to the whole group where this talented attainment lies. If it is well above the expected standard for this age, then it will be counter-productive if everyone else compares their art to it. You can diffuse this somewhat by making this clear to the rest of the group, but it doesn’t always work. In any event, teaching talented students of art requires you to design projects that have more open outcomes rather than teacher-led tasks. To go back to our shading a ball analogy, you’d perhaps encourage them to shade more complex forms, asking them to shade spheres with indentations or raised areas such as the moon.
8. Some forms of assessment are more visible than others
The most important form of assessment you do is the formative dialogue you do in the classroom. Assessment isn’t just a grade on a piece of work, it’s also those stickers you give out, the rewards for the best work, it’s your comments and casual conversations, prizes or certificates in assembly, it’s even your body language. Your children are seeking approval, they are watching everything you do! “I didn’t get a certificate; I didn’t get my work on the wall etc.”
When walking around a room you can’t praise everyone’s work or you’d sound silly, so tell the group that if you walk past their work and say nothing it means that they are doing well, and you don’t feel they need any help. This way, your silence is a positive action. Use a thumbs-up sign or tell a whole table you are going to check their work, have a look, and then say; “Excellent work, well done.”
When I want to make a comment to a pupil, I take care to use a praise sandwich. I highlight a positive, make a comment for improvement then leave with a positive. ‘This is good Samina, I love how you have used colour here. Just be mindful of those untidy edges here and there or you won’t be able to recognise the shape. But other than that, it’s really great work.’
9. Your assessments should be reliable, replicable and accurate
Standardise your assessment and keep it consistent. You can't make meaningful measurements if the nature of them keeps changing. You will not get consistent results if one class have to do their assessment exercise on the last Friday afternoon before Christmas break and the other did it on a relaxed morning in Spring. It won’t have much meaning if you entered some data based on your gut feeling about your class after three glasses of wine and other, comparable data after studying their sketchbooks and folders for an hour.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Important decisions can't be made on one small piece of evidence. Make meaningful judgements based on evidence over time. Also, it's not easy to do but you have to remove bias. You might not get on very well with a particular pupil, they might be loathsome to teach, but this should not affect your assessment of their work.
10. Feedback should be efficient and effective.
Assessment is the best classroom tool for improvement you have and it should be a positive, informative, class-based experience that gives pupils clear direction for their next steps. If there is any writing to be done, it should be done by the pupil themselves, perhaps in their sketchbooks so you can monitor it later, because all feedback or assessment advice should be followed up on by
Pupils should be given time to act on the advice given and this follow-up work should be checked by the teacher to ensure it is happening correctly. This might be as simple as looking over the shoulder while they are doing the follow-up work and giving them a word of encouragement, it doesn’t have to be an additional written assessment.
Take your verbal feedback given stamps and throw them in the bin - or make art from them. If senior leaders want to see evidence of pupils receiving feedback and acting on it, look at the pupil's work - all the evidence is there!
Read the pupil's own feedback statements about their performance, which should contain evidence of assessment dialogue being received and acted upon. Then look at the work itself. Can you see anywhere where the pupils have received advice from the teacher and then worked on it?
Make it a target for the pupils to have to show YOU they have done this - not the other way round, where teachers have to evidence 30 examples per class.
How can they show YOU they have practised shading neatly since you gave them the feedback? How might they show YOU they have researched the artist you asked them to at home? Flip the expectation to provide evidence of progress from you to them - you haven’t got time! Maybe they could have a small A6 writing pad to make their own written & dated feedback comments, so you can monitor them more effectively, or maybe, like me, you could get them to use the back of their sketchbooks.
Assessing Artwork at GCSE exam level
There was a time when GCSE grades were formed by looking at a portfolio of work and saying; ‘that’s a grade C’
When GCSE rubrics came into force in the nineties, art teachers would still decide on the grade first, then calculate a ‘safe’ points total, tailoring the assessment matrix to fit their opinion. It still goes on and teachers confidently claim they ‘know’ what the grade looks like. They may be very experienced, but things change and the danger of this method of working is complacency and oversight that often leads to horrendous shocks at the moderation stage.
Do you standardise your marking across your department regularly?
Are you leaving it too long to assess your pupils work?
When was the last time you brushed up on your marking?
Are you marking too high or too low? Have bad habits crept in?
Any attempt to award extra marks based on the personal likeability of the pupil (or vice versa) should be strictly avoided. Mark what you see and try not to even look at the name on the folder. If you do this early enough in the year the student has time to improve the grade, though of course this cannot be done for the final exam.
Planning is so important and you must make sure that you are maximising motivation/interest in the work, meeting the needs of your students, providing regular, constructive help, encouragement and advice and promoting successful outcomes. Put yourself in the student's shoes. They are getting it in the neck from every teacher AND at home and art takes so much time to do they are easily inclined to think; "Is it worth it?" So the skill here is to nip at their heels lightly, but early and often. NEVER wait until the end or midway through a project to assess work. By this time you will have lost the game. These forms of assessment should only confirm what you already know. The important thing is to plan for assessment in every lesson but in such a way as it seems natural.
Differentiation in art
Whenever you are teaching art there will always be some distinctive areas that emerge:
1. There will be 3 main areas of attainment in your outcomes; High, Middle and Low ability.
2. There will occasionally be some students who will demonstrate ability way higher than that of their peers (Gifted & Talented).
3. There will be students who will struggle to produce anything of quality and find it very difficult to access your lessons (often, but not always SEN)
Every unit of work you plan should cater for these areas of attainment. When planning a project you should always prepare for this. Ask yourself: What have I got to extend and enrich this project for the more able? How am I going to support the less able? You cannot simply say: there will be differentiation by outcome, because this will not provide a suitable platform for everyone to achieve. If your task is suitably open ended to enable students to work at their own level of ability then you may not need to think much about extension work, but you will always need to think of support for students who are struggling to access your lesson.
Typically, high ability artists will already be able to draw, shade and colour skilfully without much input from you. High ability thinkers will create unusual and interesting colours, shapes and patterns and have more imaginative outcomes that are not necessarily skilfully produced. Often, some students who are very skilful at drawing and/or painting have little or no imagination. So you need to know if you have high ability thinkers, high ability creators of art or both. To extend your students work they should be challenged to push the boundaries and branch out into their own, creative outcomes. For example: You have asked the class to paint and draw insects for a pattern design. The students finishing early might be asked to create something using that pattern, such as a dress or clothing. The key is to ask ther right questions: That is excellent work, how would you like to develop this work further? In what way might you build on this work? How might you apply this pattern? Can you think of alternatives? What would happen if you used different colours?
To support the more able try these methods:
If a student finishes their work quickly, ask them to check it and think about how they might improve it. When drawing and painting, students finishing early can nearly always improve their use of colour, shading and/or the tone in their work.
They should be asked to think about what THEY would like to do next. Students who are more able and finish work quickly usually have a head packed full of ideas that they want to express. Have an extension box in the classroom filled with interesting work. Try to build a collection of activities, tasks and objects that can inspire a piece of artwork. You might be able to download many of these from the internet or from photo-copiable booklets. Encourage 'Free Drawing time.' I love free drawing time in art because the students love free drawing time! It is also a great gap filler and extension task in lessons. Why not simply allow a student some free time to study an art book of their choice? It's quick, easy and very educational!
To support the less able try these methods:
Show them how to ghost draw shapes on the paper to help them.
Show them how to sketch lightly with a sharp pencil.
Help them to build the drawing from simple shapes such as circles, squares.
Provide tracing and copying facilities wherever possible. A piece of tracing paper is a Godsend and it is not cheating.
Provide one to one support where possible and do small demonstrations on scrap pieces of paper.
Break the task up into smaller sections.
Provide good resources on the whiteboard and/or handouts.
Think of more simplistic alternatives with strong outlines. Tracing cartoons is a very good way of improving the fine motor skills needed to help the less able.
If all else fails then you might start them off with a few basic guidelines. Try not to do too much but just enough to get them going.
Put a homework book together of activities to help develop motor skills.
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As an NSEAD registered art consultant, I offer a friendly, professional art consultancy service to schools, from early years right through to Secondary GCSE. I've worked with infant schools to improve art assessment, delivered primary school CPD on skills and progression, worked with Subject Leaders to raise attainment and done whole school, secondary art department audits including formal lesson observations and department reviews. My over-arching strategy is to support the professional development of hard working professionals with positive and constructive advice for improvement.
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