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Primary art assessment

This chapter is available in the Art Teacher's Handbook

K-6, Primary Key Stage 1 & 2 Art Progression

Historically, there isn't a great deal of formal assessment done at the early years stage and in my opinion, it should be kept light and positive. Good use of formative assessment is the real secret here, to help pupils understand how to improve without it being a burden on the teacher. However, at a time when the poor Primary/Elementary teacher is being run ragged with targets and progression in a whole host of subjects, art is often left low down the list or is used as passing treat. And yet this is the stage when students form lifelong opinions and decisions about their ability. In this phase of education the students with natural talent shine like a beacon, leaving all others to feel inadequate and substandard. What is really happening is that the students don't usually have 'expert' art lessons and so those who can draw realistically and with dexterity stand out.

The Assessing Art in Primary chapter from the Art Teacher's Handbook shows you how to embed simple and effective assessment into your classroom practice. It also contains a thorough PROGRESSION model for skills and techniques from which you can select targets appropriate for your learners. Everything you need is included including exciting posters for your classroom.

What should I look for when I assess art?

1. Quantity and quality of participation - Have the pupils gained experience of the activities you have provided? If they have, regardless of their attitude, effort or skill they have participated. But you might want to measure how the quality of that participation. Be careful here, because some pupils may be wary or even frightened of using clay etc. and so it’s easy for some to be penalised unfairly. But clearly, if some have not made any effort at all whilst some have tried really hard then you want to recognise this. This might be assessed as an effort grade on a numerical scale from 1-10 or 1-5.


2. Progression - You need to make it clear to everyone what their basic starting point is; high ability for age, the class standard or working towards the class standard. Then when assessing progress you should be highlighting how much the person has progressed from where they began. This is fundamentally different to assessing 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.
This might be assessed as simply; has made outstanding progress, has made good progress, progress is in-line with class/age expectations, slower progress than expected, minimal or no progress.


3. Attainment and ability - It is important to recognise what ability level the pupils are and what they have learned and achieved. I would assess the pupils’ outcomes as one of the strands; high ability, class standard (good), working towards the class standard. There are two other strands to mention; Students with special education needs and those who are Talented. By understanding pupils individual needs you can make more informative assessment decisions based on their needs or abilities. What I would suggest is that you may wish to separate both of these extremes from any whole class assessment activities you do. It is a sensitive issue and needs careful handling but I try to take the needs and the opinions of the pupils into consideration when assessing these extremes in front of the whole class.


By summarising what learning has taken place in the course of the work and reminding pupils what they have done you are strengthening their knowledge and understanding, placing this learning more firmly in their memory and improving confidence. Ask the pupils to highlight which work they like and say why, make a fuss of pupils who overcame adversity and mention those who made good progress.

Consultancy Service

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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