The National Core Arts Standards: Minor Shift or Major Detour?

3 Min Read  •  National Core Arts Standards

The new National Core Arts Standards were rolled out in June of 2014, in part as a response to the Common Core Standards, as well as to reflect 21st century educational trends and learning skills. Greg provided a great overview of the standards in yesterday’s article. With the rollout of these new National Core Arts standards, there are arts educators weighing in on these new standards on both sides of the fence. So what are the implications of these new standards in the arts classroom? How will they impact arts instruction?

Why new standards?

First of all, having standards ensures the integrity of content by providing structure to the planning process, focus for the teaching process, and expectations by which students will be assessed. For years, “standards” and “standardization” have been confused in educational settings, with the powers that be demanding standardized, high-stakes assessments (standardization) to measure achievement of standards.

However, standards don’t require a “standardized” way of teaching and assessing. In fact, “standardization” just doesn’t work in many educational contexts, especially in the arts, and I believe that this is part of the reason we have had so much difficulty validating the presence of the arts in an educational landscape of high-stakes testing. However, the beauty of the arts is that students can naturally differentiate for themselves and perform to their own strengths to express themselves and to demonstrate their understanding of content, but we must have those standards to provide structure and focus.

The Framework

The Conceptual Framework of the NCCAS (National Coalition for Core Arts Standards) states that standards “should embody the key concepts, processes and traditions of study in each subject area, and articulate the aspirations of those invested in our schools,” and that these new standards “are framed by a definition of artistic literacy that includes philosophical foundations and lifelong goals, artistic processes and creative practices, anchor and performance standards that students should attain, and model cornerstone assessments by which they can be measured” (p. 2).

In other words, artistic literacy and traditional ways of teaching arts content remain, but at the same time, we are moving our content forward even further by increasing the rigor of our already rigorous work, as well as explicitly promoting artistic processes.

Some arts educators have a negative perception of standards. Some arts educators feel that the focus of arts education should just be on the process of making the art itself (creating art, making music, etc.), and I think there is some validity to that. Children should experience as many opportunities in making art as possible.

However, having standards and benchmarks for student performance should not be a “vacation” from making art, but should rather guide the experiences that students will take part in. The National Core Arts Standards ensures that students can have a sequential arts education that will promote the processes of creating, performing/presenting/producing, responding, and connecting in the arts while maintaining the validity of the content itself.

Using the Standards in Practice

I don’t see the Core Arts Standards as a major detour in the best-practice instruction that has already been happening in our arts classrooms for many years, but rather as a minor shift in practice. In my music classroom, we will continue to compose, improvise and create our own musical ideas. But we will take more time to reflect on the choices we made and how we can make revisions.

We will continue to perform music as often as we can, but we will make explicit plans for improving our performance. We will continue to respond to music through guided listening experiences, but instead of studying many pieces throughout the year, we will focus on fewer pieces of the highest quality and study them deeply. And we will continue to make connections to other contents and to the real world, and we will do so with inquiry-based learning, seizing every opportunity to make learning meaningful, transferable, and authentic.

What shifts have you made to begin incorporating the National Core Arts Standards in your arts instruction?