Recently at a program presented by the Long Island Arts Alliance, New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner made an impassioned plea to a very friendly audience in support of arts education. The Commissioner feels strongly that art and music education not only has a place in K- 12 education but that it is a very important place equal in importance to English, Math and Science. I very much agree and I would also add that health and physical education hold a place of importance as well. It all comes together as a well rounded education, which hopefully brings with it, well rounded students who do better in college, at work, and in life.
To make the case for the arts and music being important, the Commissioner advocates a New York State (Regents) exam in these areas much like the sate wide exams already given areas such as English, math and the sciences. And though the audience was completely on board in recognizing the value of the arts and arts education, there was no such unanimity regarding a standardized test in these areas. How would the test work; how would you assess both the theoretical as well as the performance elements of arts education? The Commissioner felt there were already examples in actual use elsewhere and he gave Britain as an example of a country where an arts test dealt successfully with the issues raised.
There was another concern raised during this discussion regarding the potential negative consequences from turning arts education into another area of test preparation at the middle school and especially the high school level. Would this limit creativity? Would this diminish enjoyment of the arts? And would the long term negative consequences create a population that moves away from these areas as soon as there are no more requirements and no more standardized tests. This is certainly a valid concern and could be a very negative unintended consequence of an effort to make the arts more prominent.
I have great difficulty conceptualizing a standardized examination in these areas. And I urge that no such examination be implemented without a full review and opportunity to provide feedback on what is being proposed. Schools of Education and university music departments can be of great assistance in both the development and assessment phases and should be fully utilized. But I worry in this time of potentially significant reductions in k-12 education funding, that implementation of an arts standardized exam will not follow such a comprehensive vetting process. And I worry even more in this constrained time that teaching to the test will provide the most economical and therefore perhaps most utilized response to the test.
We really need to be very careful that in our quest to give the arts their rightful place in a program of essential learning that we don’t weaken rather than strengthen arts education. The most important test is whether we can foster creativity as well as a long term appreciation of the arts as part of every child’s education. For our children’s sake, we need to do well on this test.