New York State School Boards Association

Aligning the arts to new 'core' standards

by Merri Rosenberg

On Board Online • December 14, 2015

By Merri Rosenberg
Special Correspondent

Amid staccato whirring sounds and deep hums of a 3D printer in Nyack High School in Rockland County, students are staring intently at Mac computer screens. One student peers at a schematic of a yacht while using computer-aided design program (CAD) to draft his own version.

Is it art, or is it science? It's both. Nyack's CAD art elective reflects a shift in thinking about arts education.

"We're teaching children the process of learning and the application of process to blend seamlessly different concepts," said Ben Turner, a Nyack science teacher. "It's about how to be inquisitive and figure out how to solve problems and get answers."

Sound a lot like standards-based education? It is. But it's not aligned with the Common Core, which doesn't cover the arts. Rather, it's aligned with new national core arts standards.

Developed by arts teachers, the standards focus on four specific processes:

  • Creating.
  • Performing, producing and presenting.
  • Responding.
  • Connecting.

Disciplines covered are theater, music, art, dance and media arts.

Standards in arts makes sense because "arts lend themselves to authentic assessment," said Marc Greene, an adjunct professor at Ithaca College School of Music and former president of the New York State School Music Association.

Arts are valuable in preparing students for college and career, just like other subjects, according to Greene. "Twenty-first century skills require team-work, creative thinking and collaboration," he said. "Being part of a theater production or music ensemble means, in fact, having the kinds of experiences they're trying to create in math and English."

Although the new core arts standards are currently being reviewed by the New York State Education department, with the expectation that they will be implemented sometime in 2016, there are several districts around the state that have already begun to implement curriculum and professional development activities related to the arts standards.

In Westchester County's New Rochelle school district, Marc Schneider, supervisor of music and art, said the first step was to explain the new standards to staff. "The organization is different, focusing on processes," said Schneider, a past president of Westchester Arts Leadership Association and Secretary of the state Council of Administrators of Music Education (NYSCAME). "We're getting used to using it. It's not mandatory, but I want us to be ready. It's tied together with the learning targets . the units of instruction are what we've always done, but framed differently."

In Nyack, where there has always been strong support for the arts, the district has brand new labs for music and the visual arts, funded by Inspire Nyack, a community foundation.

"The idea is to "provide opportunities for our students to think critically, communicate effectively, and maximize their creative abilities," said James Montesano, superintendent of schools.

"We look at the arts as a core component the same way we look at reading and math," added Winsome Gregory, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and personnel. "When you look at most of the standards, you have to integrate all of them."

But aren't the arts about learning how to do something - paint a painting or play a piece of music?

Nope, according to Joseph Fusaro, Nyack's visual arts department chair. "It's not just about 'making,'" he said. "We've gone from standards that are broad and basic to really engaging kids in a variety of things. It's about how do students make choices, and how do they decide what to make? Questions drive the units of study, rather than topics."

Like his counterparts in English and other subjects, Fusaro talks about developing "critical thinking." When discussing realistic images, for example, Fusaro will ask students, "What's drawing from observation good for? How do artists visually express power?"

He added that there's growing recognition of how artists work in collaboration and in communities. "What's emphasized now is the idea of multiple solutions, multiple perspectives and the perspectives of others," said Fusaro. "As a department, we do not have a desire to have kids make cute art projects."


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