To elevate the role of arts education, measure it

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Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), there’s been much talk about the added flexibility for states to incorporate additional measures into their state accountability systems. ESSA allows states broader latitude to define school quality and ensure that students receive a “well-rounded education,” a definition that includes the arts and music.

Arts education advocates believe this departure presents an opportunity to restore the role of the arts in education. As the saying goes, “what gets measured gets done,” and many believe that arts education was crowded out by the No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on tested subjects and strict Adequate Yearly Progress measures. Now, as states look to broaden the scope of their accountability systems, many are considering whether to incorporate indicators of arts education. This policy brief seeks to provide states with a road map on how to best incorporate these measures.
The current attention on the arts is timely. Last month, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2016 Arts Assessment, providing a snapshot of arts education across the United States. In terms of performance on the assessments provided in the NAEP, which are limited to visual arts and music, students from higher-income families, suburban students, private-school students, and white students outperformed their peers.
The performance levels correlate to NAEP’s arts access outcomes, which vary widely geographically, with students in Northeastern states nearly twice as likely to take a visual arts course as students in Southern or Western states. While 68 percent of eighth graders in the Northeast reported taking at least one visual arts class in school, that number drops to 47 percent, 35 percent, and 33 percent in the Midwest, South, and West, respectively. The NAEP, however, is limited in depth and breadth, focuses solely on eighth graders, and generally lacks the type of school-level or student-level data …

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