How can you assess the arts?

Assessment in the arts has always been a complicated and sometimes heated subject. How are you to mark something that is subjective to the creator?
One of the most challenging aspects of assessment in Visual Arts is grading and assessing students’ creations without stifling their creativity. In art classes there is always the need to encourage each individual’s creative nature and artistic talent whether musical, dramatic, or visual. Teachers must also at the same time take into consideration the needs and abilities of each of their students. These teachers face this constant dilemma of nurturing artistic talent versus constructive criticism, and gambling how an impressionable youth will internalize their teacher’s actions.

From the article “Frustrated voices of art assessment” author Barbara Bensur stated that “The art room should be the sanctuary against school regulations, where each youngster is free to be himself and put down his feelings and emotions without censorship, where he can evaluate his own progress toward his own goals without the imposition of an arbitrary grading system”. When a teachers performs an assessment of students they should inspire their creativity and in no way censor their progress.


Ideas for Art Assessment:

The arts offer a wide variety of traditional and alternative assessments for teachers and students, some of which are familiar and others may be new ideas for assessing student learning. Here is an overview of the different tools available to assess the arts that Mrs. Brown can introduce into her classroom:
Teacher Assessment Tools and Ideas

Teachers in the arts, like all teachers, need to be aware of their students needs and abilities before they administer assessments. They should always ensure there is mofifications and accomodations made where needed.

Rubrics are a commonly used assessment tool in all subject areas, including the arts. They are excellent when using differentiated instruction in the arts because clear expectations are outlined in a print format that can be modified for each individual’s needs.
Observations are opportunities for teachers to conduct a continuous assessment of their students’ progress. Observations allow teachers to monitor progress of their students’ work that might otherwise not be noticed.
Performance assessment requires students to perform an activity. Typically these tasks require preparation, review, and revision. They are often followed by critique or reflection by student, teacher or peer. Performance tasks are considered authentic assessment as they require a demonstration of knowledge and ability. Performance assessment can be more in-depth than other assessments. It shows clear levels student learning and skill acquisition for teachers than traditional written tests. It does take a lot of time to plan and perform and has quite a few steps.
Artworks that could come out of a performance assessment task could be a sculpture, a costume, or a musical score. Stanley Madeja (2004) reminds us that when we think of student artworks in assessment terms, we should think about how we can use these works as evidence of student learning and achievement. Madeja asks us to consider artworks as viable assessment of progress.
Performances could be the presentation of a play, a dance, or music.
Portfolios are a popular assessment tool in most subjects. A traditional portfolio includes what a student believes to be their best work. Typically a portfolio is summative –what a student has accomplished at the completion of a course or program.Processfolio was developed by Howard Gardner focused mainly on visual arts. A processfolio is formative – it shows the progress of an artist and their skill.
Student Self-Assessment

One very successful assessment strategy for visual art is self-assessment. As stated before, the comments that teachers make towards their students’ artwork, no matter how constructive or positive, may create more damage than help. By teaching students to self-assess, without their teacher’s input, it could “improve their self-esteem and confidence which could encourage the teacher to concentrate on the process of making art rather than just assessing the end product” (Stiggins, 2001).These assessments can take a variety of forms, including journals, checklists, and discussions. In the differentiated classroom technology offers a variety of opportunities for student self-assessment and reflection.

Student Peer Assessment

Critique is a form of self and peer assessment and is the analytical and interpretative discussion about a work of art. To critique a piece of art will teach students the traditional pursuit of art appreciation. It should be carefully used to build self-esteem in others if used with peers in the classroom setting.


Bensur, B. (2002). Frustrated voices of art assessment. Art Education, 55, 6, 18-23.

Gardner, H. (1989). Project zero: an introduction to arts propel. Journal of Arts and Design Education, 8, 2, 167-182.

Madeja, S. & Sabol, R. (2004). Assessing Expressive Learning.Retrieved from

Stiggins, R. (2001). Student-involved classroom assessment. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall