How to Assess Your Art Program: Part 1

How to Assess Your Art Program is a two-part series covering an assessment process that will help you gain meaningful data to support your teaching and your art program! Read Part 1 below, and read Part 2 here

At the end of each school year, how do you really know if your art program is effective? Are students learning what you intend? Is the curriculum you are teaching developmentally appropriate? Are students retaining important concepts?

If you can’t answer any of these questions, maybe it’s time you started to think about a program evaluation to assess your art program.

What is the difference between a program evaluation and a student progress assessment?

Program Evaluation

A program evaluation measures the overall curriculum and overall student performance knowledge. It helps the teacher drive their instruction, curriculum, and teaching strategies to improve the art program.

For example, if every year you’re finding your students don’t understand the concept of tints and shades in 2nd grade, it’s time to figure out why. Perhaps it’s not developmentally appropriate for a 2nd grader to be able to mix tints and shades. Or, perhaps you aren’t covering the topic as thoroughly as you could. A program evaluation can tell you all of these things and help you teach the concept more effectively or tweak your curriculum for the following year.

Student Progress Assessment

Student progress assessments, on the other hand, track individual student progress. Based on that individual data, a teacher can make changes or tweaks to the student’s educational plan. Individual student data is sent home to students and parents.

So, which is a better choice for the art room?

Because we see so many students each week, it would be nearly impossible to track individual student progress. For this reason, I strongly recommend a program evaluation for the art room. A program evaluation gives you meaningful data you can use and also validates your art program through data. In today’s day and age, we know if you don’t have data, you will fall behind.

In short, a program evaluation is a manageable solution to obtaining the data your administration craves. Plus, it also provides data you can use to inform your teaching without going through hours and hours of grading or individual monitoring.

Follow these simple steps to write an effective program evaluation for your entire art program or one of your art courses.

Step 1: Decide What to Assess

When writing a program evaluation, you first need to decide what the hallmarks of your art program are. To do this, list the 3-10 most important things that you want students to know after leaving your classroom.

In my district, we have Power Standards that break down the most important concepts, making it easy for us to choose what we will assess. If you don’t have Power Standards, I highly suggest you write some to focus your work. Some call them learning outcomes or benchmarks, same thing! If you’d like to see an example of our Power Standards, you can click the image below to download the PDF.

Step 2: Decide How to Assess

The next step is choosing what type of assessment you want to use to assess the Power Standards. There is so much information in the Assessment in Art Education course that covers all of the different types of assessments you could create, so I will just keep it simple and tell you what our department decided to use.

We use a multi-tiered approach with small performance-based assessments, a few-fill-in-the-blanks, and some constructed responses. The bubble test of yore is long gone because it royally stank at truly assessing what our students were learning in the art room. We decided on a simple performance for each Power Standard that we teach.

Here is a sample below of what a simple performance might look like, broken up into 3 trimesters (all on one page, isn’t it handy?) This sample represents the 2nd grade Power Standards.

Do you see the 1, 2 and 3 at the bottom? These numbers represent each trimester. Students complete one section each trimester, and we have the data to record and store on one sheet of paper. We collect all the data from each trimester to get our final scores.

Now, you may be wondering why we don’t just use the students’ artwork or projects as assessments. Why create something additional? The answer is because, often, a teacher is helping a student along the way during a project. A true assessment should be the student independently performing the task.

Step 3: Decide When to Assess

Deciding when to give the assessment is an important factor. A few years ago, we were asked to give a bubble test in art at the end of the year. Yes, a whole year’s worth of content on one bubble test. The kids come once a week for 45 minutes. It just wasn’t fair. They couldn’t accurately remember what happened back in September. Not to mention, the assessment was about facts, not art performance. Now, we give our assessment at the end of every trimester term. There are just two questions, three times per school year. The assessment only takes 15 minutes and uses a simple checklist for grading (more on grading in Part 2). This way, the information is fresher in the students’ heads and paints a more accurate picture of what they learned that term.

Whew! That was a lot of information. I’ll just let you digest.

Stay tuned. In the next installment, we will cover how to grade the assessments, record your data, and use the data to both drive your art program and advocate for it! 

Do you think a program evaluation would be helpful to you? 

What questions do you have? 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Clara

    Jessica- How long have you had this in place?  Do you keep the assessments for each student from one year to the next?  What has your district learned from the data?

    • Clara,
      This is the first year we’ve done this particular assessment. We are going to do it at the end of 5th grade again next year and improve the questions we ask and try it again. Before that, we used a bubble test for two consecutive years.
      We do not keep the assessments from year to year or send them
      home, because it’s more about average scores then it’s about individual student progress. We just look for trends in the art program, versus how each student is doing.
      Hope it helps!

  • Kristyn Demint

    Jessica, I am so glad you are writing about this. My principal and I have discussed what would be the best way for me to show data. It is really tricky when my standards are so broad. Grading individual projects was completely overwhelming for me and I am searching for ideas. I look forward to part two!

    • Kristyn,
      Great! I am happy the conversation is helpful. I always tell the class participants to keep assessments simple, or as busy as we are, with as many students, you will never follow through. Who made the rule everything has to be assessed or nothing? Choose a few important things and just start there.

      • Ingrid Larson

         Our scope is so broad as art teachers- I’m glad you are making the point to just *start* somewhere. It looks like your team has really created a pretty developed curriculum. As the only art teacher in the district (similar to many) I have created our district curriculum and really want to flesh it out more completely with assessments, etc. and make it more comprehensive. *Is* there a commercially available k-8 program in existence? I have looked around, but was disappointed in what I found.  I am hoping to get mine in the condition I want over the summer. Do you have yours available as a whole? I might be interested!!

        • There are some commercially available curriculums, but we opted not to use them. It felt too canned. We still wanted teacher to have some autonomy with how they teach the standard and what artist they choose to focus on.  I think there are some ok curriculums out there, but in my opinion, teachers just need to tools to develop a balanced curriculum that fits their needs, not a step by step how to on every project. I am working on a class called “Developing Your Art Curriculum” that will help teachers do just that. The Power Standards are basically our whole curriculum, but there are more detailed maps we use. Email me and we can talk further!

  • marieelcin

    I have a quibble with your weaving assesment question. You should have an “all of the above” option. A creates plainweave, B creates satin weave, and C creates basketweave. =)

    • Good point! The only one we teach at the 2nd grade level is the over, under, over, under, so I suppose for us, the question should be obvious to the kids, but I totally see how this could be misleading. I’ll let our team know! :) You must be weaver!

    • am

      i was thinking the same thing. even if the child only did one way in class, s/he could have played with different weaving patterns on her own (at school or at home). shows differentiation.

  • I LOVE having an assessment of this kind and have been working on doing this a little at a time with my students, BUT I find it extremely limiting. It doesn’t assess higher level thinking skills and that is how I want to represent my program. I find these types of assessments are more or less assessing if students understood the simple facts. Don’t get me wrong, I thing teaching content is important, but teaching thinking skills is more important. I believe this type of assessment has its’ place (mainly I use them for accountability.) This will always be our problem in the arts, trying to “assess” these higher order thinking skills, it is near impossible on a traditional test!

    • Good thoughts, Erica! We did a whole training on writing higher order thinking questions, and I really value them, too. We added them in where we could, especially in the 4th and 5th grade assessment. We went from a bubble test, (What is an organic shape?) to a performance (draw me an organic shape) hopefully some day we can add in something like (Use organic shapes to create ______).  For now, and in 45 minutes a week, we found kids were shocked at some of our questions. They were not ready for such higher order questions, but we are gradually preparing them. The system has created little machines that are so accustomed to one right answer. 
      So, I suppose my question to everyone would be- Should you wait for the perfect assessment to assess, or start somewhere. It’s just so hard! :) Great ideas!

    • Hope Knight

      I understand your point Erica, and I think that the work found inside the portfolio is evidence of higher level thinking, where they have had a chance to demonstrate their own interpretations of the concepts being taught. The simple assessmentis a great, fast way to create evidence (our county calls them artifacts) to prove to administrators that you are covering the bases of the curriculum. So to use this in combination with student work, I think you are covered in all areas! Looking forward to adapting this to my portfolios in the fall. Thanks for sharing your ideas, ladies, always appreciated.

  • Mcbartos

    You know next year I am suppose to give a pretest to my students in elementary over all the standards at the begining of the year and a test at the end of the year to see how much they have learned in art. My paycheck will be directly affected by how much the students have learned according to that test. Next year I can focus on data for only one grade and the following year the rest of the grades. I really like your small 2question ” test”. Yes, it,s not the end all of art but at least it could give the administrators the data that they want. I don,t want to take the creative, self expressive, independent thinking out of the picture in order to assess technical aspects of art. I also don’t want to take away precious art time away from the kids in order to see the level of their learning. I want the students to be lifelong lovers of all aspects of art, creating, appreciating, etc.. I want them to know that art is a special individual thing just like they are. So sometimes this “data” and assessment can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming. I just don’t want to forget why I am a teacher of art.. I appreciate all your ideas, thanks!!

    • Mindy

      Mcbartos – Would  you mind sharing your email? I would love to connect. I am in the same situation. =)

    • Mindy

      I guess I should have shared mine. ..

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  • kathleen

    I hope I have enough years to retire before this data driven drivel is required in my district’s art program. Art should not be about keeping score to keep your job or funding but creating works of Art. I tell my kids no one will buy your test scores to put on a wall but they might buy you painting project. Displaying class sets of a project will give you a visual proof of learning and all the “data’ you really need.

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  • Janine

    I just discovered this article and it is going to guide me and my art department in the right direction! I just sent a link to my supervisor and we plan to use this to guide our K-4 curriculum rehaul. You are an amazing resource!!

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  • Debby McGann

    I am not sure if many art teachers are aware, but there will be another National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test for visual arts in 2016. I did my dissertation on visual arts assessment in 2013. It is possible and beneficial to give a relevant visual arts test with multiple choice questions, constructed responses, and a hands-on component. Here is the website for the 2008 test:

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thanks for sharing this Debby!