Let’s Debate: Assessment Anchors

In a recent Assessment in Art Education class, we had a wonderful debate centered around the pros and cons of using anchors for assessment.  I decided I would take this discussion to the AOE community in the hopes of continuing this conversation and hearing what YOU all think about this hot topic.


What are Anchors?

In a nutshell, anchors are visual images or exemplars that teachers use to correlate with grading criteria.  For example, when I student taught in New Zealand (many, many moons ago) we were required to grade students artwork using a 5-point grading scale (with 5 being the highest).  To view a sample Matrix of Curricular Indicators we used, click here or on the image below.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 9.14.04 PM

At the end of a particular unit, my co-operating teacher and I had to submit a student example correlating to each of the points on the grading scale to the Ministry of Education along with a written description defending our choices.  The Ministry, in turn, audited each teacher’s samples to make sure we were grading consistently and provided feedback if we were not.  In the states, this is something you might do at the district level.  (Keep in mind, New Zealand has a relatively small population, so it was easier to accomplish countrywide initiatives.)

In your art department, for example, you could determine what specific skills represented mastery of different criteria and share examples of work at each level.  This leads to a wonderful, eye-opening conversation about assessment as teachers try to keep their grading consistent.  And, by the way, this doesn’t mean that you all have to teach the same lessons.  If you grading criteria is Use the slab technique to create a recognizable 3D form, there are many ways to teach this particular standard and therefore, many different exemplars to compare and contrast.

After you have your grading criteria and anchors in place, you can easily refer to them while you are grading and better yet use them to justify grades, should parents, administrators or students require hard evidence.  However, the controversy unfolds around this point:

Do you show your students assessment anchors?

Many class participants DO show students examples of student work.  Some show only high-end examples, while others show a variety of examples and have student discuss the pros and cons of each piece.  Some show only teacher samples, while others show only artists’ work.  And still others create and use a visual matrix for each lesson.  On the other hand, there are teachers who prefer not to show samples, so that students were more apt to use their imagination and not copy the work of the teacher or other students.  The results and opinions were quite varied.

What is your opinion and experience using anchors in the art room?

Should assessment criteria be clear and visible or left open ended in the art room?


Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Project Manager and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • Theresa McGee

    On more than one occasion I have had students say “There is no such thing as bad art”. So I am guessing they probably heard this from family commenting on their child’s creative process or perhaps because there is misinformation on abstracted contemporary art. As much as this comment makes me cringe inside, this does give me the opportunity to talk to the students about things that make one work of art better than another. I do use anchors in class as a way to show what successful artwork might look like – sometimes these are my own, other times it might be by looking at artwork on Artsonia (I choose a random school to look at so we don’t need to worry about commenting on students we know). This offers kids the opportunity to make visual and verbal judgements on successful works of art. I also try to show several anchors so that the kids realize that there is more than one creative solution and that it does not need to look like my work to be done correctly. All of these techniques allow the children to visualize a quality art outcome in their mind before they even produce it.

  • C. Ibarra

    I think anchors can be useful in helping students understand what they are expected to learn as well as see what is possible. For example you might have an example of a colored pencil artwork that shows color blending and shading. Maybe a student who has good craftsmanship, but hasn’t really explored color blending or shading will be inspired to try it in their next artwork.

    My concern, based on our current assessment climate, is that the anchors narrow the definition of success in our classrooms. Art is large. Where one teacher may be most successful at teaching technique, another may inspire more creative risk taking in their students. For the purposes of assessing the success of a program, or student’s development I would favor using a portfolio where you can see the evidence of growth in skill, and thinking, over time. It is also less likely to deter a student from stopping art all together because they did not hit a few subjective targets.

    Why not use the anchors as guidelines, and maybe teacher self-assessment, and use portfolios to determine wether or not your students actually learned something in your class room?

  • Beth

    I never show my students an example of what we are currently making…I like to give them plenty of freedom to come up with their own creative ideas. I will, however, show them an example of a specific technique we are focusing on that day/project. I might show them what neat coloring looks like vs. sloppy coloring, neat cutting vs. sloppy cutting, etc. The examples I show are never anything they would be using for the project, but it is enough to get the message across that craftmanship does count.

    • I like that idea, especially because you could have a generic “sloppy coloring vs neat coloring” sample that could work for a variety of lessons.

  • Kathie O’Malley

    Actually, I deleted my blog post with my Visual Craftsmanship Rubric you mention above as a “visual matrix.” I started seeing others making and posting their examples of this Craftsmanship Rubric and using it in ways I never intended, and it was a little disturbing. On one post someone wrote beside one of their rubric pictures, “tree trunks are brown.” Ouch. Tree trunks are brown and green and golden -and black and puple when wet -and orange and hot pink when they are abstracted… I immediately thought of the Harry Chapin song, “Flowers are Red” and deleted this post! (I do apologise! I do not want to embarrass anybody here!!!)
    My Crafstmanship Rubirc is a visual example of craftsmanship levels and I never intended it to do more than encourage careful coloring and thoughtful consideration of possible details to add to student composition. I used a generic house and tree as a simple example and never have had a lesson where students make a house and tree like that. It is not a visual matrix if visual matrix means a step by step drawing of the actual lesson.
    I have always worked at schools that are at-risk. I add a lot of sequencing, processing and problem solving elements into my lessons because these skills are still emerging and need to be taught and reinforced to many children at-risk. I made up this Visual Craftsmanship Rubric at least 10 years ago to address some gaps in students understanding what it looked like to add details, what it looked like to do slow, careful coloring, ect. When I would Talk about it, it was too abstract for some students so I Showed them with the rubric.
    If I do have students go step by step drawing an image, (which is very, very, very, RARE!) they know that first we will do it together step by step (I like the Monart vocabulary) and then we’ll turn the paper over and they draw the image on their own and in their own way and then choose which drawing to finish; the one we did together or the one they did by themselves. Almost always the children choose to complete their own drawing (they have their own personality drawn into it and the scale they want) and that’s great! Learning how to draw an object is only halfway to the finish line, isn’t it? The rest of the way is student’s using their imagination and drawing in the details of where that object is… fleshing out and finishing the composition.
    Kathie O’Malley http://www.elementaryartmoments.blogspot.com

    • Kathie,
      I think you have a very balanced approach to what you are saying with the Craftsmanship Matrix and I know your original intent. I appreciate your thoughts on this!

  • arlyart

    This is perplexing to me! What I know like I am breathing is that the more intimately you know and understand your subject matter or skill set the better you will be at emulating or striving for elements that apply those characteristics and open doors for creation of your own, built upon those of mastery. This takes place when a student studies the characteristics with a critical eye and develops a language of discussion and conceptual constructs. A writer studies the craft of other writers to build a knowledge of how an energetic verb can move a story forward compared to a lifeless verb which halts a story. Artists for centuries studied the masters, copied the masters, observed their brushstrokes, lines, skill and craft of the masters to master the very art of painting, only to go on and become unique, better painters themselves. We must teach our students to compare and contrast based on elements and principles of art used in ordinary ways versus extraordinary ways. Only then will they build the internal sight to visualize their own artistic voices. Little ones will instinctively be drawn to art that is set apart, is ‘different’ than the others, more colorful, more magical per se. They need to see these differences and discuss them. Anchor assessments can be used as a great tool in building the critical eye needed to form art opinions and understanding. Putting all of this into context, when a teacher chooses to teach “line” and instructs the students that they will draw an apple, they have several options. They can draw it, have the students draw after them, trace an apple picture, etc. Or, the teacher can have them taste an apple, hold it, blindfolded, feel it, smell it, sort them by colors, patterns, textures, and then view drawings of apples that range from the basic, clip art style to that of a realistic slice, to that of a blue lined apples with purple stripes. The students can then compare and contrast the different characteristics of the images and ultimately, create their own based on the knowledge they have from the entire experience, even if it means copying one of the images to emulate the skill required to create it. (I prefer to turn the images over when the painting/creating process begins.) I firmly believe we have to give students the opportunity to think critically about works of art and discuss them, learn how they are created, even at a young age, and give students a chance strive for excellence while they are nurturing their own, creativity. Anchor assessments can be a bridge for that as long as the students are taught that copying can take them only so far. Ultimately, the goal of being a creative is to give life to that idea that is one’s own, that is born from the knowledge of what has come before them. (Interesting topic you have here, lots to consider)