Art Prerequisites? Who Needs ‘Em!


Traditionally, the schedules of high school art classes have been linear. Art One was a prerequisite for Art Two, Art Two for Art Three and so on. Recently, some districts have adopted a new, less linear model. The traditional numbered classes have been replaced with levels based on skill such as Beginner, Intermediate & Advanced. Using this model, students have the option of skipping to higher level classes based on portfolio reviews rather than completing the prerequisites.

The Pros:
The students are placed in appropriate classes for their skill sets. They are tasked with more challenging lessons and they may also feel more comfortable working with students who are at the same level.

The Cons:
Although the students may feel they already know everything from the prerequisite courses, the teacher may believe there are still basic concepts that the students will miss by skipping over a class. These teachers believe that reviewing the basics is never a bad idea.

The concept of skipping prerequisites could be thought about in other ways too. For example, if students are not required to to take a beginner class in order to take the advanced class, can the prerequisite be eliminated entirely? In addition, traditionally Art One has been a prerequisite for specialty classes such as Sculpture, Painting and Computer Art. There are definitely pros and cons for lifting the prerequisite on these classes as well.

So, what do you think? Are pre-requisites necessary to create student success? 

Should students be able to skip classes if they have higher level skills? 

Anyone work at a school that has already done away with prerequisites?  How is it working?



Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Deborrah

    Hi Ian,
    This is an interesting question that probably does not have a concrete answer for everyone. At my school we initially started out with the linear system, only offering Art I, II, III and IV. When we added a second art teacher and a computer teacher, we began to offer additional classes that still required at least Art I, such as Drawing and Ceramics and AP and Portfolio which required at least two years. The only class we offered that did not have the pre-rec was Art as a Hobby, which is a fine crafts class. Now that we are back down to one art teacher and a computer teacher that is an art educator, I have had to eliminate some classes and changed some of the pre-recs to boost our class numbers (We are a small private school). I still would prefer that all my students have Art I, because it is a foundational class and when I teach ceramics or weaving or whatever, it would be nice for them to have the basic knowledge of art history, design and criticism. It allows for a deeper exploration and understanding in the other classes. I have seen a distinct difference in students who come from art I classes from outside of the school that do not have the same type of content and the students from my classes. I have also noticed a difference in the students who have skipped a pre-rec for one reason or another. I just have to do some additional teaching and review to bring them to the level of the other students. While I am in favor of allowing students to move to a more advanced class, I do think that using some kind of assessment to be sure that they are prepared for the work at the next level would be a good idea. As we all know, some students are very gifted and seem to get everything on an intuitive level, but it is also important for them to understand and be able to verbalize or write about what they know. And being able to sculpt, draw or paint an amazing piece of work, does not mean they understand what they have done. I am rambling, but I love this question and think it is an important point of discussion.

  • Mr. Tucker

    We just went through a downsizing of our enrollment that places 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade students in the same classes. My first thought was this will be difficult, but since we’re project-based it stands to reason that the projects can be tiered for different levels of ability. We’re a commercial art program, not fine art, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the dynamics will be. I’ll keep you all posted as to how we progress.

  • Toby

    When our district eliminated the pre-req. class for the higher level classes this opened a can of worms. First it eliminated half of the staff because the pre-req. was not required. We went from four teachers in one H. S. to one teacher. Art in all areas became a dumping ground for the sped kids (not to say that some of these kids are great in art….but we got all kinds) and the kids who were dropped from other classes for various reasons…the guidance councilors had to put these kids “somewhere” so I was told!
    Do school districts allow math kids to just jump into higher level math classes or are they to take the ” pre-req.” math classes first? Also we have multiple levels in one class… Do math teachers or English teachers teach multiple levels of their subject all in the same hour with student populations of 45-50 students in a class? I don’t think so!
    These same councilors were the ones when we did have pre-req. classes would say… Well the kid had music 1 that should be ok for adv. art? Right? Ugh!
    They just don’t get it!

  • Amy

    Well, I teach Sculpture, and a prerequisite is Art I. In Art I, they learn the elements and principles of art and also contour drawing. In Sculpture, they begin to create contour drawings in space and need to create a contour drawing and scale it up using the grid method. I think it’s better that they have had this experience in Art I. Yes, the Art I prerequisite is necessary.