State Standards Spree!

Posted by Lynn Tuttle, Sep 09, 2013 11 comments

Lynn Tuttle Lynn Tuttle

Read along and test your knowledge of standards, state policy and state level arts education as I take you through some of the oft-heard questions regarding state arts education standards.

  1. What are standards, and why do we have them? Part of the Educational Reform movement of the 1990’s, standards are descriptions of what students should know (knowledge) and be able to do (skills) in a particular content area. The first set of national standards was developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1989; the arts standards were the second set of national standards, published in 1994.
  2. So – we have national standards? But your title talks about state standards…I’m confused… National standards are voluntary standards with no accountability or “teeth” in the educational system until they are either adopted or adapted at the state level. They are guidance, whether the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, or the soon to be released updated National Core Arts Standards.
  3. OK. What states have arts standards now?  48 states officially have arts education standards for K-12 at this moment in time. One state, Nebraska, is in the process of writing arts education standards as we speak. Can you guess which state doesn’t have state level standards?[i]
  4. How do states get or create arts standards?  The answer is… it depends. In my state, the State Board of Education, a board appointed by the Governor and including our directly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, approves or adopts standards for our state. In other states, the legislature most vote to adopt standards. Regardless of the state, your SEADAE representative –the person who handles arts education for your state department of education - is the worker bee (or bureaucrat!) who shepherds arts standards through the appropriate process.
  5. 5.       So, 48 states have arts standards… but you mentioned above that there will be a new set of national arts standards. Why are we revising the national standards if state standards are already in place?  
    1. a.       Because art making and the tools available to teach art have changed. Since 1994, the technological revolution has created huge innovation in the tools available to create and present art in all of its forms, and has impacted the tools available to help us teach the arts (think Finale, SmartMusic, Adobe, etc.). In addition, the discipline of media arts has emerged more fully and needs to be addressed by arts education standards.
    2. b.      Because assessment – the ability to measure student learning in a content area – has moved to the forefront of educational reform, and we need to have a set of measurable standards to help us create better assessments in the arts. In fact, the National Core Arts Standards will be the first standards in the nation to embed model or example assessments within the standards themselves.
    3. c.       And finally, because SEADAErs – those state folks working on arts education – asked the field to do so. In 2011, a survey of SEADAErs showed that 44% of those states planning to review their state level standards would hold off until the national standards could be revised so that their state level arts standards could be improved. Revising a set of standards nationally is a much more cost effective and time effective way to go about the process.
    4. 6.       So what happens after the new National Core Arts Standards are released? The new standards are due to be released in March, 2014. SEADAE, working with the Leadership Team of the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards including Americans for the Arts, will begin the work of moving states forward for adoption of the national standards at the state level. Some states will adopt the national standards as their own; others will review and make changes or adaptations prior to adoption; and still others may wait and adopt/adapt further on down the road as their states have specific timelines to follow regarding standards creation.


Americans for the Arts will need help from each and every arts education advocate to help states with their adoption process. For most states, the process is political, and involves showing buy-in from the field – arts educators, arts and cultural organizations, local arts agencies, teaching artists – in order to be successful.  You can play a key role in helping update your state’s standards. Here’s how you get started:

  1. a.       Sign up for the Arts Education Listserv – and stay up to date on the Standards progress at the national level
  2. b.      Play an active role in the revision of the national standards. Provide feedback on the drafts of the standards – high school standards will be available for review beginning September 30th – to help them be the best standards possible for the students in your state
  3. c.       Connect with your State Arts Advocacy Organization. Chances are, your state citizens for the arts or other state level advocacy organization will help organize advocates like yourself around your state level adoption process. Volunteer to help, learn about the process, and make certain your voice is heard.

[i] Iowa. A state that strongly believes in local control, standards decisions are left up to the local school districts. Iowa has a waiver from the federal government allowing this practice – the only state to do so.

11 responses for State Standards Spree!


Ryan says
September 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Lynn: thanks for your response and elaboration.

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Paul Wagner says
September 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Here's the problem: You have administrators who know absolutely nothing about music, for example, assessing music teachers. They'll go to a performance where the teacher will present a concert of challenging works set to the standards and then he'll say "I didn't hear anything familiar. Why don't you play some familiar stuff?" and then give that teacher a low rating. Or will sit in a rehearsal and not realize the teaching that goes on and just think the director is just waving a stick around. This is the problem with the CCSS. Because they are taking the applied part of the arts out of the classes and doing nothing but writing. Seriously. Writing essays in band or orchestra? Really? The NAfME standards are very well written and need nothing else.

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Ms. Kristen Engebretsen says
September 11, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Hi Paul, the standards Lynn is referring to are not the CCSS. NAfME is indeed leading the revision of the music standards that are being discussed on this blog. Tomorrow, NAfME's past president, Scott Shuler, will discuss your issue of teacher evaluation. Stay tuned!

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September 10, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Hi, Ryan! You are partially correct in your statement. The then MENC - now National Association for Music Education - surveyed music educators about revising the national music education standards in 2007. The report was inconclusive, and has one of my all-time favorite lines about standards revision: "One of the most notable features of our survey results was the spectacular lack of unanimity among respondents regarding what sort of changes should be made in the Standards.”

Meantime, our dance education colleagues went ahead and revised the dance standards, creating the 2005 National Dance Education Standards via the National Dance Education Organization.

In addition, multiple conversations occurred beginning in 2004 and lasting up until 2010 about whether we should as a field revise the standards or not. My colleagues in SEADAE were engaged in those conversations, as were the leaders of every organization now seated at the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards leadership table.
The amazingly quick adoption of Common Core State Standards was certainly a wake up call to the field - the arts didn't like being "behind" our other content colleagues in terms of revisions. That certainly helped spur action on our part. The survey of SEADAErs, showing that states were looking for national standards revisions, however, was the final piece of the puzzle - the piece which moved the Coalition to form and to get to work on revision the national arts standards.

Thanks for your comment!

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Ms. Margaret Weisbrod Morris says
September 09, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Very thorough explanation! Thanks Lynn.

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Ryan says
September 09, 2013 at 6:10 pm

This is an interesting document. Although I'd have to suggest that the biggest reason for the revision is to jump on the Common Core bandwagon. In 2007, a review of the national standards suggested no review was needed, right? It's ok to be upfront about this, as everyone sort of knows it's the case.

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Phyllis Kennedy says
September 09, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Most informative, Lynn. Thank you.
Phyllis Kennedy
Albuquerque NM

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September 11, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Hi, Paul. Thank you for your comments. They are most certainly real - I know of at least one high school in Western AZ that didn't do a performance for the holidays (winter time) because the students were too busy writing in band class to get ready to perform! This is certainly not the intent (if I can be so bold) of the Common Core State Standards, or at least of Arizona's interpretation of the Common Core State Standards.

As Kristen mentions above, the standards I am referring to here are the new National Core Arts Standards, including National Core Music Standards. The music writing team was selected by NAfME. And NAfME is working to address the teacher evaluation issues you raised, too, and I look forward to Scott's post on this very topic tomorrow.

Thanks again for your comments.

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September 12, 2013 at 8:15 am

I got to this blog through NAEA, and I am surprised they would support unproven common core aligned standards and assessments in the arts. Only 30% of students passed the new common core aligned state tests in NY. That's a huge red flag. Many teachers say the standards are not developmentally appropriate, set students up to fail. Certified art teachers have always had high standards, reinforcing concepts from other subject areas, assessing while teaching and through proven methods like portfolios. But more important than the interdisciplinary benefits of art lessons, is the connections students make to their own lives. Art lessons have human value, which cannot be measured. Art lessons are student driven. Also, how can you have common assessments and standards when you don't have common programs? Related arts offerings have been greatly reduced or even cut in school districts that serve poor children. Students from more affluent communities may still have rich art experiences at school, and a stronger foundation than other students who are denied these experiences, so you cannot use common assessments. And how do you measure college readiness? This is more about profit for testing and publishing companies than it is students. Why not put effort into restoring arts programs in schools, making the arts mandatory across the country? I'm not jumping on the common core bandwagon, where is the legitimate research to support their claims? Diane Ravitch, and other education scholars don't support CCSS. Must we measure everything?

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September 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Good morning, Angie! Please note that the standards included in my blog posting are the National Core Arts Standards - the revision to the 1994 National Voluntary Arts Education Standards - not Common Core (English and Math standards). So - these standards ARE arts standards, and the visual arts standards are being written by amazing visual arts educators under the leaderhip of your NAEA President, Dennis Inhulsen.

You are absolutely correct that creating a set of national standards is, in itself, an almost mind-boggling activity as the resources - time, materials, staffing, space - available school to school, state to state different dramatically. Please be assured that the writing team takes these differences into account as best they can. This is one reason why a set of national standards, in my opinion, needs to be vetted through a state process to see what fits and what might not. I will certainly be taking my visual arts, dance, theatre and music colleagues through a vetting process once the national standards are completed to see what works in Arizona - and what might need to be tweaked to better fit our local needs.

I also agree that national assessments as such in the arts most likely don't work. That's one reason why we are embedding MODEL assessments into the new National Core Arts Standards. The emphasis here is on MODEL - these are high quality assessments that you or any other arts teacher can draw on and modify to use in your classroom. They are not dictated, or mandated - they are models of good quality assessment practice in your artistic discipline.

Arts educators in my state are searching for models of high quality assessments in order to participate in a new teacher evaluation system based on measuring student learning. The intent is to respond to this growing arts educator need in an era of public education accountability.

Thanks for your comments!

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September 12, 2013 at 3:22 pm

"The intent is to respond to this growing arts educator need in an era of public education accountability." Really? There is a documented need for new arts assessments? Not buying it. Certified arts educators are experienced, trained professionals who know what to teach, and how to assess students properly. Arts educators should be resisting this "era of public education accountability" which is really an attack on the teaching profession. What a waste of time and money that could go towards proven methods, and making sure all kids are provided equal opportunities to discover their talents at school.

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