Putting art to the test

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fine arts educators want arts added to the Map tests, because that's what drives funding. But most lawmakers don't seem interested.

Missouri's fine arts teachers often feel like the middle child -- they get some attention, but only a fraction of what their siblings in math, science and language receive.

While MAP tests have forced legislators and school districts to pour more time and resources into these subjects, the arts seem to be an afterthought.

"School accreditation depends on your performance on the MAP test, so it's in their best interest to put all their resources into what's assessed on the MAP assessment," Pam Dumey, a fifth- and sixth-grade music teacher at Cape Girardeau's Central Middle School said of the effect of testing requirements.

"It's a real shame because arts are an important part of our education, an important part of our culture."

Dumey and other arts advocates say there is something that can easily help bring the fine arts up to the level of importance other subjects have -- fund the Missouri Fine Arts Assessment as part of the MAP test.

The test already exists. It was developed in the late 1990s and field tested in 2000, then adminstered on a voluntary basis in 2001. After that no funding was given for implementing the assessment. Now the test is gathering dust somewhere in Jefferson City.

During this year's legislative session, arts advocacy groups have again put funding for the assessment on their agenda. They want the state to appropriate $545,000 to implement the test that cost $2 million to develop and pilot.

Dr. Robert Gifford, chair of the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education, said there are many reasons his organization is pushing for the test. Chief of among them is that implementation of a fine arts test with quantitative standards would put the arts on the same level as more basic subjects like math and reading.

Having test data for arts education would give the discipline more legitimacy, he said.

"What is tested is what is important, and that's just the bottom line," said Gifford. "That's what's happening in schools now."

Gifford said the fine arts assessment is a key priority for his organization. But it's not a priority shared by most legislators in Jefferson City yet.

The fine arts assessment was in the middle of a three-stage testing implementation phase when it was canceled, said Deborah Fisher, fine arts consultant with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In August 2001 the test was part of a roughly $3 million cut in the department's budget. Since then, said Fisher, most of the talk about the test has been among arts advocates and professional associations like Missouri Citizens for the Arts and the Alliance for Arts Education -- not among politicians.

The test would assess fifth grade students' knowledge of basic concepts in music, visual arts, dance and theater through questions on video. For example, students would be asked what kind of note gets one beat in 4/4 time, or be asked to identify the mood conveyed by pieces of visual art or music.

Some legislators have shown support Fisher said, but not enough to make funding in fiscal year 2007 a reality. The chances of the $545,000 appropriation making it into the budget is almost zero, Fisher said.

Gov. Matt Blunt doesn't have a position of support or non-support for implementation of the test, said Blunt spokesperson Jessica Robinson.

Neither Blunt's fiscal year 2006 $158 million increase in the education budget nor the recommended $167 million increase in fiscal year 2007 contain the funds to implement the test.

That leaves DESE with an interesting dilemma -- what to do with a test that is developed and ready to go, but that isn't funded for implementation.

DESE has asked arts educators if they would mind releasing the test to the public, after which it couldn't be used by the state, said Fisher. The answer so far has been a strong "no."

With the advent of No Child Left Behind and MAP testing, the burden of preparing for tests has become greater for schools. But far from shying away from the prospect of testing, arts teachers welcome the idea, Fisher said.

Dumey said arts teachers want to know how they're doing.

"I don't think any teacher is afraid of an assessment," she said. "We're as concerned in how effectively we're delivering our curriculum as parents are, and assessments certainly help with that."

And Fisher said assessment testing in a subject is almost a certain way to enhance professional development for teachers. Government funds for professional development are often based on assessment test data.

Meanwhile Missouri, which was once at the forefront with developing its fine arts test, is starting to lag behind other states that have already implemented such a test, Fisher said.

"I'd hate to see Missouri lose the momentum and status we've worked so hard to develop," Fisher said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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