Local teacher says creative freedom impeded under new state mandates
By Jaclyn Younger
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) continue to implement state mandated education reforms, art courses are struggling to maintain importance and relevance.
In the classroom of Sheldon Richards at Eldorado High School, the changes caused by Common Core State Standards are beginning to take a toll.
Richards, an APS art teacher for over ten years, says he finds the pre-approved lesson planning and teacher evaluations negative and time consuming.
“The number one thing I want as a teacher would be to have more freedom, with respect and trust,” says Richards.
Richards says the Core Standards inhibit such freedom.
Although the new standards for arts are still in the beginning stages, teachers and students alike are noticing the shifts.
Miriam Jeppson, a graduating senior, has taken art courses from Richards all four years of high school. During the past school year, she says she’s noticed the change.
“I don’t understand how he should be teaching a certain thing,” says Jeppson of the lesson plans that are now required for Richards’ classes. “He teaches us what we want to learn within different art courses.”
According to Luis Delgado, the Director of Fine Arts for APS, more integration and changes are needed. Delgado says school art programs in Albuquerque need to have a stronger focus.
“Art is a core subject,” says Delgado. However,he says the core standards adopted by APS currently focus on English language arts (ELA), math and, most recently, science.
Core Standards a National Trend
Common Core State Standards were developed as national standards, to be implemented by the states. They began in 2009. The program’s initial emphasis was only on two core classes, English and math; however, it is beginning to extend to other subjects as well.
According to the program’s website, its goal is to, “outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade,” to allow comparisons between U.S.and international students. APS adopted these standards fully this year.
Richard Kessler, former executive director of The Center of Arts Education, and Julie Fry, a program officer for The William and Flora Hawlett Foundation, addressed this issue in a recent online lecture.
“It’s not so easy to get the arts included at this higher thinking level,” says Fry. “But it’s worth a try and a longer term strategy.”
Kessler says the standards in most subject fields were to be fully implemented in a majority of schools across the country by 2014. However, not all schools, especially those in Albuquerque, have caught up with the changes yet.
Effects of Standardized testing
In addition to problems developing and implementing Common Core Standards, another issue is the effects of standardized testing. Under the curriculum reform, students are required to participate in standardized tests for core classes, but many teachers and students are skeptical about the actual benefits of the testing.
“The tests are a hassle,” says Jeppson. She says that although the standardized tests seem to be the only efficient way to make sure that she is on the same page as her classmates, they still feel very time consuming.
Even though standardized tests have yet to be developed for arts education, the effects are still felt within some art classrooms.Richards says, he has observed what he deems to be negative outcomes of the repetitive testing. He says students are frustrated and seek ways to opt out of testing altogether.
Moreover, he says instructional time for teachers has been cut down to allow for test preparation. For Richards, the arts shouldn’t even be standardized because doing so takes away from what he considers important values and opportunities.
“Art gives kids opportunity to think outside of the box,” says Richards. He says that while not every student should have to take an art course, everyone should have an appropriate challenge in school, a concept he says is lost when education becomes too standardized.
Delgado favors the standardization of art within schools, but he did not say whether students who wish to specialize or advance in the arts will be allowed to do so under the Common Core State Standards.
Teachers like Richards are concerned that art courses will become less meaningful once the core standards take over. There would be a new focus on not only standardized testing in the wide range of art subjects such as drawing, painting, photography, digital media, drama, ceramics, dance and music, but students would also have to take exit exams prior to graduation.
“Art classes give people something they like to do at school and maybe a social group,” says Richards. He says, if strict policies are enforced, the creativity so often found in art would be lost in art classrooms across the country.
The implementation of core standards is tied to classroom funding, and arts programs are no exception. But, according to Delgado, arts funding “really hasn’t changed” and APS is doing everything in its power to help the arts.
“The perception is that APS is cutting arts funding, but that’s not the case,” says Delgado. He says that most APS administrators understand the importance of arts to students in the district.
However, Delgado also says that core standards testing also determines where funding goes. The results of a test in a particular subject can change how much additional money other programs receive. If a high school math department performs poorly, additional funds will go towards the department for enrichment programs in order to raise standardized test scores as opposed to providing support for a photography program at the same school. According to Delgado, the responsibility of determining funding priorities falls upon school principals, not APS officials.
Teachers and students value art education
Teachers like Richards say the arts can have profound educational significance without becoming standardized. Although art courses do not typically require written tests or essays, Richards holds onto the idea that knowledge can be gained from art classes as now taught.
After being an art student for all of high school, Jeppson says that art courses can shape students’ success.
“I think all arts programs keep students motivated and excited to come to school,” says Jeppson. “I would definitely say they are essential.”
Jaclyn Younger is a ballerina, aspiring journalist, and a writer. She is currently a student at the University of New Mexico.