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The Whiteboard Jungle: Adjusting to Common Core will take time

March 27, 2014|By Brian Crosby

A while ago, my fellow Friday columnist Joylene Wagner lamented that “most of our elementary students don't receive regular musical instruction” despite evidence that show art education “can support other areas of learning” including “history, poetry and cultural literacy.”

Years of neglect of not teaching music and other arts may have a deleterious effect on student success if a sample Common Core assessment is any indication.

Part of an 11th-grade test developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, whose charge it is to design tests that will reflect mastery of the new Common Core standards, asks students to write about the role of government-funded public art.

First, students have to read four sources on the topic. Then, they have to write out answers to questions about the readings (no multiple choices here). Finally, students must write an argumentative letter.

The level of vocabulary and geography needed in order to understand the reading selections on the test include words that the majority of my honors English students did not know: city council, Florence, argumentative, iconic, Vatican City, masterpieces, national identity. Even understanding the idea of “public art” proved troublesome.


Most would agree that these words and phrases are important to know and that high school students should know them. In case they don’t, then answering questions about the reading selections and writing about them would present a challenge.

Jacqueline King, spokesperson for Smarter Balanced, said that teachers will be given a 15- to 30-minute classroom activity the day before the assessment which would include definitions of specialized vocabulary, such as “muralist.”

However, students would be expected to know academic words such as “argumentative.” The teacher, unable to preview the assessment beforehand, would not be able to pull out words that her particular student population may have difficulty understanding.

Of course, if schools provided regular field trips to art museums or students studied art, in general, they would have the prerequisite knowledge that this sample test demands.

In addition to awareness about art, the other aspect to this practice assessment is that it is asking students to read multiple sources in order to derive information for writing a research paper.

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