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art and standardized test scores

updated mon 5 mar 12


John Post on sun 4 mar 12

I've been an art teacher for twenty years and during that time I've
seen the same kind of report written over and over about how the arts
increase student achievement on standardized tests.

I've never heard anyone in my school administration mention this as
the reason why kids get to take art class in school. (Well no one
from central administration even steps foot in the schools, I only get
to read emails from the ivory tower.)

In my district, the tail wags the dog.

In our contract teachers at the elementary level are guaranteed 200
minutes of planning time per week. There are 4 specials the kids go to.

The kids attend the media center for 60 minutes on the assumption that
using computers and checking out books is important. The media center
job is coveted in my district and in many schools it is staffed by a
teacher with high seniority who knows close to nothing about computers.

That leaves 140 minutes of planning time for the other three specials
classes of gym, music and art. So the district divided that 140
minutes by three and that's why my art class is 47 minutes long. At
no point did administration consider whether or not 47 minutes is an
adequate amount of time for a kid to make a painting or a clay
project. The teachers' contract determined how long art classes would

Never mind that clean up in the media center involves telling kids to
log out of the computer, a 10 second process, compared to art where I
have to collect up to 35 clay sculptures, have kids put all of their
tools back and clean their tables.

The real reasons my school district still has art in this time of
shrinking budgets is that Michigan has schools of choice. If my
school district did not have elementary specials classes, kids would
jump one district over and take their state foundation money with them
going to a district that did have specials. The other reason is that
the kids have to go somewhere during those 200 minutes of classroom
teacher planning time. At no time does anyone mention how important
the arts really are. This is because administration has no
understanding of art.

It cracks me up when the art department chairperson says we should do
something extra to "highlight the value" of the art department in the
eyes of administration. My art department chairs are playing to the
wrong audience. I don't do things to make the art department look
good to administration, I do things to get the kids to love creating
art and coming to my art class. Happy kids go home and talk about
their day which leads to happy parents in the community. My clients
are the kids and their parents, not the administration who don't
understand what I am doing anyways.

This week the custodian in one of my buildings told the principal that
my art room was too messy. He's never cleaned a room where the kids
use paint and clay every day. At the end of the day, I have every
paper and pencil off of the floor, all the chairs put up on the tables
and all this guy has to do is wipe the counter and mop the floor (the
two things which he is supposed to do according to his contract). My
principal's response to him, was that he shouldn't clean the art room
that night.

So on the days when the other art teacher is there and only uses
crayons, he cleans the room. On the two days I am there and the kids
are painting and sculpting, he doesn't clean the room. My principal
asked me if I could have the kids be more respectful while they work.
I wanted to start laughing. The kids in my room aren't messy, they're
little kids and they drop stuff. The only way some clay crumbs could
keep from getting on the floor and being crushed would be if I could
turn gravity off. This is the guy who refuses to wet mop the floor.
More tail wagging the dog.

I find it best to be like a little island as an art teacher. My room
is the oasis of creativity in a desert of conformity and
standardization. I just shut the classroom door and do what is best
for kids to learn about art.

I know those Renaissance painters, Greek potters, Egyptian sculptors
and Japanese potters kicked butt on their ACT's and other standardized
tests, look how beautiful their art is. I didn't even know they had
standardized tests through the ages, but now that I come to think of
it, that's probably what cuneiform was, the world's first scantron

John Post
Sterling Heights, Michigan

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