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States Introduce New Measure of Accountability: Arts Education

As states revamp the systems they use to evaluate schools, at least five are considering using the arts as a measure of school quality. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act opened the doors for states to rethink how they evaluated schools' quality. In addition to measures like English-language proficiency, graduation rates, and scores on standardized achievement tests, which are commonly used in current accountability systems, states are required to include one "additional indicator" of school quality in their system. That could include social-emotional indicators or access to certain courses —including the arts.  

New Jersey was the first state to include arts in its accountability system. The state added student enrollment in arts classes as a measure on school report cards in 2014, before ESSA was finalized. 

In an email, Dale Schmid, the state's content coordinator for visual and performing arts, said, "I think it's important to note that soon after the arts were included in the state accountability plan, school principals began to tout the strength of their districts' arts programs—IN WRITING and in the press!" He said that was evidence of the significance and impact of the new regulation. 

Connecticut also includes arts access as part of its "Next Generation Accountability System" for schools.

Now, several additional states have considered adding arts access to their accountability systems, according to Lynn Tuttle, the content and policy director at the National Association for Music Education. In Colorado, the idea has been proposed in the state's legislature via a bill called "Rewarding Access to Arts Education in Public Schools" that recently passed in a Senate committee. In Arizona, the state's board is considering including arts in a new grading system for schools. Delaware, Michigan, and Massachusetts have included arts in drafts of their state plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.

"It looks really different state to state," Tuttle said. Connecticut and New Jersey, for instance, measure how many students have access to and are participating in arts classes; Arizona would allow states to get "bonus points" on a state report card that ranks schools on a scale of A-F for arts programs, Tuttle said. The Colorado bill would create an additional performance indicator on its school quality system gauging how schools provide access to the arts. 

Tuttle said the inclusion of arts in such plans is significant: "What's measured gets taught." 

More states are collecting data on access to and participation in arts classes. Provisions like these would likely accelerate those efforts. 

However, the future for states' accountability plans is uncertain: Republicans in both houses of Congress have introduced measures that would do away with regulations developed during the Obama administration to guide states' accountability systems. For more on that, check out my colleague Andrew Ujifusa's reporting on the Politics K-12 blog.


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