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December 15, 2003

Purdue researcher studies the art of assessing student art

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Art teachers need to look at their students' work with more of an artist's eye, says a Purdue University professor.

Robert Sabol
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Robert Sabol, associate professor of art and design, says even though most art teachers are trained to assess and evaluate high school students' work, the criteria they use are different from those used by professional artists.

For example, artists place a greater emphasis on the overall development and progression of their work, Sabol says. In comparison, teachers often grade based on an individual assignment, unit or course, instead of considering the overall artistic development of the student.

"We also need to make sure that teachers in today's art classrooms are capable of evaluating new artistic formats," says Sabol, who was a public school elementary art teacher for 23 years before earning his doctorate. "We need to bring teachers in line with professional artists' expectations. If students, especially at the high school level, are to learn what is expected of professional artists, then the teachers' assessment methods need to be more compatible with the artists' criteria and priorities."

The results of Sabol's study are published in a book, "Assessing Expressive Learning." The book, priced at $45, was published by Lawrence Earlbaum Associates Inc., in 2003. Sabol co-wrote the book with Charles M. Dorn, of Florida State University; and Stanley S. Madeja, of Northern Illinois University. The research was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Art Education Foundation.

Sabol's team measured the attitudes of 59 Florida, Indiana and Illinois art teachers, as well as 472 students. Fifty artists, such as painters, architects, sculptures, print makers and photographers, in Indiana and Florida, also completed the survey. In addition to the study, workshops were offered for these art teachers to learn how to create and evaluate electronic portfolios, as well as how to teach their students to create them. Electronic portfolios are rapidly replacing more traditional portfolios containing slides or actual works of art, Sabol says.

Ever since learning in visual arts programs in public education first was assessed in 1974 by Congress through the National Assessment of Educational Progress, there has been a lack of uniform assessment standards, guidelines and procedures, Sabol says. Because of the lack of national standards in the past, assessment of student learning in art programs was given little attention by art teachers and administrators.

After publication of visual arts national curriculum standards in 1994, assessment began to gather importance in art classrooms. With today's increased focus on assessment in art education programming, the importance of art education in American schools has dramatically risen, Sabol says.

Establishing learning assessment practices and standards is challenging, Sabol says. Without guidance and appropriate professional development opportunities, some teachers learn assessment practices and standards by trial and error, which often results in poorly structured, ill-conceived and uncoordinated assessment programs, Sabol says.

"Art teachers also need to be aware that there are opportunities to learn how to better evaluate artwork and take advantage of those opportunities," Sabol says. "Teachers need to ask their school districts to host in-house workshops or to be given professional credit for taking assessment courses.

"If students are to fully understand what art is about, how it is created and how it is evaluated, then art teachers have to take into account how art historians, art critics and aestheticians, and artists answer these questions."

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Source: Robert Sabol, (765) 496-2957,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Robert Sabol, Purdue University associate professor of art and design, says art teachers need to start evaluating their students' artwork more broadly to include criteria more like those used by artists. Sabol, who was a public school elementary art teacher for 23 years, teamed with researchers at Florida State University and Northern Illinois University to study teacher, student and artist attitudes in evaluating art. The results of the study are published in the book "Assessing Expressive Learning." (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

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