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(This post was originally posted on Think It, Do It, Blog It as part of  The MetLife/TCG A-ha! Program. We’re cross-posting on the Circle to better highlight the work of our grantees.)

Devon de Mayo, Director of Arts Education, Northlight Theatre

As the after-school residency at Fairview grows and develops, we are starting to see the students take to process, and we are getting better and better at the process of capturing student growth via assessment measures. Assessment in the arts feels tricky to me because so much of what we do feels intangible/unmeasurable. I attended a lecture this fall by Ellen Winner who stressed that the arts HAVE NOT been proven to improve test scores. We’ve got find ways to measure what the arts DO improve, which Winner argued is scientifically proven to be student’s levels of empathy. Knowing this, and doing lots of research and study in the past year (including attending TCG’s Education pre-conference on assessment), we have developed multiple measures for tracking student growth in our residencies.

When we can have an observer in the room, we do. Often times, it’s me. And, while I personally have a hard time not jumping up and joining in, if I observe I can write down student quotes, note behavior, and track attention and understanding. Also, our teaching artists submit forms to us via google docs every week after class, so we can track goals, attendance, participation and engagement. Additionally now armed with our flip cams, we can also capture on video the student’s work and track progress week after week by visual documentation.

This past week was the first week with our Education intern, Elise Walter, joining us. As a recent college grad, she is learning first-hand about assessment in education. We had her join in with the students, and reflect on what she was able to assess from her interactions:

“At Northlight’s most recent visit to Fairview Junior High School, I was given the chance to play: I was the twenty-third student. I worked in groups, did scene-work, and reflected with the twelve- and thirteen-year olds. During scene-work, I listened as my group outlined their ideas. We rehearsed together, at one point urging one of our fellow group-members to go further in her characterization of a scary, nasty spider. She laughed, blushed and gently shrugged off our suggestions. At some point during rehearsal, or perhaps while watching her classmates perform before her, something changed. When our turn came, she went for it: her body, voice, and face were totally and fearlessly engaged as a spider. I watched her surprise herself. To me, it was a profound indication of how much this student had gleaned from the residency thus far.”

I look forward to posting more about how we track and then talk about student growth as we move forward. It is a topic that is on the minds of a lot of arts educators as we have to more vigorously defend our work, and I hope that it’s something we can do in a way that shows folks outside of our community what we do and how it’s effective.