How would you describe NAEP? Here’s what comes to mind for me: a rigorous achievement test given regularly to a statistically significant number of students in a large number of schools in every state. That description certainly fits NAEP’s reading and math assessments. In 2007 NAEP’s reading and math tests each were given to approximately 350,000 4th and 8th graders at more than 14,000 schools.
Now let’s look at the NAEP arts assessment. The 2008 test was given to just 7,900 students in 520 schools. Now, for analysis purposes, cut that number in half because the test was actually two tests-one each in music and visual arts-and half the sample took each. So fewer than 4,000 students in 260 schools took each test. That’s about 80 kids in five schools in each state. Also, it was given just to 8th graders-no 4th or 12th graders need apply. And, this is only the second time the arts assessment has been given in over 25 years. Reading has been given 13 times during that same period.
NAEP’s arts assessment is a different class of test than the NAEP tests we talk about most often. Let’s not be confused about the quality of data the arts test represents.
In fact, it may be what’s absent from the NAEP arts assessment that is most instructive. In 1997, both the first and last time the arts test was given, they tried to administer it in the four arts disciplines selected by the National Assessment Governing Board: music, visual arts, dance, and theater. But an initial field test determined that there weren’t enough dance programs in the schools to create a nationally representative sample of students who had received dance instruction. So they dropped dance from the test. A 2008 field assessment found that there were now not enough theater programs to produce a reliable sample of testable students. So neither dance nor theater was tested in 2008. Well, that’s revealing. What subjects will they be able to test a decade from now? Any?