Nation's Report Card Finds Mixed Grades For U.S. Students In Visual Arts, Music
For only the third time ever, the government released today a national report card examining the knowledge, understanding and abilities of U.S. eighth-graders in visual arts and music.
And in many ways, the numbers aren't great, with little progress shown in most categories since the last time the assessment was given in 2008. One bright spot: The achievement gap between Hispanic students and their white peers has narrowed. But Hispanics and African-Americans still lag far behind white and Asian eighth-graders.
The findings come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which regularly reports on U.S. student achievement, including math, reading and science. But only three times — in 1997, 2008 and now from 2016 — has it looked at music and visual arts.
Overall, the national scores on arts achievement remained flat when compared with 2008, said Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of NAEP. "Granted this is not the best score," she said, especially when compared with U.S. students' progress in math. "Math has shown a tremendous improvement."
The arts assessment measured students' knowledge based on their ability to understand and interpret historical pieces of art and music. One question, for example, asked eighth graders to identify the instrument at the beginning of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." (It's a clarinet.)
The report also looked at their creative abilities. In one exercise, students were asked to draw a self-portrait, which was then scored for attention to detail, composition and use of materials.
The researchers gave the assessments to 8,800 eighth-graders from 280 schools last year. In music, students averaged 150 on a scale of 300 eight years ago, and last year the average score was 147 — not a statistically significant difference.
Visual arts also showed no significant difference, with an average of 150 in 2008 and 149 in 2016.
In terms of participation in arts classes, the study found that fewer than half of eighth graders had taken an arts class that year — 42 percent. That's down from 45 percent in 2008.
Among other key findings:
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