More Information
Defining Proficiency in the Arts


The following questions were gathered as part of the RI Arts Learning Network conference on arts proficiency on May 20, 2006 at CCRI, Newport. A panel of full-time arts educators from districts around the state answered the participants' questions at the panel session and throughout the conference. We offer a condensed version of the questions and answers here, updated for current information as of November 30, 2006.

The questions and their answers are divided into general categories for easier access, and are in the following order:
Basic Information on the Graduation Requirement [return to top]

Q. When will the arts proficiency be required statewide?
A. All students graduating high school in 2008 will be required to demonstrate proficiency in an art form. The Commissioner's Review in June 2007 will ask schools to report their plan for providing students opportunities to achieve proficiency. In 2011, the RI Department of Education will be reviewing the systems that districts have in place to accomplish this.

Q. Is the arts graduation requirement of one-half credit still in effect?
A. The "Rhode Island High School Diploma system" brochure published in June 2005 states as "required": "Successful completion of at least 20 Carnegie units, demonstrating proficiency in six core areas: English language arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, the Arts, Technology." Credits in place under the BEP are still in effect, for all core areas, and the new requirements are to be added on to and integrated into the former system. Therefore, as of November 2006, the one-half credit mandated by RIDE under the BEP is still in effect until further changes. However, this is significantly expanded in scope and approach by the new proficiency requirement. All students now legally have access to the arts, therefore, arts programming must be evident in all schools. Further clarification of this issue by RIDE is expected as we near the target year of 2008.

Q. How can a school be considered high performing if it does not include the arts portfolio for PBGR?
A. Currently, schools are evaluated according to their students' yearly test scores in ELA and Math. Rhode Island is moving towards evaluating student progress through proficiency based assessment. It is reasonable to expect that eventually school standings should also be affected by how well their students prove proficiency. The level of compliance with the new arts proficiency regulations should also be a factor in whether a school is considered high or low performing. More advocacy will be needed on this issue at a state and local level, and ultimately must come from the Board of Regents and RI Department of Education.

Q. Is arts education mandated by the federal government? Who can we contact?
A. Yes, the arts are considered a core area under No Child Left Behind. Unfortunately, in practice, the way high-stakes testing and other NCLB requirements have been implemented in many states has reduced the arts. Supporting the law locally is one of the best ways to reinforce the federal law. If you want to make your views about the federal law known, contact RI's Congressional senators and representatives. Americans for the Arts collected comments during 2006 in order to prepare for the reauthorization of NCLB in 2007. Congress had hearings as part of the reauthorization process, so it is important to pass your comments on, insisting on a stronger place for the arts in future versions of NCLB. You may also contact Justin Beland, Government Affairs and Grassroots Manager at for current information.

Q. What are the consequences for a school that does not follow state mandates? Who do we contact at the state level?
A. The regulation making the arts a core content area is section 5.2 of the Board of Regents regulations on high school reform published in January of 2003. Regents' regulations have the force of law. To enforce that law, and also to support districts as they implement a complex new diploma system, RIDE has established a series of reviews. A consistent panel of expert reviewers is trained to assess district plans. Schools have opportunities to revise their plans until December 2007 At that point, all schools will have submitted their plans to Commissioner McWalters for final review and Provisional Approval. The Commissioner and Board of Regents are responsible for taking action on each district's diploma system plan submitted. The year 2011 is the year that the arts will come up for review and approval by the Commissioner and Board of Regents. This does NOT mean that the arts are not basic until 2011. They are one of the core content areas with the graduating class of 2008. It DOES mean that the arts have time to grapple with issues of staffing, curriculum and assessment, developing common tasks, and other issues surrounding the "opportunity to learn" so that by the time of review, major problems have been confronted, and solutions put in place, even if incremental.

It is important to keep parents up-to-date with why the arts are essential for the success of all students, as well as how the arts will be part of your district's diploma system. Parents and students should be made aware of their legal rights in regard to "opportunity to learn." There may need to be a community-based grassroots effort in support of the arts in your community.

Definitions of proficiency [return to top]

Q. How can we determine what proficiency is? What is sufficient? What ultimately should be what we want all students to understand about the arts?
A. Four teams of practicing educators from around Rhode Island in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts have been grappling with this issue since January of 2003. The result of their work is on this website ( These same teams of educators, as well as many additional district-based teams from around the state, continue to pilot and refine the proficiency guidelines. Some have been supported with RICAPP (proficiency planning) grants from RI State Council on the Arts; others have been supported by their districts. Additionally, arts representatives served on the RIDE Gates-funded teams that defined a graduation portfolio or exhibition.

Ultimately, the teachers in a school determine proficiency levels locally and the schools will be required to exhibit the evidence for this decision. The evidence is a reflection of the conversations about standards in relation to actual student work. Guidance is provided through the RI Arts Learning Network, but a community's teachers, students, and parents need a shared understanding of what is expected.

Accommodation/Special Needs [return to top]

Q. How do we judge the work of children with diverse abilities and ways of learning?
A. All students are expected to achieve standard. Teachers must carefully analyze their teaching strategies and the multiple ways standards can be achieved. If modifications are necessary for an individual student, then the IEP team must convene. If accommodations are necessary, then the teacher must provide reasonable ones. The arts are about making meaning and the communication of ideas. Skill acquisition is important, but not the sole purpose for the study of the arts.

Many students flourish in the arts even when other curriculum areas are difficult. Research such as James Catterall's has clearly demonstrated that many "low-achieving" students are often helped to achieve when the arts are included in a substantial way in their learning. The goal is to ensure equal access to high-quality arts learning for all our children and youth, so that they may become creative and critical thinkers and effective communicators.

Another factor to consider is that if all four arts disciplines are available for the students then there will be more opportunity for ALL students to meet the proficiency requirements. Students will be able to choose an art form that best suits their learning strengths, modalities and talents.

Teachers in the arts educator professional associations are grappling with these issues. We urge you to become involved in your professional associations and take an active part in designing the solutions.

Q. How can 14-year old students choose what art form they want to be proficient in especially if they've never had courses in drama, dance, etc.?
A. Proficiency occurs when students are provided multiple opportunities to practice the arts throughout a K-12 standards-based sequential arts curriculum. It is strongly recommended that all students in the middle years take classes in multiple arts disciplines. Research has shown that when students enter the middle school level they are developmentally ready to participate in a variety of learning experiences that will give them a knowledge and skills base to make decisions as they enter high school. Some students will be ready to make this decision; some will not. It is the responsibility of the high school and each discipline's curriculum to provide opportunities throughout their program of study that leads toward proficiency and makes courses available throughout the four years. Also, some students may need help from guidance counselors, parents, and teachers to be more reflective about their experiences in school. According to the regulations, all students are expected to develop an Individual Learning Plan with their parents and teachers beginning in middle school. This process is an ideal time to help children to determine choices and directions.

Additionally, it is important to note that many students participate in art forms in a variety of the community settings such as church choirs, community centers, arts organizations, their own websites, or with other family members. Schools must begin to inquire about and honor this learning, and build on it in helping students make informed choices. Extracurricular activities in many areas, not just the arts, can help point out a student's learning styles and modes of expression.

Many schools are unprepared to offer standards based courses in theatre and dance. Students should have an opportunity to declare dance, theatre, or even film/video as their area of interest. The dance and theatre educator associations are working to train certified educator/community teams to judge proficiency since there are so few courses statewide in these disciplines. Schools would be able to call on those teams for a minimal fee to assist with judging proficiency. While the Network does not currently have guidelines for film and video, we hope to have those available in the future.

Parental support [return to top]

Q. How do we engage parents and other community members to support the arts in difficult economic times?
A. The importance of educating parents and other community members about why the arts are essential cannot be stressed enough. Parents are used to hearing why math and reading are key to success and getting a job, but have they heard about the creative economy driving jobs in the 21st century? The arts and literacy? The arts and workforce development? See the Governor's Task Force on Literacy in the Arts report on this website, or call the Arts Learning Network for a hard copy. (401) 222.6994 Research-based arguments are clearly laid out. The arts are fundamental in the development of the whole child. Experience in the arts supports cognitive, physical, and emotional development. Creative and critical thinking as well as emotional expression and empathy developed in the arts are essential not only to personal success, but to today's jobs and to survival.

Additionally, educators must work cooperatively with the community and engage in creative problem solving within budgetary limits. The Network research director can be scheduled for a presentation to groups of parents, school committee members, and others. Requests should be made at least two months in advance if possible. A research-based toolkit for public advocacy purposes also will be available in 2007. Contact Sherilyn Brown at the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts at 222-6994 for more information.

Administrative support [return to top]

Q. What are the responsibilities of the Guidance Department?
A. The RI Arts Learning Network met with the executive committee of the RI School Counselors Association in June of 2006. However, your school's guidance personnel may or may not be active with their professional association. Additionally, school counselors are presently redefining their work based on Comprehensive School Counseling. They are sometimes overwhelmed, like all of us, with the demands of their job. Therefore, as discussed in other sections, we must all play an active role in educating those in positions of authority about the regulations. Technically, this is not our responsibility. However, we all have the responsibility of supporting the requirement at a local and state level, if we are to realize the goal of the arts as basic for all our children and youth. Traditionally, guidance counselors are important adults who work hard to help students stay on track toward graduation. Guidance counselors will continue this work as we move to a proficiency based graduation system.

Q. Arts courses are often given low weight in calculating student's GPA and class rank. Can this be harmful as students pursue their proficiency?
A. Yes, this may be an indication that your district has not yet thought through the implications of the new arts graduation requirement. As you work with others in your school or district on PBGR (Pproficiency Based by Ggraduation Requirements) teams, address this concern. The main responsibility of arts educators is to ensure the rigor of arts education.

Q. Whose responsibility is it to inform administrators of the new regulations?
A. The Rhode Island Department of Education has held regional information sessions for all districts, met with district leadership individually and published numerous documents for guidance about the new diploma system for the last five years. This is a very complex process for all involved. There may be a level of resistance in some districts and that is when the leadership by arts educators and their supporters is particularly crucial on local school teams and PBGR working groups.

Q. Where do I start looking, within my district, for evidence that someone is taking charge and ready to lead us in all of this?
A. You, and others like you, are the leadership you want to see. Contact your principal or other leadership to find out what is happening. Contact your professional association (Rhode Island Art Education Association, RI Music Education Association, Dance Alliance, and the RI Theatre Education Association) for help, and join as an active member. All four arts educator professional associations are involved in this effort.

Q. Will increased testing days affect students' ability to complete their arts portfolios?
A. Much of the drive for testing that is pushing the arts aside is coming from No Child Left Behind (NCLB), though the arts are included as a core area in NCLB. Be sure to write your Congressional reps, as well as take part in the Americans for the Arts e-advocacy efforts surrounding reauthorization of NCLB in 2007. This is our opportunity to let our officials know what we think about the effect of NCLB locally on arts education. For more information, see the Americans for the Arts link under the first section Basic Information …mandating arts at the federal level.

Q. Where will funds come from to support this?
A. Funds can come from a number of sources. First of all, the arts are now a core subject area, on a state and federal level. Funding for core subjects now applies to the arts. In order to plan for proficiency, your school or district may apply for RICAPP funds from the RI State Council on the Arts (222-6994). These are small grants that support teams working on curriculum and assessment, portfolio management, professional development, and other areas that need work to build your school's arts proficiency system. The RIDE Gates funds that supported high school reform statewide have incorporated arts participants. The RI Arts Learning Network will work to ensure that future funds for high school reform such as Gates remain accessible to the arts. Ultimately, the political will to prioritize funding in our communities and state rests with those of us who believe that the arts are essential for all our children and youth. National surveys have consistently shown that the public and parents value the arts as a part of education for a variety of reasons. High quality research has further informed this support. A majority of states have arts graduation requirements, in spite of economically difficult times.

It should be noted here that since many schools/districts are operating without adequate arts programs, the reform process towards a proficiency based assessment system is going to be "messy" and will require much work over a long period of time. Not everything can be achieved overnight. However, now, while everything is in the formative stages, is the time to offer help and to insist that your district comes on-line with the necessary arts programs. Perhaps some unconventional, creative solutions will be necessary. Arts proficiency in 2008 most likely will not look like that of 2011.

Q. Is there anyone at the Department of Education working on training districts about arts proficiency?
A. RIDE is unable to offer arts-specific training at this time (2006), which is why the RI Arts Learning Network has stepped in and offered professional development at a local and state level. RIDE has recognized and supported the work of the ALN with a staff person who is a RIDE liaison and resource: Rosemary Burns: 222-8483. Rosemary is also a High School Reform Fellow who is an art teacher. RIDE has also approved the Network's professional development for credit. Additionally, it is up to each individual district to build capacity using the resources available.

Student support [return to top]

Q. How can we instill the importance of this requirement in students?
A. Begin by creating an easy-to-understand brochure or fact sheet that lays out the basic information. Then, get together with guidance and administrators to ensure that you are on the agenda for middle school and grade 9 student orientations when core subject areas, course selection, graduation requirements, etc. are discussed. Teachers are reporting that when they approach the arts expectations the same way as the rest of the high school restructuring is occurring, students in the class of '08 and beyond are accepting it as a matter of course. The students and their parents should have the same information (in appropriately adapted language) that the district administration has received from RIDE.

Assessment [return to top]

Q. What is the difference between an assessment for a grade and an assessment that measures proficiency?
A. There should not be a difference in the quality of work that is assessed as proficient and assessed as "good enough" in class. Teachers are expected to instruct and assess based on standards. It is a goal of the Board of Regents that students learn important and appropriate skills and content knowledge in all core disciplines. Work developed in class can and should be considered "portfolio worthy" whenever possible. Arts portfolio entries can serve as quarterly assignments, final exams, common tasks, etc.

Q. Where can I find sample assessment rubrics? Are there examples of what meets proficiency requirements?
A. See the examples of rubrics and student work posted on the Arts Learning Network website. Also, looking at student work together with your colleagues is necessary to defining and implementing proficiency. Joining your professional association is crucial so you can contribute to the statewide dialogue, and have access to statewide information and resources as they are piloted and updated.

Q. Even the most well thought out rubrics will not prevent evaluators from being subjective. How do we deal with that?
A. Good rubrics are tested for reliability and validity. First, be sure that you clearly identify the standards you are assessing. Then insure that the rubric directly addresses the standards in a clear and concise manner that holds the students accountable for increasing levels of proficiency, while identifying what is expected as the highest level of proficiency. Secondly, reliability and validity are achieved after a rubric is used a number of times by several teachers and the results are shared and common. This process takes time and the judgment of more than one teacher working from common standards. Each of the professional arts education associations have formed or will form communities to work together to develop common tasks so this process can happen. Contact your association to learn more.

In the meantime, it is also advised that you advocate for common planning time within your district so you and your colleagues can learn this process together. Periodically, task assignments and rubrics should go through some sort of peer review and/or calibration to insure that multiple evaluators get the same evaluation results from a piece of work. Selecting random student work for this purpose periodically throughout the year is professional development time well spent. We can't eliminate all subjectivity in arts (or any other) evaluation, but we can insure that we have commonly held standards and expectations of student work. Also, as in evaluating Senior Projects and Exhibitions, other trained and knowledgeable professionals and community members can be added to the faculty adjudication team, or be asked to assess student work as independent panels.

Q. Does proficiency require the use of any particular media?
A. Proficiency standards, assessments, and portfolio requirements should be opportunities for students to explore, analyze, and achieve high levels of competency in a variety of media, techniques and processes. There are no intentions to limit the use of any materials. The expectation is that regardless of the material, the work and process for creating reflects the way artists solve problems and communicate. Portfolio work must be proficient; therefore it must achieve a level of craftsmanship.

Q. If a student copies a high quality piece of art, can that work be considered proficient?
A. Any work that is a direct copy without interpretation or adaptation would not be considered proficient.

Q. Where do we store and manage hundreds of portfolios per teacher per year? How do I create a system to organize and archive my students' work?
A. Each school's PBGR team should address this challenge in line with the district's guidance and support. Communities are working hard to develop systems for properly recording and storing student work. Districts and schools must look toward solving this problem over a period of time. For example, districts who have selected portfolio as the PBGR requirement are planning to implement systems that will educate students to be personally responsible for storing their own work. As a core subject area teacher, you should advocate for the arts to be included in any school plans if they are not already.

In the meantime, teachers and students are digitally photographing and scanning student work and storing them in "student drives" at school. Some teachers and students are saving digital work to discs labeled by graduation class or student name. Some schools are providing portfolios and physical space at school to store work. Some are simply keeping paper records for each student with plans to store images, videos, and audio recordings as technology and logistical systems become available. Contact the technology director in your district for detailed information and guidance, and to ensure that the arts are being included in your school's and district's plans. Make them aware of your particular needs, and talk to teachers in other districts. Also remember that students are generally very comfortable with technology, and can be your allies in figuring this out! A question you can ask is "How much responsibility should a student have in preserving and presenting his/her work?"

RIDE is aware of the very large challenge faced by arts educators to save student work. At the same time, it is a problem that communities must work together to solve. Participate on your school's PBGR committee to help plan a system that will work for you and your community. Schools ultimately need to commit to the proper equipment, be it digital or video cameras, a server, and/or file storage space for archiving student work. Grants are being made available to districts for these purposes.

Q. How do we evaluate students who have recently moved into our school from another district, other states or countries?
A. The issue of how to handle transfer students must be dealt with at the district level within school policy. As with other core subject areas, students who arrive from another RI school, out of state or another country are still bound by the local requirements. Arts departments should discuss this with district administration and come up with viable solutions. For example, student transcripts are useful. Specific tasks might be developed to measure students' knowledge and skills. Once again, your professional association is another good resource for sharing ideas on these issues

Q. Who evaluates or takes responsibility for students who claim proficiency outside of the school setting? Who specifically will be evaluating the artwork to decide proficiency?
A. The responsibility for approving proficiency rests with the school and certified arts educators. In the case of dance and theatre, where there are few certified professionals in the schools, the professional associations are working on putting together educator-community teams who are trained to judge proficiency. Contact the Network for more information. The Rhode Island Arts Learning Network recognizes and supports the fact that our children learn in the three worlds of home, school, and community. We are working to better connect these three worlds to support equal access to high quality arts learning in and out of school. There are state wide discussions about honoring and incorporating the learning that children bring to school in each subject area. As we focus less on credits and more on what students are actually able to demonstrate, the focus is on student learning regardless of where it has happened.

Q. When can a student have their portfolio assessed?
A. The timing of your districts review process will be up to your school and district's policies. This question reminds us that proficiency can be demonstrated at any point during high school and before graduation. We do need to remember that as with all learning students will need different amounts of time to achieve their goals.

Q. Where can we get additional training time in creating common tasks, since they are an important component of the secondary reform work in all core subject areas?
A. Schools who are utilizing Common Tasks within their Portfolio or End of Course Assessments are providing teachers with time to create them. Also, when the school is engaged in school-wide PD time, arts teachers can and should use this time for tailoring arts proficiency tasks as common tasks. Contact your professional arts education association which is working on common task development and training.

Opportunities to learn [return to top]

Q. How will students be able to show proficiency in an art form when they are only required to take one semester in their 4 years of high school?
A. Students may or may not be able to achieve proficiency with ½ credit in high school. Remember that the learning required to achieve proficiency doesn't start in high school; it is a K-12 developmental process. Where there are few middle school programs, there will be increased need for time at the high school level. Students vary widely in their access to learning outside the school. The school is responsible for providing equal access, and appropriate opportunities to learn, including partnerships with the community where appropriate.

Q. If the Arts Learning Network model is "home-school-community," what is the mechanism to engage community resources and assure that all learners from all communities have equitable and just access to community resources?
A. In the short term, community resources are being encouraged to align their existing education programs with the proficiency guidelines, and many have already begun this process. Proficiency planning grants to schools through RI State Council on the Arts encourage the inclusion of community resources on planning teams to work out local solutions. The RI State Council on the Arts also encourages its Education project grant applicants to align their projects with the graduation requirement. The RI Arts Learning Network has mapped arts learning resources statewide and posted the initial information on the [ website ] as of September 2006. The purpose of this database is to encourage collaboration between schools and the community, as well as collaborations across the state. The Network has also employed part-time regional representatives who establish and maintain the database, work with youth representatives, work as a team to solve access questions, as well as assist the public with information. (See the list of regional representatives on the ALN website.) Meanwhile, the long-term purpose of the Network is "equal access to rich and challenging arts learning opportunities for all our RI children and youth." We can only reach the goal if we work together and become greater than the sum of our parts.

Q. If arts continue to get cut, how will middle and low income families afford to ensure their children gain proficiency in the arts?
A. The opportunity to learn is ultimately the responsibility of the school system; however they decide to implement this requirement. Continuing advocacy efforts on behalf of arts access for all our children and youth are imperative.

K-16 articulation [return to top]

Q. How can I, as a middle school music teacher where music is taught for a trimester in 6th and 8th grades only, prepare students for PBGR?
A. A team of music educators worked over the summer of 2006 to on articulating arts proficiencies for grades K-8. These benchmarks should serve as a guideline for districts looking to embed standards-based experiences into elementary and general music classes. A "typical" middle school General Music class should include some experiences in creating, performing, and responding in music that are age appropriate and germane to the classroom experiences at that level. Obviously, we would hope that the general music classes were part of a well-articulated sequential curriculum that built upon prior experiences in these three areas.

(The visual arts team is in the process of articulating K-8 benchmarks during 2006-7. As material becomes available it will be posted on the Arts Learning Network website. Also contact your professional association for updated information.)

Every public school in Rhode Island is required to have a curriculum in every core discipline, and the arts are now a core discipline. The curriculum is a legal document approved by school committees as a commitment to parents and other stakeholders. It is the responsibility of all teachers to teach to those expectations. Teachers must work together to appeal to administration and parents to make this possible. If your discipline is preparing to enter a cycle of curriculum development, it needs to be designed in a way that is developmentally appropriate K-12 and leaves students prepared to achieve proficiency at a tenth grade level.

Q. What impact does proficiency have at the elementary level and middle school level?
A. The arts graduation requirement, as with all proficiency, is a K-12 developmental process. Elementary, middle, and high school teachers must work in concert to provide every kindergartener the opportunity to achieve proficiency by the time they graduate high school. As with all disciplines, students develop life long attitudes and learning skills during crucial elementary years. Students must learn to experiment and take risks with a variety of forms of personal expression and art making. They must find the experiences rewarding and appropriately challenging. They must learn values inherent in the arts, its connection to history and culture as well as to other disciplines. Elementary educators must take advantage of involved parents and communicate the importance of arts learning in the lives of their children.

Middle level educators must be aware of students' prior knowledge and what is expected of them in high school. When learners build upon prior knowledge and understand what is expected of them, they will learn better. Design lessons and a sequential curriculum that will help them to prepare for the graduation requirement. All arts educators need opportunities to communicate about the curriculum and systems of assessment. Teachers within each discipline need time to discuss student work, even if you teach different levels or courses. RICAPP grants are available on a monthly basis from the RI State Council on the Arts to assist with K-12 articulation in the arts, leading to proficiency.

Finally, educate your students about the fact that they will be making choices in high school. Give them opportunities to talk about how they will make the decision. Middle schoolers need every opportunity they can get to learn how good decision-making happens.