Formative Assessment and Fine Arts Education

By Tara Kintz

Editor’s Note

MAEIA is pleased to partner with Tara Kintz for a three-part blog series exploring the intersections of formative assessment and the fine arts. Highlighted in the writing are links to the Assessment Learning Network’s (ALN) Learning Points. Click the links to learn more about individual topics and to deepen your understanding of the formative assessment process. At the end of the blog you will see an invitation to join the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) Arts team. Enjoy!


The formative assessment process is inherently aligned with the core tenets of arts education. Teaching in the fine arts involves an iterative, creative process with clearly articulated learning outcomes that include discipline-specific knowledge, skills, dispositions, and abilities. High-quality instruction in the arts involves gathering evidence of student understanding as the student works toward the specific learning goals. In addition, the student receives ongoing feedback from the teacher as well as from peers and themselves on their progress toward learning goals in the arts discipline. This organic cycle of teaching and learning closely aligns with the components of the formative assessment process; students work to master a craft while engaging in ongoing feedback. These high-leverage practices are most effective in promoting student engagement and learning.

The potential of formative assessment to double the rate of student learning, when implemented well (Wiliam, 2007), has contributed to its prominence in many educational initiatives. In turn, there is an array of different conceptions of formative assessment. To promote shared understanding, the Michigan Department of Education adopted the formative assessment definition developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Formative Assessment for Students and Teachers (FAST) State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS) and used in the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) program:

Formative assessment is a planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes and support students to become more self-directed learners.

 The key points in the formative assessment definition highlight:

  • It is a planned, ongoing process
  • It occurs during teaching and learning
  • The intention is to elicit and use evidence of student learning
  • The focus is on disciplinary learning
  • The goal is to support students to become more self-directed learners.

A Planned, Ongoing Process

The formative assessment process is based on three guiding questions posed by Sadler (1989) which are closely aligned with the key aspects of arts education envisioning, creating, and reflecting. Formative assessment asks:

  1. “Where are we (teacher and students) going?” The fine arts class often begins with, “what do I want to create?”
  2. “What does the student understand now?” Students creating must first assess, “what skills and techniques do I possess for this creation?”
  3. “How do we get to the learning target?” Teacher and students constantly reflect on “what creative problem solving will happen along the way?”

Fine arts lessons involve envisioning the outcome, creating in the medium, and reflecting on the learning, practice, or performance. Similarly, the three formative assessment guiding questions focus on the desired outcome, understanding current knowledge, skills, and performance in the learning process, and reflecting on feedback to reach the learning target. The formative assessment process, therefore, can support fine arts educators to become more intentional and explicit in these fundamental practices to enhance arts education and student learning.

A Focus on Disciplinary Learning

The National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) are at the heart of all fine arts curricula and serve as a foundation for the formative assessment process to guide students’ artistic literacy. The fine arts curriculum revolves around four main anchor standards:

  • Creating focuses on conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work through the use of visual and performance models.
  • Performing/Presenting/Producing emphasizes the proper use of techniques to bring artistic ideas into physical reality and make the creative work public.
  • Responding encourages the student artist to understand and evaluate how the arts convey meaning.
  • Connecting relates artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

Supporting Students to Become More Self-Directed Learners

The fine arts anchor standards also provide the foundation for the formative assessment process. The planning, learning targets, and success criteria for a lesson are all based on the anchor standards. Once there is a clear understanding of the intended learning outcomes for the students, then the teacher can focus on gathering evidence of student understanding and formative feedback regarding the learning target. The intention of each lesson is for students to move themselves along a learning trajectory toward mastery of the standards. The formative e assessment process facilitates the teaching and student-centered learning in arts education. Students develop ownership and self-directedness in their learning as they internalize the learning goals and are able to make progress toward specific success indicators. The teacher’s role becomes that of a facilitator in the classroom, guiding the learning and creating opportunities for the student to create, perform, respond, and connect. Fine arts education and the formative assessment process both highlight the importance of student voice in exploring, experimenting, collaborating, and reflecting.

Arts educators can benefit from making their practice more intentional and explicit through the formative assessment process, and in turn, enhancing the learning experience and outcomes for students. Implementing the formative assessment process in the fine arts disciplines requires knowledge about formative assessment as well as content knowledge with a focus on how students develop understanding in a specific discipline. This involves the use of questioning to uncover students’ thinking in the content area. The ongoing cycle of identifying learning targets, gathering evidence of student understanding, giving and receiving feedback, and making adjustments to teaching and learning is integral to the use of the formative assessment process in the arts. Educators can enhance teaching and learning experiences in the arts for all students through the formative assessment process and ensure student involvement is at the center of ambitious instruction and assessment in every classroom.

Join the FAME Arts team

Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators (FAME) is a statewide initiative to promote educator understanding and use of the formative assessment process. The FAME program is based on the belief that significant change in professional practice requires work over several years, supported by internal and external resources.

Sharpen your skills in deepening students’ thinking by joining the state-wide arts team in the Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators program.

Relevant Resources


Wiliam, D. (2007, June). What does research say the benefits of formative assessment are? NCTM Research Brief. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Retrieved from Briefs_and_Clips/brief_form_assessment.pdf

Tara Kintz head shotTara Kintz works as a research associate at the Michigan Assessment Consortium where she integrates 20 years of experience as an educator and administrator in reform contexts to inform K-12 schooling and teacher education. She is actively involved in research and curriculum development to support educators to promote student engagement and counter inequities in education. She is currently working on research and the development of resources to give educators the tools they need to effectively implement the formative assessment process.


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