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Developing Fine Arts Assessments
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Product  Performance  Extended Constructed Response
Curriculum Unit  Portfolio Assessment

Curriculum Unit

A curriculum unit is a long-term activity presented within an instructional context. It may take the form of an arts-rich unit of study, which may also be integrated with non-arts content areas, that addresses an overarching idea.   A range of formative assessments may be embedded throughout the ongoing instructional lessons covered in the unit.   Combined as a whole, these assessments would be administered through any one of a number of formats, including a summative assessment component.

Depending upon the assessment formats incorporated in the unit, a number of scoring tools, including answer keys and rubrics, may be used.

Although development of a curriculum unit is time-consuming, it serves as a valuable professional development exercise for teachers learning to align instructional practices with assessment and content standards.

Guidelines for Developing a Curriculum Unit

When developing an arts-rich curriculum unit, several components should be addressed:*

Unit Foundation

Consider the extent to which the unit as a whole:

  • addresses enduring ideas,** key concepts and essential questions
  • is aligned with state content standards
  • presents learning objectives, instructional activities, and assessment tasks that are aligned


Consider whether:

  • there are substansive connections between art and other content areas
  • all four VSC content standards (i.e., Responding, Historical/Social Perspective, Creative Expression, Aesthetic Judgment) within a given arts content area are included
  • the needed knowledge and skills are addressed in a logical sequence according to best practices
  • required resources and background materials are clearly identified
  • the skills and concepts are appropriate for the development levels of the students as identified by the VSC content standards


Consider whether:

  • connections to prior knowledge, skills, and real-life situations are provided according to best practices
  • a variety of learning activities are included
  • instructional activities provide for substantive student engagement and promote critical thinking
  • materials and resources are appropriate for students' developmental levels
  • opportunities are provided for students to practice new skills and concepts
  • opportunities are provided for students to ask questions, lead discussions, and conduct ongoing self-reflection


Consider whether:

  • assessment tasks are provided for each lesson in the unit
  • each assessment task clearly aligns with the state content standard(s) (i.e., learning objectives) it is intended to address
  • enduring ideas, key concepts, and important skills addressed by the unit as a whole are assessed and appropriately and clearly align with state content standards/learning objectives
  • assessment tasks are relevant and engaging for the student
  • assessment expectations and performance criteria are clear and shared with students
  • opportunities are provided for self and/or peer assessment


Consider whether:

  • key components of the unit as a whole as well as for each lesson are present and clearly indicated
  • the unit is centered on works of art or ideas about the arts
  • there is diversity in the works of art presented
  • the intention of each lesson is stated as a measurable outcome (not simply as an activity)
  • emergent technologies are used to promote effective learning

Once completed, the curriculum unit may be reviewed with these criteria as a basis for evaluation using a simple 4-point rating scale.

Following is an example of an elementary level curriculum unit focused on the visual arts created by teachers for a national arts education project.

*Adapted from the Transforming Education Through the Arts Challenge project directed by the National Arts Education Consortium, the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. The full report may be accessed at http://aep-arts.org .

**Enduring ideas are concepts that have been revisited and taught throughout the ages (e.g., relationships among humans; the relationship between humans and nature).

View Example:

Visual Arts Curriculum Unit (PDF: 2.4mb)

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