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New Hampshire seeks public input as it rewrites school arts standards

  • Lyme School art teacher Emily Girdwood, left, talks with students Ellie Knaus and Rosie Keith, both seventh-graders, during a rehearsal of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" on Friday, March 22, 2019 in Lyme, N.H. Knaus and Keith were working on the set that students built for the play. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lyme School eight-grader A.J. Williams adjusts a microphone on the set of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" at the school on Friday, March 22, 2019 in Lyme, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • During a rehearsal standing in as character Willy Wonka, June Clark, an eight-grader at the Lyme School, looks over her book before starting a scene for the school production of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" on Friday, March 22, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • During a rehearsal, seventh-grader Theo Burdick, left, helps sixth-grader Aiden Caulfield aim the spotlight they were working for the school's production of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" on Friday, March 22, 2019 in Lyme, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • At the Lyme School, seventh-graders, Kiran Park, left, and Andrew Davis practice their parts for the school's production of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" at the school on Friday, March 22, 2019, in Lyme, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 25, 2019

As long as there are refrigerators, there will be children’s artwork hanging on them, and as long as there are cheap plastic woodwind instruments, there will probably be fourth-graders lined up on bleachers piping Hot Cross Buns in semi-unison.

But when it comes to teaching young people the arts, some things can and should change. New Hampshire’s arts education standards for its public schools, which haven’t been updated since today’s college students were learning to finger paint, are about to undergo revision. The New Hampshire Department of Education is soliciting input on the revision process through a series of listening sessions around the state this month, as well as through an online survey

“This is a great opportunity for the state to engage in a dialogue about a vision for arts in New Hampshire,” said Marcia McCaffrey, an arts and physical education consultant with the Office of Academic and Professional Learning at the Department of Education. “To have that conversation across communities … not just teachers but anyone who wants to be part of the conversation, is of value to the state and to our students.”

Current state arts standards, last updated in 2001, are based on national standards developed in the 1990s. Not only has the world changed drastically in that time, especially in terms of technology, but educational ideals and practices have, too. For the past several years, the state has been steering public schools towards a competency-based education system, which emphasizes the application of knowledge and the development of lifelong learning skills, McCaffrey explained. In order to remain useful to teachers, standards need to reflect that shift, she said.

Public opinion about the value of the arts, what arts education should entail and how best to fit it into today’s crowded school schedules should also inform the standards, McCaffrey said. The survey, which is open through April 14, asks questions such as how specific the standards should be, whether they should be organized by school grade or groups of grades and whether they should reflect older students’ varying levels of interest in arts courses.

“I see it as really a design problem,” McCaffrey said. “How can we design a set of standards to meet the needs of today’s world? … It just goes back to the needs of kids today and how the arts can be responsive.”

There is no shortage of inspiration for that design. In 2014 the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards released a set of standards to guide states and districts in designing their own standards, curriculum and learning goals. Many New Hampshire schools use these standards in addition to, or instead of, the state standards, according to McCaffrey. These standards are also intended to align with the Common Core State Standards released in 2010 and adopted by 41 states, including New Hampshire.

Many states have revised their arts standards in recent years. In 2016, Vermont adopted the National Core Arts Standards to serve as its state standards for dance, media arts, music, theater and visual art. The Vermont Agency of Education then created an Arts Learning Target Bank, which functions as a toolkit for applying the standards to the classroom and facilitates the personalized learning practices laid out by the state’s “flexible pathways” legislation.

Though New Hampshire has lagged behind in rewriting its standards, the state did adopt a set of broader “competencies” in 2015. The one-page document outlines ways students can demonstrate learning by creating, presenting, responding to and connecting to the arts across different disciplines.

Nor are schools bound by antiquated standards. In New Hampshire, districts have considerable flexibility in designing their curriculum, particularly in the arts, which are not assessed by standardized testing, according to McCaffrey. National and state standards serve as guidelines rather than rigid sets of rules.

Many area districts are already well ahead of the state in building arts programs that respond to new educational paradigms.

“There are a lot of rich and vibrant arts programs in the Upper Valley,” said McCaffrey, who often visits schools to consult on curriculum, standards and assessments.

At the Lyme School, student interest steers lessons in music and art, said Lyme School Principal Jeff Valence. In a typical art class, students can visit different “stations” of their choosing to apply a lesson on a particular topic such as shape, texture or color. In music class, students can experiment with different instruments and work independently on performance pieces they want to share with the school.

“Our program is really oriented to developing students’ sense and understanding of their own creativity and expression of that creativity,” Valence said. “It’s really focused on providing students the opportunity to express themselves artistically through a variety of different mediums.”

The K-8 school also opened a new Design Lab last year, where students can work on projects that encourage problem solving skills and combine art with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) disciplines.

“It puts kids in the position where they’re trying to find a solution, but they have to come to that solution through an understanding of the audience that they’re trying to solve for,” Valence said.

While such innovations can blossom independent of state standards, strong standards play an important role, local educators said.

“Standards are intended as guidelines to help schools ensure that they have a quality program,” Valence said. Where Lyme’s art programs focus as much on process as on content, the state’s standards are playing catch-up. “I would imagine that the new standards would be more process-oriented.”

“Robust standards help all teachers make content more accessible,” Plainfield Elementary School Principal Sondra Blake wrote in an email. “Articulated art competencies help in so many other ways too; students connect with personal work, activate self-expression as they learn, and group art builds soft skills, sometimes referred to as 21st century skills.”

Crafting new standards won’t solve all the problems schools face in providing a strong arts education. In talking with teachers around the state, McCaffrey finds that they are most concerned about the shaving away of instructional time for the arts and the shortage of arts courses to meet demand in high school settings.

Standards can, however, play a role in addressing these challenges, McCaffrey said.

“What the standards need to be are realistic. They need to be at once aspirational and realistic. That’s the design challenge.”

A virtual listening session on the arts standards revision process will take place on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. via the remote conferencing website Zoom. Email marcia.mccaffrey@doe.nh.gov for the access code. The online survey is available at surveymonkey.com/r/NHArtsStandards.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com and 603-727-3268.