Musing on Metrics

Each July, as KID smART analyzes our student growth data and the Louisiana Department of Education releases LEAP scores, we find ourselves contemplating the contrasts of these two data sets. This illuminates some of our central questions: What skills do students need to succeed in a global, changing 21st century? What indicators tell us if students are ready to meet the myriad of challenges they will inherit as adults?

Louisiana 3rd-8th graders take standardized LEAP tests in four subjects: English, math, science and social studies. To look more deeply at 21st century skills not assessed on standardized tests, KID smART has developed and implemented independent measures of student success.

KID smART partners with 12 Orleans Parish public elementary schools, blending math, science, social studies and English with different art forms. Our teaching artists are embedded in these Creative Schools for a full school year.

Throughout the year of arts-integrated learning, KID smART gathers data points on the following objectives/creative skills:

  • Creativity & Imagination
  • Critical Thinking
  • Depth of Learning in Arts Skills
  • Joyful Engagement
  • Social-Emotional Growth

While LEAP scores tell one story about public school education in New Orleans, KID smART evaluations examine how schools are preparing students to be creative, innovative thinkers able to respond to the challenges of the future. As with the LEAP test, student achievements on skill sheets are measured on a five-point scale.

The following chart displays the percent of students reaching the top tier (mastery/advanced) LEAP test scores in schools in which KID smART teaching artists worked with students in testing grades:

We compared these LEAP scores to KID smART skill sheet results during that same time. Academic and creative skills were quantitatively assessed throughout the fall and spring semesters by classroom teachers and teaching artists. The following chart compares top tier LEAP results to top tier academic and creative skill scores gathered from KID smART skill sheets:

Some of of the variations in scores relate to the different skills being assessed. LEAP scores represent a broad spectrum of students: six grade levels across four academic subjects. Arts-integrated learning with KID smART focuses on individual classrooms with targeted academic and creative objectives in each unit. Measuring our students’ understanding three times over the course of a unit, we note progress on an individual level – a laser look at success rather than a standardized analysis.

Let’s look closer at KID smART Creative School 3 in which the percent of students scoring in the top tier on the LEAP test is the same as the city-wide average (23%). In School 3, KID smART compared academic and creative skills for students in 6th grade against the full school’s LEAP results:

We can see that students are learning deeply and creatively in this classroom, even if the school’s test scores are not showing that growth.

Skill sheets aren’t the whole story. KID smART Creative Schools participate in a multi-layered set of evaluations that includes qualitative assessments where students reflect on their growth and teachers focus on both student and teacher development through the KID smART program. The complete system provides a robust picture of student progress and how teachers are adapting their teaching strategies by using the arts. By pioneering an original system of evaluation tools, KID smART is working to understand whether students are gaining critical skills and striving to broaden the definition of student success.

Continuing research demonstrates that the skills young people need to be successful in the 21st century are not always measured on standardized tests. At the same time, industry-sponsored studies emphasize the need for creative and innovative students capable of critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. Industry leaders now recognize that collaboration and symbolic representation are central to the modern workforce. Few of those skills are being captured by LEAP, and if something isn’t being assessed in our high-stakes testing environment, will school leaders create room for it in the busy school day?

KID smART continues to advocate for a broader spectrum of evaluations to be used in determining school and student success, as part of a larger a strategy for ensuring students grow into well-rounded young adults ready for their next phase of life. We hope this exploration helps examine what we learn from different forms of assessment and spurs thoughts about how can we use a variety of observation criteria, qualitative and quantitative data to guide what and how we teach and prepare our youth.