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Assessment in Opera Learning
Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning, and in the multidisciplinary art form of opera, it’s especially important to know which specific skills you want to focus on. Assessment helps us determine if those learning goals are being met and how we can improve instruction to help students reach those goals.

Why Is Assessment in Opera Important?
Assessment and the artistic process in opera go hand in hand. Opera composers, musicians, designers and directors continually observe, reflect and revise their work. Through authentic assessment in the arts classroom, students are given the opportunity to examine their own artistic process and performances through this real-world lens.

Using a variety of assessment strategies, educators can also motivate students by recognizing quality work, gain a deeper understanding of what students know and are able to do, and develop strategies for improving instruction.

Myths About Arts Education Assessment
(Excerpted and adapted from the Arts Assessment Resource Guide, published by the California County Superintendents Arts Initiative, CCSESA)

Myth #1: Success in the arts is subjective.
Achievement in the performing arts is often thought of as highly subjective. There is a prevalent myth that the arts cannot be assessed because of this subjectivity. In actuality, there are many aspects of opera learning that can be assessed within state or national standards:
1. Content (knowledge, traditions, history and vocabulary)
2. Technique (skills and how they are used)
3. Intellectual behavior that is developed by the arts — these seven behaviors are identified by Carmen Armstrong in her book Designing Assessment in Art as the capacity to: Know. Perceive. Organize. Inquire. Value. Manipulate. Cooperate. And each can be used to create goals and assessment tools for student learning. These behaviors are necessary for success in the arts but also in other content areas of the curriculum.

Myth #2: It is all about the end product.
The process students engage in through opera learning is as valuable and important as the culminating work. The end product is only one piece of the student’s learning and experience. Arts education is also about knowledge, process and product, and a variety of process-related criteria can be assessed. In a study published by the National Art Education Association, at least 75 percent of teachers identified the following criteria as the five most commonly used to assess students in arts:
1. Effort — Are students trying, particularly with something new or challenging?
2. Problem-solving ability — When faced with an obstacle, how do students respond?
3. Improvement or growth — Are students making progress toward a goal? Are they challenging themselves?
4. Classroom behavior — Are students supportive of each other, and are they offering constructive criticism and reflection about the work?
5. Self-motivation or initiative — Are students engaged? Are they pursuing answers to their own questions?

Myth #3: Teachers can just tack on assessment to their opera instruction.
Many classroom teachers feel the lack of the arts in their own education, and assessing students in the opera classroom can be even more daunting. Professional development in arts education assessment is a need that extends to all teachers who use and teach the arts.

Myth #4: Assessment is contradictory to the artistic process.
The real-world artistic process in opera actually includes embedded assessment. Assessment and opera-making are inextricably linked. Assessment can come from the artist as self-assessment, and it can come from external sources, such as the public or critics. We commonly think of these types of assessment as critiques.

What Is Quality Opera Assessment?
Dennie Palmer Wolf and Nancy Pistone, in their book Taking Full Measure: Rethinking Assessment Through the Arts, identified the following qualities for arts education assessment:
  • An insistence on excellence — Expectations for student work should be high and clearly communicated.
  • Judgment — The work should elicit a variety of responses.
  • Importance of self-assessment — Opera artists continually engage in self-assessment of their work.
  • Multiple forms of assessment — Using multiple forms of assessment captures nuances that are missed with only one approach. Each assessment tool provides a new piece of information and insight, and broadens our understanding of what students have learned in the opera classroom.
  • Ongoing assessment — Assessment should be embedded into the learning process and ongoing throughout the school year (rather than occurring at only one point in the calendar). Students benefit greatly from the circular process of creation, analysis and revision.
Types of Assessment
  • Observations: An opportunity for teachers to informally document and track student progress. Teachers may observe the whole class or individual students. Checklists and observation forms can be helpful tools in this process.
  • Action Research: A more formal and in-depth form of observation in which the teacher becomes a researcher, documenting and analyzing learning over time.
    • Click here to see a step-by-step method by W. Ian O’Byrne.
  • Student Peer and Self-Assessment: An opportunity for students to observe, reflect and revise their own work. Peer and self-assessment is authentic in that it mirrors the real-world experience of artists. Journals, checklists and recordings are a few available tools for this process.
    • Click here to learn more about student peer and self-assessment.
    • Click here for an example of a student self-assessment on vocal technique from Carnegie Hall.
  • Performance Assessment: A form of assessment in which students perform a task or series of tasks. Through this authentic assessment, students are required to produce a real-world work of art either through a product (music score, costume, set design) or through a performance (presentation of a scene or song). Performance assessments are often followed by critique or reflection, and rubrics, observation forms and checklists are useful tools for measuring student learning.
    • Click here to learn more about administering performance assessments.
  • Portfolio: An opportunity for students to showcase what he/she has learned and accomplished throughout the course of a project or production. The portfolio recognizes that the process of opera learning is just as important as the end product and may include drafts and edits of student work along with samples of the final product and reflective writing.
    • Click here to learn more about portfolio assessment:
    • Click here to see an example of an opera portfolio in a fourth grade classroom:

Other great arts assessment resource links:
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Assessment in Opera Learning
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