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Arts Education in South Brunswick

Presentation at Board of Education meeting outlines student achievement in the visual arts, musical arts and performing arts.

The arts are alive and well in South Brunswick schools, according to a report given to the South Brunswick Board of Education Monday night. The presentation outlined student performance in visual arts, musical arts and performing arts in kindergarten through high school.

The report, delivered by Assistant Superintendent Joanne Kerekes and several staff members involved with the various art programs in the district, concluded that South Brunswick students perform above average or average in every measurable category.

The district requires every student at every level of education to take some form of art classes, ranging from a general education “specials” class at the elementary level to a state-required five credits of fine arts education at the high school level, Kerekes said, noting courses range from painting, to Photoshop, to art history.

Because no state test exists to gauge student proficiency in the visual, performance or musical arts, teachers throughout the district developed what they believe to be a very rigorous assessment to determine student proficiency, she said.

At the fourth grade level, students participate in a two-part test of general knowledge and performance, she said.

“Ninety percent of the students answered all of the questions correctly,” Kerekes said, referencing the June 2010 scores from the general knowledge assessment. “Five percent were partially correct and five percent did not have all the knowledge.”

The assessment highlights not just what students excel in, but also areas which need to be reinforced — in the case of those scores, the areas of complementary and secondary colors.

“It serves as a reminder that all through our arts program we focus and feature primary, secondary and complementary colors, and that’s because it requires reinforcement,” Kerekes said.

In the performance assessment, 42 percent of students scored above proficiency, and 57 percent scored as “developing proficiency."

“In state terminology, that’s exactly, according to visual arts, where kids should be by the end of fourth grade,” Kerekes said. “So 42 percent of our students are actually surpassing what would be considered the level of proficiency for a fourth grader.”

In sixth grade, the scores were similar, with 91 percent of the students passing the knowledge assessment. In the skill assessment, 88 percent of students scored proficient, 10 percent above proficiency, and two percent were not proficient, she said.

At the high school level, teachers are using their benchmark scores from last year to do a question-by-question analysis to see where students have trouble in order to revise their instructions accordingly, said South Brunswick High School Fine Arts Supervisor Kristin Laskin.

Advanced Placement Art History enrollment increases every year, she added.

“AP Art History is a very, very difficult course, and we’re really proud of the scores that we have,” Laskin said. “We have a very large enrollment in our AP Art History [class] and every year it seems to go up. Our scores are above the national average.”

The national average score for the AP Art History assessment is 2.89 out of five, according to Collegeboard.com.

But according to Laskin, there’s more to gauging proficiency than just using assessments like these.

“We have the student art gallery, and from my perspective … I really believe that the student art gallery in South Brunswick, because it’s districted and because it goes from K-12, is really a testament to the curriculum instruction and the ultimate assessment of what we really do here,” she said. “I think it’s an exhibiting display of how good our instruction is.”

In music and the performing arts, all students at the elementary level receive general music classes, said district Supervisor of Music John Ketterer, noting that each week 3,986 students take part in the program.

Students in the third through fifth grade can get choral ensemble experience, and students in the fourth and fifth grades may receive training in orchestra, band, jazz band and musical theater.

The middle schools and high school offer many different opportunities for students to study the performing arts, with multiple orchestras, concert bands, choirs and jazz bands, he said.

In total, there are 3,587 students who choose to take music classes in South Brunswick, according to Ketterer.

“If we wanted to put them in one school, even with our large high school, we would not fit all our young music students in there,” he said.             

The assessments given to students in the performing and musical arts are similar to those administered to visual arts students. Every student undergoes several different proficiency assessments depending both on grade level and what discipline they’re studying.

Much like with the district’s AP Art History scores, scores for the AP Music Theory examination far exceed the national average of 2.97 out of five with a school average of over four out of five.

Following a presentation of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” as performed by the Crossroads Middle School String Orchestra, Kerekes explained the schools spent the last year trying to realign themselves to the standards placed before them, aligning the school assessments to meet state standards and integrate more technology in their day-to-day instruction.

“It’s gratifying to see that the arts — the visual, musical and performing arts — are such an important part of our education,” said Board of Education President Stephen Parker following the presentation. “It’s important to creating well-rounded students in terms of all of these different parts of the program.”

While much of the presentation focused on the abilities of the students, South Brunswick Superintendent Gary McCartney focused on the educators’ roles in the process.

“The performance of our youngsters … is a reflection not only of their individual talents, but of those who shape those talents,” he said. “It’s easy to see talent in a youngster. It’s a lot of work to make sure that you develop it in ways that allow that talent to continue to grow. And I salute all of you who sit here tonight.”

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