Iowa Fine Arts Standards Adoption

As I updated in a previous blog post, the Iowa Department of Education announced a team to develop fine arts standards for schools. This Fine Arts Standards Adoption Team has been meeting almost monthly to:

  1. Examine all relevant Fine Arts Standards

  2. Create and/or recommend statewide recommended Fine Arts Standards in Visual Arts, General Music, Instrumental Music, Vocal Music, Theater, Dance, and Media Arts.

  3. Write recommendations about implementation of the standards through

    1. Professional learning

    2. Materials and resources

    3. Offer final recommendations to the State Board of Education

More recently, they put out a call for feedback from teachers, administrators, community members, and students on the National Core Arts Standards.

As I read through the agendas and notes on the Fine Arts Standards Adoption Teams webpage, I see that much of their work has been around the National Core Arts Standards. In their initial meeting, members worked to define the 4 artistic processes (Creating, Presenting/Performing/Producing, Responding, and Connecting) and categorize the 11 different anchor standards underneath the 4 artistic processes. Their consensus was the following:


From the February 21, 2017 Meeting Notes:

There was one standard in which the two groups differed on where it should go:

Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.

In the end, the group came to the consensus that it fit under the responding process.

And this is one of my biggest beefs with the NCAS. In our performance medium, I truly believe interpretation is a creative process. If creation only exists when our students compose or improvise, I fear many programs in our state will not be successful if required to align to the NCAS.

Next, the team split into different strands to go further in depth with the NCAS. These strands included Visual Arts & Media Arts, Theater, General Music, Dance, Instrumental Music, and Vocal Music. The last two groups were asked to focus on the Traditional & Emerging Ensembles and Music Technology strands. It does not appear any group looked at the Harmonizing Instruments or Composition & Theory strands. Some excerpts from their notes:

The groups’ initial discussion was concern for schools that have one teacher in each of the strand areas and how that person would receive support and how he or she would discuss the standards with another team member.

Instrumental Music

  • Need a glossary

  • Needs to be a few tweaks

  • A companion document could explain what it looks like in the classroom

  • Professional development needs to be adressed

  • Like three levels at high school level

For their second meeting, the teams reviewed standards for Illinois, Oregon, and Utah. A summary of thoughts from the Instrumental Music team in their March 31, 2017 Meeting Notes:

They liked the set-up of NCAS and the high level of achievement associated with them, as well as the glossary of terms. Any companion document that is created for the Iowa Core would need to include some information that would help beginning teachers connect the document with the Iowa academic standards and give examples of how this would be taught in the classroom.

Then, different groups from the team video conferenced with educators from Kansas, New Hampshire, and Colorado. Here are some highlights:

Kansas is still in the process of creating and adoption standards for music and ensembles, and media. The fine arts consultant has been working with each discipline to create standards rather than a fine arts umbrella team. As a result, the process has been going on for more than four years.

(Colorado) developed its own state standards in 2009. Those standards are currently being vetted as part of a six-year cycle review, and there’s little relationship with NCAS. State officials started with performance standards for graduates and created standards based on that. The process took two years.

Colorado’s standards have a glossary of terms and assessment resource bank that includes units and lesson plans from more than 200 Colorado educators. The NCAS standards were used as a guide for the revision of Colorado’s standards. The standards are organized by grade level except for high school, which is labeled as fundamental and extended.

The state consultant (New Hampshire) said the standards are only one piece of a larger system. As the standards were adopted, curriculum, student learning and helping teachers see the larger picture was a big focus.

New Hampshire educators took the four competencies and the anchor standards and have them on one page. Each district is expected to create its own standards, but the NCAS fits, so districts can use those or choose others. The goal was to guide students to become artistically literate.

To conclude the meeting, the team worked to develop the survey for feedback on the recommended Iowa Fine Arts Standards mentioned above.

There have also been two different public forums on April 25 and April 27 to answer questions and elicit feedback. It appears the other strands, visual art especially, are happier with the guiding documents than instrumental music. For example, this comment came from Ellie Rohlck, Band/Choir/General Music teacher in Baxter:

I appreciate that the standards strive for students to connect to music more deeply, but they gloss over foundational skills necessary to reach that. Students need to be able to make music. There is no discussion of skills students need. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. I hope we align our standards to how our music programs function. It is important that we make clear to school districts that there are power standards that are more important over the course of the year. For example, a compositional unit should not the whole focus of a fourth of the year. At the elementary, we only have 30-45 minutes once a week. It’s a lot for them. We need to take a look at how that works. The process of creating music in an ensemble setting has creativity and imagination as part of it, but NCAS only sees composition and improvisation as creative processes. Performance is not simply a reproduction of someone else’s idea.

Or from Dubuque Senior's content leaders:

We’ve spent a lot of time with the standards. Our music people have also talked about needing that vocabulary. I like the pushing of the creative standards, but within the whole realm of things, we’re spending a lot of time on things that really aren’t assessable … You have to make the work before you have something to put up there. We need to focus on power standards. Cornerstones in NCAS are too long and too involved. We need to balance expectation levels. As we accept the state standards, I appreciated getting the meeting minutes. The survey is a real challenge; we put in (sic) on hold until after today. Do we really need to go step by step or simply share the document we have?

Or Nick Menke, band director in Norwalk:

We have gone through a big overhaul of our standards. We looked at NCAS. We need to think about what musicians do in the real world: about 95% of our students will get music in the mail and rehearse and perform a concert. The majority is the battle of literacy - independent music literacy. There are so many conversations of students selecting music and improvising. For solo/ensemble contest we might give them two solos and they pick one, but that’s not enough to assess. A lot of the verbiage gets in the way. We do improvise – we have strong jazz programs. It would take a huge chunk away from the time we spend on literacy. It takes to perform music. We play out creative process in expression. Our general music folks have wholeheartedly embraced the creating part. Finding “assessability” in these standards is very difficult. We don’t look at them as all being equal. Responding really should be critically analyzing. We should help them as future consumers of music. The struggles: How do I assess? Where do I put the emphasis?

Abby Sheppard, Sioux Center High School Vocal:

The literacy aspect is missing – performing is how we spend the majority of our time. There is a need to add more depth. It would be helpful for ensembles with 9th-12the graders in the same choir.

Becky Pfeiler, band director at Collins-Maxwell:

I want to make them more applicable to standards-based grading. Currently, there is not much to measure which and it is not musically-related.

A lot of the comments from General, Instrumental, and Vocal music amplify and reiterate my biggest concerns:

  • Creating is limited to composing and arranging. While the components (imagine, plan and make, evaluate and refine, present) make it appear like it goes further, each of these components is limited in scope to original ideas developed by students. I strongly believe that improvisation and interpretation need to fall in this category.

  • The NCAS fail to address music literacy. There are foundational skills necessary to creating, performing, responding, and connecting. At a fundamental level, our students need to be able to understand and interpret the markings on the page and communicate them through their instrument. These skills are hinted at in the new standards, but not explicitly stated.

  • The NCAS are not easy to assess. While the writing team went very in-depth with what each anchor standard looks like with artistic processes, anchor standards, enduring understandings, essential questions, process components, performance standards, and proficiency levels, the statements within are still very broad. I fear administrators imposing an interpretation of these standards that will not bode well for music educators and their students.

The more I dig into these Fine Arts Standards, the more I feel a need to have (and write about) a better understanding of the National Core Arts Standards. Be looking for that soon.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.