Standard Time

By James Palmarini posted 06-03-2014 07:36


Standards time

In 2011, the leadership of the national arts education organizations met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the status of their disciplines in schools. Arts education, while robust and available for some students, was becoming increasingly unavailable to others. There was a sense of urgency in the meeting driven by two facts: One, the increased emphasis on testing in other subject areas, tightening budgets, and a lack of understanding of the value and purpose of arts education was prompting cutbacks in arts programs. Two, the 1994 National Arts Standards, the guiding document for the delivery of arts education in schools and other arts education venues in the United States, was seventeen years old. The attending organizations, including the Educational Theatre Association, responded by forming the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS), a partnership of ten leading arts and arts education groups with a shared mission of creating and delivering arts education opportunities for all PreK-12 students. The goal of the coalition was to create new, more rigorous and comprehensive standards that defined high quality PreK-12 arts education.


On Wednesday, June 4, the wait is over—NCCAS will launch the new web-based National Core Standards in dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts, in a streaming webinar from 1 to 3 pm EDT. If you haven’t signed up to attend, there’s still time to do so at


What follows is an overview of organizational structure of the new standards.


But first, a huge “thank you” to our theatre standards writing team—a collaborative effort by members of the Educational Theatre Association and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. This work would not have been possible without these tireless volunteers, period. Here’s the team:

Co-chairs: Dr. Mary J. Schuttler, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley

Betsy Quinn, Evanston (Illinois) School District 65

Rachel Evans, Kean University, Union, New Jersey


Julia Ashworth, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Victoria Brown, Lucy School, Middletown, Maryland
Wendy Duke, Miller School South for the Visual and Performing Arts, Akron, Ohio

Linda Krakaur
, University of Maryland at College Park
Jennifer Little, Franklin High School, North Bergen, New Jersey
Jack Mitchell, California State Department of Education, Sacramento
Sarah Pleydell, University of Maryland, College Park
Joshua Streeter, Towanda (Pennsylvania) Area School District
Leslie Van Leishout, North Thurston Public Schools, Lacey, Washington
Gustave J. Weltsek, Indiana University/ Ivy Tech Community College, Bloomington                                                              Elisabeth Westphal, Nichols Middle School, Evanston, Illinois

Scott Wilson, Centennial High School, Columbus, Ohio

Susan Yelverton, Satchel Ford Elementary School, Columbia, South Carolina

And here’s the basics you need to know about the standards:

The National Core Arts Standards articulate the knowledge and skills that all students should know and know how to do in one or more arts discipline upon completion of their school career. They’re also intended to ensure that arts education is recognized as an essential academic subject that helps prepare students for college and career readiness. And they’re for everyone with an interest and stake in arts education: students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the community at large.  


The standards are built on a foundation of four Artistic Processes and eleven Anchor Standards. The four processes of Creating, Performing, Responding, and Connecting reflect the fundamental ways that the brain and the body make art and illuminate the link between art and the learner. Process component verbs within the Artistic Processes serve as prompts that demonstrate what artist-learners do to complete a task and serve as an organizing tool for each thread of sequential grade-by-grade standards. Teachers use the process components to help them form and apply standards-based learning through curriculum and authentic assessments. For example, for theatre, in Creating, third-grade students might be asked to envision/conceptualize “roles, imagined worlds, and improvised stories;” seventh-graders to develop “mutual respect for self and others and their roles in preparing or devising drama/theatre work and responsibilities required to present a drama/theatre work informally to an audience;” and a proficient-level high students to rehearse “physical, vocal, and physiological choices to develop a performance that is believable, authentic, and relevant.”


The Anchor Standards that all arts disciplines have adopted describe the general knowledge and skills that teacher expect student to demonstrate throughout their education in the arts. For example, when students create they “generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work;” when they perform they “convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work;” when they respond they “perceive and analyze artistic work;” and when they are connect they “Relate artistic ideas and works to societal, cultural, and historical contexts to deepen understanding.”


Collectively, the Anchors Standards define artistic literacy for all students through a framework of Philosophical Foundations, Lifelong Learning Goals, Performance Standards, Essential Questions, and Enduring Understandings.

Artistically literate students:

  • Use a variety of artistic media, symbols and metaphors to communicate their own ideas and to respond to the artistic communications of others.

  • Develop creative personal realization in at least one art form in which they continue active involvement as an adult.

  • Cultivate culture, history, and other connections through diverse forms and genres of artwork.

  • Find joy, inspiration, peace, intellectual stimulation, and meaning when they participate in the arts.

  • Seek artistic experiences and support the arts in their communities.

The standards are grade-by-grade PreK-8, and include three levels in high school: proficient, accomplished, and advanced. Each strand of the standards is sequential, defining how in each grade students learn as they move through their PreK-12 arts education to an outcome of proficiency.


The standards’ Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings focus on what are often called “big ideas.” For example, an Essential Question in theatre is, “How, when, and why do theatre artists’ choices change?,” and its companion Enduring Understanding is, “Theatre artists work to discover different ways of communicating meaning.” Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, writing in their seminal text, Understanding by Design (ASCD, 2005), said “…[the big ideas and understandings] implicitly answer the question, Why is this topic worth studying?”


Model Cornerstone Assessments are provided within the arts standards at the benchmark grades of 2, 5, 8, and the three high levels (proficient, accomplished, advanced) to illustrate the type of evidence needed to show attainment of learning. As a cornerstone anchors a building, these assessments should anchor a curriculum around the most important things students should be able to do with acquired knowledge and skills.


The theatre standards are written with both drama processes and theatre products in mind. Drama processes encompass envisioned worlds and unscripted activities designed to engage students in a wide range of real and imagined issues; theatre includes the broader and more traditional conventions of the craft that have been developed over the centuries—scripted plays, acting, public performance, and stagecraft. To address both process and product in theatre, the PreK through grade 2 standards, acknowledging the early childhood need for supervision and unfettered play, employ the phraseology “dramatic play” and/or “guided drama experience.” The grade 3 through high school standards (proficient, advanced, and accomplished) use the term “drama/theatre” to clarify the distinct but companion parts of theatre education.

The National Core Arts Standards are a web-based ( resource. The goal of the website is to make it possible for teachers to imagine and build standards-based curricula and assessment that reflects their teaching and the learning needs of their students. The virtual environment will also serve as an archive for a growing body of standards-based resources, including benchmarked student work, sample curriculum, assessments, research, and other instructional resources.

More facts about the work are available in the NCCAS FAQ. See you on website in standard time!