New School Year, New Theatre Standards

By James Palmarini posted 08-11-2014 16:44


It’s the dog days of summer, but not for long. Soon, if not already, the new school year will commence and you’ll begin thinking about what plays to produce, lessons to devise, sets to build, rehearsals to plan, and how to ensure that each and every one of your students gets the best possible experience in your classroom and on your stages. And, oh—you’re likely also thinking about how you’ll manage to get everything done in less than twelve hours a day. Still, you love your job, your students, and your school and it is a new year so I know you’re gearing up with energy and optimism. Here’s something else to think about if you haven’t: The new National Core Arts Standards, including theatre, were release in June ( You may be thinking, “My state already has standards and I like them just fine.” Or you may not like your state standards or any others for that matter. Please reconsider—these new national standards may or may not look like your state standards (and it will take time for them to be adopted by individual states), but here are a couple of things that I think are worth bearing in mind about them:

  • The new standards feature four artistic processes—Creating, Performing, Responding, Connecting—that suggest broad and varied way that students can and do make art.

  • They’re PreK-12 grade-by-grade (the 94 arts standards were grade bands only), with the intention of demonstrating how students learn and arrive at an outcome of proficiency when they finish their education. While the PreK-5 standards are arguably aspirational, grade-by-grade theatre standards assert that there is are specific skills and knowledge that students can and should learn at each age and grade.

  • They’re built on a foundation of eleven anchor standards that describe the general knowledge and skill that teachers expect students to learn throughout their arts education. These standards, embraced by all the arts disciplines, are a powerful advocacy tool that defines for administrators and other decision makers the fundamental academic rigor and parameters of all arts learning.  

  • The standards include model cornerstone assessments (MCAs) at the benchmark grades of 2, 5, 8, and three high school levels (proficient, accomplished, advanced). These outcome-based MCAs offer teachers a structure in which that can filter their own curriculum to create reliable measures of student learning in theatre and the other arts.

  • They acknowledge the distinct differences between drama processes and theatre experiences, empowering teachers to create lessons with process and/or product outcomes for their students.  

The above is just a starting place. Professional development around the new standards is essential. Towards that end, EdTA has created some tools to help theatre educators get to know and understand the Core Theatre standards in the Advocacy Community Library and in our Standards Instructional Resources page. Also in the works are a planned series of interactive webinars, based on the standards workshops presented at the EdTA Conference. If you’re a member, your mailed “Welcome Back” packet will include a two-sided 24 x 36 poster with all the standards on one side and an structural infographic on the other, and a standards brochure designed to serve as an advocacy tool with your administrators and other critical decision makers. For the time being, here are some Community-posted resources that you might find useful:

I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer. I also hope these new standards can help you bring more and better opportunities to your theatre students. They’re certainly not the last word on quality teaching and learning, but perhaps they help you explain what you’re already doing so well. You deserve that sort of validation and your students, parents, and administrators need to know just how good you are at what you do.