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Part 2: State Board Approves New Fine Arts Standards

by Lana Hallmark, recently retired Fine Arts Program Advisor for the Arkansas Department of Elementary and Secondary Education & Creative and Strategic Consultant

Arkansas arts educators started back to school this year with multiple challenges. COVID19 and the challenge of blended instruction, providing both face-to-face and online instruction, was certainly the challenge that has received the most attention. However, unlike educators in other content areas, arts educators also faced the challenge of implementing new academic standards in music, visual art, theatre, and dance. This is often referred to as a 'double-whammy'.

Academic standards are the mandated learning expectations that Arkansas teachers must address in their classrooms each year. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) facilitates the writing of these standards and individual districts are responsible for creating or adopting curriculum (learning activities and strategies) to accomplish their mastery. In Arkansas, the development of new academic standards is a process that occurs on a rotation basis with other content areas every five or six years. Previous standards were developed in 2014, immediately after new national standards, the National Core Arts Standards were released. 

The process of developing new academic standards is lengthy and complex. Some aspects are mandated by Arkansas law. The Fine Arts Advisor at DESE began the process for the 2020 standards by pulling together a committee of approximately fifty educators, as diverse as possible, from the four arts disciplines, grade levels, and regions of the state.­­­­ The group met for two weeks during the summer of 2019 to draft standards and high school courses in each discipline. DESE staff, led by the Fine Arts Advisor, then began the long process of editing, proofreading, revising, and writing resource materials for what turned out to be almost 600 pages of standards. By the spring of 2020, the material was outsourced to a design and layout firm to prepare them for publication.

Finally, in July 2020, the Arkansas Fine Arts Academic Standards were presented to the State Board of Education for review. They were approved on July 9, 2020, and within a week had been published on the DESE website for the public to peruse. School districts had the option of implementing the new standards in this 2020-21 school year or using this school year to prepare for the implementation in the 2021-22 school year.

The new standards, much like the previous standards, are organized to reflect the organization of the National Core Arts Standards. They are offered in four separate booklets-Dance, Visual Art, Music, and Theatre. They are organized around the four artistic processes that every artist regardless of discipline goes through-creating, performing or presenting, responding, and connecting. Many lessons will touch on multiple processes simultaneously.

The first noticeable difference in the new standards over previous standards are the multiple resources offered in the opening pages. Guidance is provided about the organization and use of the documents, as well as the relationship of the new standards to DESE's Vision for Teaching and Learning, the G.U.I.D.E. for Life social and emotional learning, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and DESE's Community Service Learning Program.

Also different, the standards take the form of 'I Can' statements written in the student voice. For example, a music student in the K-2 grade band should be able to say "I can use rhythm patterns, songs, or words to create a musical idea." Teacher guidance is then provided for each 'I Can' statement to suggest activities or spark ideas for lessons. This K-2 example is followed with "For example, students might improvise a vocal response to a sung question." 

Initial response from classroom arts educators has been very good. The 'I Can' format has been well-received, and the addition of teacher guidance for each standard has received high praise from the field. The fifty educators from across the state who devoted their time and expertise to the development of the standards should be highly commended and congratulated.

Lana Hallmark is the recently retired Fine Arts Program Advisor for the Arkansas Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Lana Hallmark CAN is her newest endeavor. Learn more at

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