The much-talked-about National Standards for Arts Education were presented on March 12 to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley as part of the education reform effort currently on the congressional agenda. Artists, educators, and policy-makers representing over 80 music, dance, theatre, and the arts education groups formed a consortium in late 1992 to meet themandates of the national legislation of Goals 2000: Educate America Act. As a result, the arts are now included in the school reform movement as a core curriculum subject in elementary and secondary schools, along with English, mathematics, science, history, civics, geography, and foreign languages. The passage of the education reform bill by Congress later this year will give approval to the document for national standards in the arts, and bring them into the realm of state boards of education and local school districts who can then determine whether to adopt them into their curricular programs, and how.
Subtitled "What Every Young American Should Know and Be Able to Do in the Arts," the National Standards for Arts Education are organized developmentally (grades K-4, 5-8, 9-12) and by content standards that for music include singing, performing instruments, improvising, composing/arranging, reading/notating, analytical listening, evaluating, understanding music relative to other arts, and understanding music's relationship to history and culture. All content standards are accompanied by achievement standards, so that instruction is planned and delivered at the outset with objective means in mind for measuring the attainment by students of a targeted concept or skill.
One of the five achievement standards related to singing at the primary school level is the ability to "sing independently, on pitch and in rhythm, with appropriate timbre, diction, and posture, and maintain a steady tempo." There are four other primary-level achievement standards for singing. At the middle school, "reading and notating music" abilities are evaluated in five ways, including reading "at sight simple melodies in both the treble and bass clefs," and using "standard notation to record their musical ideas and the musical ideas of others." Achievement standards at the high-school level are categorized as "proficient" and "advanced." Students meeting the history/culture content standard at the proficient level would be expected to "identify sources of American music genres, trace the evolution of those genres, and cite well-known musicians associated with them," while an example of an advanced achievement standard is the ability to "identify and explain the stylistic features of a given musical work that serve to define its aesthetic tradition and its historical or cultural context."
Testing for proficiency in music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts relevant to the new standards will be initiated in 1996 through the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress. While the adoption of the standards by state boards of education and local school districts is voluntary, there are already strong indications that these standards are being carefully considered in the development of music and arts curricula from kindergarten through high school, and in teacher preparation programs. As Secretary Riley pointed out, the standards will be "the engine that drives the train" of educational reform in this country; any knowledge-base earmarked for testing by educational assessment agencies tends to be considered more seriously for curricular inclusion
The National Standards for Arts Education deserves the serious attention of all collegiate faculty of music. Staying tuned to the musical training of American school children is the shared responsibility of all people in the broad "business" of music education, at every level and in every specialization. It is our knowledge of the musical competence and conceptual understanding of young people that will allow us to make the appropriate adjustments to our courses and programs, and thus to better serve the musical needs of collegiate students. In the long run, the standards may affect us all, for the hoped-for purpose of strengthening the place of music and the arts in American society, from early childhood onward. For a copy of the National Standards for Arts Education document, contact the Music Educators National Conference, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 22091; (1-800-828-0229).