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Arts standards draw school board attention

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet Staff
Monday March 19, 2001

The Berkeley School Board will consider at its regular meeting Wednesday whether to adopt new Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards published by the California State Board of Education in January. 

The content standards specify what students should know at each grade level, kindergarten through twelfth grade, in dance, music, theater and visual arts.  

Since arts standards are not tested, the Berkeley Unified School District doesn’t have to adopt them.  

“The content standards are intended to provide a framework for programs that a school may offer in the instruction of visual or performing arts,” said a law calling for the creation of arts standards, signed by Governor Gray Davis last year. 

But Board of Education Director John Selawsky said the standards are needed in Berkeley. The arts curriculum in the district is implemented on a somewhat “piecemeal” basis, Selawsky said.  

Selawsky said some schools having strong arts curriculums supported at all grades by grant money while other schools have only occasional art lessons offered by regular classroom teachers with no special training in arts education. 

Arts in the district “are not under any framework or guidelines or standards today,” Selawsky said, so no effort is made to determine what art classes ought to involve on a districtwide basis. 

“What is an arts class (in Berkeley)?” Selawsky asked. “Cutting out hearts for valentine’s day. Is that an arts class? The standards get people thinking about what an articulated arts program looks like.”  

The state standards evaluate students’ knowledge of dance, music, theater and the visual arts based on five criteria: Artistic perception, creative expression, historical and cultural context, aesthetic valuing and connections, relations and applications. 

In theater, for example, the standards recommend that a third grader: learn basic theater vocabulary like character, setting, audience and motivation; be involved in an actual dramatic production; and understand some universal themes in dramatic stories drawn from different periods and places.