A Day In the Life

"But how do you get a B in art?"

Report cards went home recently. I always get nervous when report cards go home for the second quarter because I know there will be at least one email sent my way and at least two or three students popping in and asking, “Why did I get a B in art?” This year, however, I was also fortunate enough to walk into a conversation taking place in the office between two adults in which the phrase, “But how do you get a B in art?” was repeated over and over again by one adult while the other one unsuccessfully attempted to explain. I’m pretty sure people just assume art, especially at the elementary level, is an easy A.

In our county, we start assigning letter grades in fourth grade. Or is it third grade? No, I’m pretty sure it’s fourth grade. The shift from the O/G/S/N system to the A/B/C/D one really screws us over, in my opinion (we give grades for Achievement and Effort, by the way). Parents and students are usually satisfied with Gs, but shift that G over to it’s equivalent, B, and all hell breaks loose. As I understand it, based on how it was presented to me, our county-wide grading system works something like this…

A- You’re a fifth grader? Pfff. Your work is so stellar I thought you were a sixth grader. You are obviously doing work above and beyond what is expected and what is average of a fifth grader.

B- Hey there, fifth grader. Way to meet all the requirements and produce work average of a fifth grader. Nice job.

C- Ooh, I see you missed some of the project requirements, fourth grader… What? Oh, you’re in fifth grade? Ouch. Well, better luck next time.

D- Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?…

Wait. Art has requirements? It’s not all about just showing up? Sadly, no, it’s not. Not only are there requirements, but there are assessments now too. Assessments that, not only do the students get scored for, but the teachers get scored on as well based on how well they scored their students’ scores. Still with me? I never thought I’d say this, but my fellow art teachers and I now find ourselves teaching to the test. *Gasp* But that’s a conversation for another day.

Of course, next year it’s going to be a whole other ball game as we switch to a 4/3/2/1 grading system and we poor art teachers will be expected to give grades in four different categories, with 4-6 subcategories under each of those categories. Make sense? Yeah, it doesn’t to me either. Guess I know what I’ll be doing on my summer vacation.

How do you give out grades in art?


23 thoughts on “"But how do you get a B in art?"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Guess I'm out of the loop entirely. This is my 17th year teaching High School Art. I have not heard of assessments in our area. Is this a state assessment?


  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow…. I'm a high school Visual art teacher in australia and we have written and practical assessments which are weighted by the state ( soon to be national). Art is a manditory subject for years 7+8. year 9 throught to year 12 leaving (HSC)is elective. partette


  3. I feel your pain, except worse, because I teach art in high school. There are few things more insulting than getting a parent e-mail asking why their child's grade dropped from an A to a B, or worse, a B to a C- especially since all of their grades are made available online. I actually have students and parents who have said, “How did I/they not get an A? This isn't even a real class.”

    Makes you all warm inside. Oh wait, that's just my blood pressure rising.


  4. I am in a district that has never graded art in Elementary grades and now we are being told we have to next year… I heard it was for K-3 grades. How stupid is that? How am I going to seriously give a kinder a 2? I know some deserve it but really? Developmentally they are not ready for a crush to their confidence. I have kids anxious as it is with art skills because they are behind in scissor skills (having never gone to pre-k or preschool for that matter and having parents that NEVER let them hold scissors or use glue at home!) or following directions. We are being told that we can come up with our criteria but so far I haven't heard of a committee or when that will be? I'm so fed up with the CCLS and how we are now going to have to have a pre and post test for all grade levels to prove achievement. It's not like I have the same 25 kids in one class to test several times a year… I have 450 kids to test twice a year… seriously??? How is that fair? I see them once a week (if that… if they are on Friday or MOnday, they get cheated out of several weeks due to breaks, assemblies, and field trips). I feel your pain. It's going to be a 1-4 system here too. I'm anxious to go to NAEA conference and chat with how other people grade and assess!


  5. We give grades and LOTS of them about 10/kid. . . on a scale of 1-4. But wait, we don't know what we're grading on yet for semester two (you see they tell us we are so cutting edge that we will grade literacy standards and by the way last semester they told us a week before report cards were due.) After a huge outcry from us they decided we would just grade on 5 “academic behaviors” and look at the grades later (which hasn't happened.) This is my 4th version of the report card in 5 years! And all have been totally different. That all being said I don't even THINK about grades like a “normal” teacher. I just make up my own standards based on state ART standards and base my lessons on that. I thank god for my experience outside of this district or I would have no idea how to begin. I have what I teach down to a science, color theory, artists, movements, problem solving skills, but I am not sure if anyone would notice if I didn't. In the end the proof is in the pudding. I don't let what the administration does effect my style and curriculum more then it has to or I would confuse my poor students to tears!


  6. In a nutshell, this is why I'm retiring this June and not sticking around for a few more years, even though I still love what I do. Gettin' out while the gettin's good, so to speak! It's insanity. We know so much of how our kids do in art is developmental – so why can't we just keep giving them rich experiences and LET THEM DEVELOP??!!! No let's stress them out. And then there's the kids who's parents take them out of school on vacations, or miss art for instrument lessons, or the teacher keeps them to make up missing work, or any of another zillion things. But we need to make sure they show progress on some assessment? Retirement, here I come. Maybe I'll run an after-school art program where I'll set my own rules.


  7. Ugh- grading is the worst. I have to grade K-12: letter grades for the younger grades and percentages in the higher grades and they all have to have individualized comments- minimum 5 sentences per student! It's time consuming beyond belief.
    I agree with you- many parents (and students for that matter) think Art should be all about simply trying (if they try), it's not a real class, it's not academic, etc, etc. It's the same mindset some high school kids have when they say 'I can do anything I want- it's Art”. But if we're expected by our schools to give grades, then we, as professionals, give them out honestly. Everyone nowadays expects A's (or 90's)for everything- for just showing up! Somewhere along the way, a 'B' turned into an 'F'… Some parents can be quick to complain as opposed to asking how they can help their kid improve. Last year at my school a high school teacher was reprimanded by admin that she was giving out too many low grades-like C's or something. She had to increase them all. They were honest grades but apparently kids self esteem can't handle it these days. They want the high grades but without the effort.


  8. I love what I heard a high school art teacher at one of our monthly meetings say in reply to a student's question. “Dude, why'd you give me a D?” Art Teacher said” Dude, I didn't GIVE you anything. You earned a D.”


  9. I'm a new teacher and I have issue with the fact that I'm grading K students with a 234 grade. Most of the kids don't have art stuff at home and can't sit down long enough to follow directions. The rest of the kids 1 thru 5 get % grading. I have 609 students it's so difficult to figure out what student did what. I just sent grades home and I actually had a parent who called and asked me if I knew that her son had a D in my class. I said yes I gave it to him. He refused to do the project. She called me a liar. Then she questioned my background and experience. Threatened me by telling me she was bringing her husband over there. I was bring it! I got 25 years of Army experience she didn't want none of this. I don't know how much longer I'm going to do this. I'm tired of being treated like I don't have a clue or a brain. I just want to teach kids art!!


  10. You're hilarious! Love your explaination of your grading scale 🙂 I think that should be posted in the office for all curious minds. I'm sure they'd love it.

    We grade on the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory “scale” right now. Beginning next year we will entering letter grades, starting with 3rd (I think). I'm dreading it. I am SO TERRIBLE at keeping up with everyone's stuff. I tried rubrics the first or second year I taught and discarded them halfway through. I'm sure I'd do better now, being slightly more experienced, but still… not excited about the extra work (especially considering our NC teachers haven't gotten a raise in, oh, 4 years?).


  11. Although rubrics are extra work, I use them for my students in grades 7-12 which also receive daily working points everyday (0 for wasting time, 1 working half time, 2 works entire period). It definitely requires me entering grades daily, but parents rarely question my grading system because the kids always know where they get their points on the rubric.

    My elementary kids, grades 1-6 are on an E/S/I/N grading scale, and I grade them primarily on meeting objectives, completing work and following directions in class. I use Artsonia for all elementary work, so it helps me to go back and see their work and whether or not they've met the objectives, etc. – so I don't have to keep up on daily grades for them which helps!

    It does suck that for how much work teachers (specifically in our field) put in, and rarely get recognized for all the hard work…and yes, we in SD are still the lowest paid teachers in the country…but I'm not bitter ;/


  12. Anonymous says:

    Dear Ms. Art Teacher Hates Glitter

    This is not a comment about grading, although it is worth mentioning your scale is spot-on, I more just wanted to write and say how much I appreciate your blog. I just had a 'trifecta' day, meaning a day in which I got pee, tears and blood occuring in my art room at some point during the day. These days are more common early first quarter, but, you know, its the early March and for us there's one week left before spring break; its the season of wild banshee children and it probably will stay this way until the end of May. It seems with the lengthening of days, children attain some sort of unstoppable squirrel energy with which they use to whittle away our sanity. Today I pleaded with a kindergardener to, “please, be logical, please.” and I had an argument with a 5th grader (which grew heated) about the meaning of the letters JFK .

    Uhg… its been a long day in long string of long days. I read your blog for hours tonite and felt lightened and encouraged by your every word. Thank you. It's wonderful to know other people are in the thick of it too.

    Ms. Would Never Make A Project with Macaroni Noodles if Her Life Depended on it


  13. Anonymous says:

    I had been grading on a 1-4 scale when I started teaching before that art did not give grades. It was not bad but most students and parents did not really get it. I usually had to relate it to ABCF or remind them 4-WOW 3-Good 2-OK 1-Not Good. A few years ago we switched to ESNU and giving grades in Content, Conduct, and Effort. They have been planning a switch to ABCD for 2 years but it has not happened yet and I hope it does not. The benefit of 1-4 and ESNU is that not as many parents flip out over a 3 or a S that flip over a B. I would rather stay with the ESNU. The ESNU is easy to use and easy to explain. If we have to switch I will have to rethink my grading.

    This is the chart we use to grade… Hope it is helpful.

    E – Shows mastery in performance and understanding of artistic concepts at or above grade level
    S – Successfully meets expectations and shows strong understanding of artistic concepts
    N – Inconsistently meets expectations and shows minimal understanding of artistic concepts
    U – Shows little or no understanding of artistic concepts
    E – Consistently demonstrates responsible behavior
    S – Usually demonstrates responsible behavior
    N – Occasionally needs teacher redirection for lack of responsible behavior
    U – Continually needs teacher redirection for lack of responsible behavior
    E – Continually puts forth energy and works with determination to master artistic concepts and demonstrate responsible behavior with little or no teacher encouragement
    S – Usually puts forth energy and attempts to master artistic concepts and demonstrate responsible behavior with very little teacher encouragement
    N – Occasionally attempts artistic concepts and demonstrate responsible behavior but often needs teacher encouragement
    U – Continually needs teacher encouragement to attempt artistic concepts and demonstrate responsible behavior


  14. We use OSNU as well. I don't love it, I don't hate it ('cause I know it could be worse). One thing that bugs me is that a kid who has, say, a 97%, is getting an 'O' for 'Outstanding' just like the kid who gets an 80%, as 'Outstanding' encompasses 80-100%! How does that make sense?


  15. We grade from PK-6, but how we do it is up to us. I grade on 4 different areas, including participation and effort, though it is all ESNU. When it comes down to PK and K, though, I have a really hard time with grading. I am more likely to give those students grades for getting there art done. It is frustrating that people don't think we have standards. Ridiculous.


  16. John N. says:

    I grade k-6 with 4-exceeds 3-meets 2-needs improvement towards and 1-does not even come close to meeting the standards. I also include a (+) or a (-) if that student is leaning up or down. I only comment on students who show improvement or have improved or students who are declined, in decline, or declining. I grade for “follows directions, works well with others, meets deadlines, and contributes positively to the flow of class”. These four make up my “subjective grade” that I keep handy in case a student is borderline. The “real” grade that I'm supposed to be “reporting” is dictated by our standards; I really couldn't tell you what they are off the top of my head, but they are four areas covering ability, safety, group socializing, and knowledge of terms and professions. I do not grade in all four areas for each marking period (of which we have three). In order to do all the lessons I want to do, I can not teach to the standards.

    Also, if a student is genuinely positive about art and does extra things, like bring me art from home or cookies, that goes into the subjective grading piece.


  17. As a corporate training developer I think this is pretty good–

    To create a grading system, you first have to formulate instructional objectives. These objective will represent what learning outcomes you desire your students to gain in class. These objectives can be written to include- attitudes, skills, understanding art composition concepts, cooperation with others, organisational skills and on and on. A set of grading measures that directly mirror these objectives then are formulated. Having learning objectives is important for political reasons too– to justify the existence of your Art programs. 🙂 Steve R


  18. In our district, we grade elementary students with P,B or M (proficient, basic, or minimal- which also sounds like bathroom words). I have to grade 1-2 grade on concept, creativity, participation and demonstrates respect. Grades 3-5 are kept on a live online grade book which parents can check and they are graded on concept, craftsmanship, creativity, participation and demonstrates respect. It ends up being a ton of grades that I have to do 3 times a year (we have trimesters for some reason…) My district now is trying to get us on board with the Common Core Standards (which are for literacy and math… WHY does the art department have to have inservice on this?) and they also want us (art educators, gym and music and library teachers too) to create a common assessment tool.

    What that means is all three elementary art teachers (at three schools) will have to be on the same page for what is a P, what is a B and what is a M for each assignment! Really?! Who are they kidding? My cohorts and I do not even teach the same lessons or units- that's the beauty of it! We all teach our own stuff so we have a variety… if we take that away and streamline everything I'm worried we will lose our creativity. It's so discouraging. I wish we didn't have to assess either…


  19. Anonymous says:

    I am at a new school once again this year. This is the first year I have been asked to align my grading with standards (which is currently only asked to be done by our gifted ed teachers). This is what I came up with…


    I was shocked that I only heard from a few 2nd grade parents regarding their child's lower writing portion of the grade. I was also shocked how poorly 2nd graders write (I have never assessed that until this year). This system is immensely time absorbing. I think everyone believes I should give 3's and really not grade a thing, but I have more integrity than that and this system is nearly impossible. I have already dumb'ed it down after 1 semester because I can't do 600 children's grades like this. This is the wave of the education future. Hold on tight.


  20. Pingback: ATHG Presents: 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions | Art Teachers Hate Glitter

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