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i3 Grantee Lessons: Studio in a School

Last year, Arts Achieve: Impacting Student Success in the Arts, won the distinction of being one of the forty-nine winners of the Investing in Innovation competition. Project applicant Studio in a School, along with project partners Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall, ArtsConnection, Inc., 92nd Street Y / Harkness Dance Center, Dance Education Laboratory, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and the New York City Department of Education, were the recipients of this $4.4 million, 5-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Reviewers that scored this grant application gave it high marks because they felt that creating high-quality student assessments in the arts would improve arts education experiences for students, create collaborative experiences for teachers and arts professionals, and would benefit students for years to come.

One of the reviewers of this application felt that high quality arts assessments are greatly needed in today’s schools, and the use of assessments can help the arts to remain a strong part of the curriculum. Another reviewer commented that the project was highly innovative because it 1) had a strong base of community support 2) utilized professional learning communities 3) connected to the new common core standards; and 4) incorporated the use of technology for disseminating units of study, assessments, PD materials, and toolkits.

After speaking with Thomas Cahill, President and CEO of Studio in a School, I learned how the proposal for Arts Achieve came to be.

NYC already had a strong arts education foundation over the last decade with a blueprint, standards-based programs, and broad support by community cultural/arts organizations. Studio in a School had previously been awarded an AEMDD grant to offer professional development around this curricular framework, which provided them with a track record and research-based evidence. New York’s strong system-wide environment in arts education was ripe for scaling up, and naturally led to the development of the i3 proposal.

Because standards-based curriculum was already in place, with benchmarks and performance indicators, a logical next step was to create assessments to measure students’ progress.  Studio in a School brought in all of the grant partners to write the i3 proposal. This ended up being a catalyst for these organizations to partner more closely (even before they knew they received the grant) on aligning the arts to the common core standards.

Each of the organizational partners, including the NYCDOE, agreed to donate staff time in-kind to meet the match requirement. They felt that this would show a strong commitment by each of the partners to the project. Because of this strategy, they were able to put in the application that the project already had the match in place.

After speaking with Thomas and comparing the reviewers’ comments from Studio in a School’s application, here is a summary of what made this such a competitive application:

1)    Prior experience and partnerships – Studio in a School already had experience doing this work and already had strong relationships with all of the cultural partners, the NYCDOE, and the evaluation company, Metis Associates, who all collaborated closely to write the proposal.
2)    Strong hypothesis –There currently aren’t any protocols for arts assessments, so this project provides innovation in the field, and increases student achievement in the arts.
3)    Sustainability – The creation of professional learning communities, the design of online tools and the dissemination of assessments both locally and nationally allows for this project to carry on beyond the life of the grant.
4)    Educational Trend – The field of education is in need of formative and summative, authentic, performance based student assessments.
5)    Data from previous projects – Studio in a School had already piloted a similar program and had demonstration school sites implementing curriculum and assessments. Scaling this up was the basis for the i3 grant.

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