A Publication of WTVP

The new Illinois Arts Learning Standards are ready for implementation.

What is ESSA… and what does it have to do with arts education? The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in December 2015 in a landslide vote: 85-to-12 in the U.S. Senate, and 359-to-64 in the House of Representatives. The new federal law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, included the arts as subjects eligible for Title 1 funds and other federal resources—encompassing rigorous, standards-based, K-12 arts instruction in the classroom, as well as participation in community-based arts programs.

State and local governments were responsible for developing the curriculum and assessment measures to meet its requirements. With that charge, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) began an arduous, comprehensive effort to gather input from educators and arts organizations across the state in order to develop the new Illinois Arts Learning Standards.

Arts Alliance Illinois (AAI) helped coordinate the effort and hosted an interactive website to gather and share ideas compiled over an 18-month period. Nearly three dozen meetings of individuals, organizations, foundations and arts education leaders were held to discuss the standards and design of the K-12 curricula, including activities, community engagement and assessments.

Why is arts education so important?
The importance of arts education, as so eloquently expressed by the Illinois Arts Learning Standards Initiative:

The arts are essential to a complete and competitive education for all Illinois students. Students today live in a world characterized by rapid advances in technology, the potential to collaborate on an unprecedented scale, and an abundance of information. The arts equip students intellectually, emotionally and socially to thrive in this ever-changing environment.

Through the arts, students acquire 21st-century learning skills such as critical thinking. They explore a variety of symbolic codes and mediums, synthesize knowledge from subject areas as diverse as mathematics and social science, and devise innovative solutions to problems. They access new ways of thinking and learning to consider, evaluate and value multiple viewpoints.

Arts education prepares students for success in college and career. It increases test scores across subject areas and results in higher levels of literacy. More than 70 percent of companies rate creativity as a primary concern when hiring, yet 85 percent of these companies cannot find the creative workers they seek.

Arts education also helps close the achievement gap. Low-income high school students who have arts-rich experiences in high school are more than three times as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree. They are also more likely to obtain promising employment, volunteer in their communities and vote.

The arts promote self-discipline and self-confidence, while at the same time they teach students how to empathize with others and communicate effectively. …

Perhaps most importantly, the arts have shaped every culture. Artists produce the images, plays, dances, stories and music that make communities unique. The arts prepare students to live in our diverse, global society by exposing them to other cultures and to their own cultural heritage. Through the arts, students also create meaning in their lives and in the lives of others.

How to determine success?
Defining quality learning requires quality assessment. While the new Illinois Arts Learning Standards broadly identify the knowledge and skills that students should acquire, the curricula and assessments are left to local school districts and communities, individual schools, departments and teachers, who are in the best position to determine this content. Flexibility was the key as the standards were crafted.

According to the Illinois Arts Learning Standards Initiative, quality arts assessments should:

The five arts disciplines covered by the Standards include dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts. The new Standards will be in effect for the 2018-2019 school year.

What can we do to support arts education?
On the local level, individuals and organizations can engage and encourage art education in many different ways. Encourage and support museum and gallery visits; arrange for visits to artists’ studios and public exhibits; take students to professional performances of plays, music and dance. Encourage them to pursue their art; make sure they participate in the Congressional Art Competitions, audition for the Central Illinois Youth Symphony or dance with the ballet companies.

Take the students on a fun (and free) Saturday tour of Sculpture Walk Peoria to learn more about the artists, how they made the pieces, and what’s outside in the Peoria Riverfront Museum’s sculpture garden. Go to IGNITE Peoria at the Peoria Civic Center on August 12th and make art with the groups showcased by ArtsPartners.

Throughout the nation, the fine arts have been affirmed as essential to discovering more about history, math, technology, the sciences and our culture. These subjects are not separate from each other, but part of what makes us who we are: a society that seeks knowledge of all kinds, applies critical thinking and analysis to the problems we face, and forms ideas and decisions with varied and deeply understood perspectives of what makes us whole. iBi

Duffy Armstrong Farrell is a former board member of Arts Alliance Illinois and past board president of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. To learn more about the new Illinois Arts Learning Standards, visit