Using Pre & Post Tests to Measure Student Growth in Art: Part 1

As art teachers, often we feel like square pegs forced into round holes. That is how I felt when I was required to show and use data in my teaching last year. Since then, I have turned what felt like an uncomfortable fit into a second-nature strategy in my classroom. You can too by starting with these stress-free steps…

You CAN Have a Data-Driven Art Room!

Start Small

Choose one class or one grade level, one lesson, and two or three easily assessable objectives. For example, I began with a landscape lesson in two fourth grade classes. I wanted students to understand and apply perspective and proportion.



Make a Simple Pre-Test

I had students use pencil on the back of the paper we would be painting on. I asked them to define landscape, perspective, and proportion. Then I had them draw a little landscape using perspective and proportion to create depth.


Collect and Chart Data

With so many students, this has to be quick and easy. Print off a class roster and add a column for each objective. Give a check in the column of each concept they’ve already mastered. Since this is a pre-test, the check marks will be few. Calculate the percentage of students who’ve mastered each concept.

Set a Realistic Goal and Tailor your Instruction

Only about 20% of my students created or defined landscape correctly on the pretest I gave. I wanted 80% of my students to be able to demonstrate their understanding. No one had any clue about perspective and proportion, so I knew that I really had to concentrate my instruction on those concepts.

In Part Two of The Data Driven Art Room, I’ll guide you through creating your post-assessment, and start a conversation about where we go from here.

Are there times you’ve struggled making something fit into your classroom or teaching?

Do you current use data from a Pre-Test to drive your instruction?

 What kinds of assessments are you giving already?

Sarah Dougherty


My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • Rebecca

    Thanks for the information! this makes it easy to apply assessments in the art room.

  • Mrs.C

    Thank you! Thank you! I am working on this now because I will need to show data next year! I can’t wait to read your next post!

    • This would be a great year to pilot some data collection with a few lessons or classes so that you find out what works for you. Glad we made the connection for you!

  • Art Teachers Hate Glitter

    Ugh. I’m dealing with this very thing this year. It’s been quite a struggle and very difficult for me to wrap my brain around it. I just don’t think like this, and it goes against everything I feel like art should be. That being said, you’re right, it is possible to be data-driven (can we pause for a moment to shudder over that phrase. I really shudder inside every time I hear it). I started with my 6th graders because they get a formal assessment in 6th grade now anyways, so I felt it would just fit better if I started there while I was working out the kinks. I tell you what, all this assessment stuff that is being pushed on us sure has changed the way I teach art. That’s not necessarily a good thing. In my opinion. Some cohorts are thrilled with the direction art ed is headed, but I’m stubborn (and admittedly, often lazy when it comes to paperwork and using my brain), so it’s taking me longer to get on board.

    • Glitter, you certainly aren’t alone. We just don’t naturally think in this way! And, art teaching doesn’t naturally fit into the assessment mold. I’m with you, if it is required of you, make it work with what you are already doing. Good luck!

    • Artzy One

      This Teacher Evaluation issue is in its 4th year in Virginia Beach Public Schools. The first year I was the ONLY art teacher in my city who had to find data from the ENTIRE school! This was an overwhelming task on top of all the other jazz that an art teacher has to do! Overall, the task is druling, however, it has helped me to see where my shortfalls are as a teacher. It’s too bad that the purpose of this task might be to benefit to show where cuts can be made in the city’s budget, but it will help in the long run for us personally as well.

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  • Kristina Brown

    Wonderful idea to use the back of the paper to do the pre-test instead of a separate sheet! I will definitely have to implement this idea!

  • Cindy

    Thank you for these great examples. I just finished a very rough trimester in which I used a long written test, a writing sample for an art critique, and a small drawing. I definitely need to somehow make this work more effectively. I am thinking of using a portfolio approach next. I will also probably use some pre-drawings and yours look like they would be just the thing. As for critique, I think I will limit it to a portfolio piece that they will be required to write about – maybe an artist’s statement or critique, not sure. It is a great help when teachers share, again thanks!! And Glitter, thanks for sharing….it is stressful to change the way we work.

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