Making SLO’s in the Art Room Manageable

If you implemented a growth goal this year only to find the outcome wasn’t what you expected, perhaps you didn’t choose the right type of content to measure. One of the most important and tough decisions you will make when writing a Student Growth Goal (or Student Learning Objective, depending on where you teach), is deciding WHAT to measure. The good news is, you can try again next year, as you refine the growth process. Today I’ll share some ways you can think about developing a SLO that works for you. Be sure to check out our follow-up SLO article right here, which has some concrete samples for you to look at.


Here are a few things to ponder when choosing a topic for your SLO.


1. You could assess everything.

For example, you could give a pre and post test on ALL of the concepts taught in a 9 week period in 7th grade. While this is a noble goal, I advise teachers to get more specific to keep things manageable.

2. You could assess based upon need. 

A truly authentic growth goal should be based on pre-test data showing something students NEED to work on. The ‘area of need’ can be determined by data from the previous year’s assessments or pretest data. In the pilot stages, you may not have data from the previous year or pre-test data to work from.

3. You could go broad.

I think the BEST and most ideal growth goal is a broad one, such as “Students will show growth in their use of the Elements and Principles of Design in 8th Grade Art.”  However, it becomes difficult to come up with rubrics and a way to track data for a large number of students. Starting with something more specific might be helpful for a pilot round. Remember, many art teachers are just getting comfortable using data AT ALL, let alone choosing the most complex and performance-based method of tracking.

4. You could choose something specific.

An example of a specific SLO is, “Students will demonstrate 10 different values on a ‘value scale’ through drawing.” 
You would track growth based on a series of drawings and exercises using the exact same rubric each time. Students could move from 1-10 using a value checker on each project. A student may start out by using only 4 values, and after several projects, may grow to include 9/10. You would create a tiered rubric as students move up the mastery scale of values

5. But you WON’T want to be too specific!

You would not want to choose something like ‘knowing the primary colors’ for your growth area, because a goal like this is too specific. Students have no room for growth if they already know the primary colors. Even if they know 2 out of 3 colors, the growth to reach 3/3 will be very little. I do think it’s important to boil down what you feel are some of the most important concepts (broad or specific) you teach in a given year to help you zero in on writing a good SLO.

Still having trouble determining what to write your SLO on?

Ask yourself…

What is an art concept I teach that is SO important, I would be embarrassed if my students walked out of the classroom and didn’t know it?

The secret to finding the perfect topic for your SLO is to choose something you care about. When you first became an art teacher, what were some of the basic things you hoped you could teach students in art?  The more meaningful your goal is, the less grueling the data collection process will be.

In fact, this reflective question helped one of the participants in AOE’s Showing Student Growth in Art Online Class determine her growth goal for next year already….and she’s created all the assessments to go with it, too!. It feels so good to be ahead of the game AND be a reflective teacher.

Remember to keep reading today for some specific examples to help get you started!

What content did you assess for a growth goal this year?

Were you happy with your choices? What will you change for next year? 

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Lee

    Thank you. I struggle with this since in my building I am the only art teacher and our data collection is done on line through test….my discusses with those in authority has always been anyone can learn terminology, but can they apply it!

    • Brenda Buckingham-Ehrmann

      As a parent, I am often frustrated by the amount of time we spend assessing knowledge and how little time we give students to authentically apply their knowledge to solve or resolve anything. The real value of knowledge is what you can do with it— producing art synthesizes learning and knowledge across the curriculum – it seems a shame to try to lower art to a knowledge based class.

  • Carol M Haggerty

    This made sense! I’ve been struggling with finding the relevance to all this measuring.

  • John Post

    I am not a fan of all of this measuring and data taking in the art room. I don’t go to a concert or museum and then try to rate the experience on paper to turn it into data.

    If I am teaching a lesson about Claude Monet and impressionist brushstrokes I can assess whether the kids understand what the term brushstroke means when I walk around the room and look at their work. If they use short strokes of cool colors for the water, I know they understand the concept. If we paint the sky in warm colors and use a wet into wet blending technique, I can critique that by walking around the room too.

    Just because you can collect data on something doesn’t mean you should. I could collect the data on how many traffic lights I come across that are green on my way to work, but why would I want to? I do not feel that collecting data on my students will make me a better teacher.

    I think the best teachers are masters of the craft. If you teach art, you should be actively engaged in making your own art. Being an artist gives you a unique perspective into the process of making art. If I could choose between studying with a master (at any craft) or learning to do something by meeting a list of objectives, I would choose to study with the master.

    The problem with education today is that legislators and administrators are trying to reduce the process down to a set of objectives that can be counted and collected and put in neat little binders to sit in the office. Real learning is messy, complicated, jumps in leaps and bounds along with successes and failures.

    • Thanks, John! It’s sure a complicated issue. The hardest thing for art teachers today, is the demands are right in front of them. Many don’t have a choice, even if we don’t necessarily agree with it. Given the parameters at hand, how can we show growth in the most meaningful way possible for our teaching and satisfy the requirements? This is my goal in helping art educations find this balance. It sounds like you are doing some excellent formative assessment in your art room, too. I do think assessment can help us become better teachers, IF the assessment authentically fits what we are teaching in the art room.

      • John Post

        Hi Jessica,
        This may be the rebel in me speaking, but I think the one-size-fits-all let’s assess everything rubric model doesn’t apply well in the arts. I can’t remember any of my class grades from college, but the one-on-one critiques of my art work by my professors feel like they just happened yesterday.

        I think we need to educate up – school boards, curriculum committees, state curriculum boards etc. that assessment in the arts can and should take another form. Maybe all of the rubrics and assessments make some art educators feel like they are more like the general classroom teachers and thus more genuinely teachers, but for me, it’s just a burdensome layer of paperwork that isn’t necessary.

        At a conference with the potter Robert Piepenberg he said “Art is not so much taught as it is caught.” When my students make really good art, it’s usually because more of their own personality is in it. They bring something to the work that I could not have predicted they would bring. The trick with lesson designing is to leave enough room for student directed choices to be made. If art is reduced to a set of collectable data points, then there is no need for artists to teach it – the whole thing could be taught by anyone who could read and follow the directions in a shake and bake lesson plan…

        • Stephanie Spencer

          I used to feel the same way. We are ‘ART’ – we are not like everyone else. The problem with that thinking is that it doesn’t work for people who do not understand the world of art education (read: administration, law makers, etc.). We as art teachers must be able to find a way to not only continue to inspire individuality and personal creativity, but to justly measure and assess the learning of our students. We owe it to ourselves and our students to be able to explain, justify, and share what is learned, how well it is learned, and how much growth has taken place.

          When I was a high school student, my art teacher would write a grade on the back of my work in pencil. If I was lucky, I received a comment on what was ‘good’ vs. bad. It didn’t matter how much effort I put into the piece or how I much I had learned about the concepts; the only thing that seemed to matter was the overall aesthetic quality. Now after 15 years of teaching, I feel I would do a disservice to my students to grade that way. I always use a rubric to grade my students work, and try to create relevant SLO’s in order to demonstrate the strength and importance of what I teach. Grading without a rubric sends us back to the old “art is pretty” thought process which feeds the idea that ‘art is fluff’ and not essential to the overall education of our students.

          • John Post

            How did Leonardo and Monet every get any art made without rubrics? ;) Art has been made for centuries without all of the paperwork that American schools generate now. How did they do it? …and why do we think paperwork is the only answer?

          • John Post

            I was thinking about what Claude Monet’s rubric might look like…
            colors too blurry
            makes everything look sketchy
            does not finish paintings
            too brushstrokey
            keeps painting the same subject over and over

    • Dawn Kruger

      Thanks for making this point. Being able to define an art concept is a far leap from putting it into use. While I understand the need to track student progress, what we can measure on a test seems such a small portion of what students learn in our classrooms. It needs to be balanced with the informal evaluation that happens every time we address students’ needs or give feedback.
      I like to think of learning as a climbing wall. The more holds we can give students across all disciplines, the higher they will climb.

      • John Post

        I think that the things we are required to do as educators fall into two categories. Walls or ladders. Walls are the things that get in the way of teaching/learning. Ladders are the things that help us to teach and learn.

        So far the left-brain measure everything group has not convinced me they have much to offer the right brain process of making art. They like to make walls.

        Musicians practice and then are assessed on how well they play. That seems a better model to strive for than to create art (practice) and take a written test (play?). Why teach/learn one way and then practice another?

        I’ve been teaching art for twenty years and my role models are all artists who happen to also be great teachers. The more that you try to force left-brain assessments onto a right-brain creative endeavor, the more you make art like the rest of school – and how do most kids feel about the rest of school?

        • Walls and Ladders – I like the way you’ve put this!

        • kim

          I love the way you explained this walls and ladders! I have been stressing so much this year with all the data, constructed responses and ‘walls’ that I hate what I am doing and the students are also complaining that it is too much like literacy why can’t they just paint?? I don’t even get to choose the assessments used for my SLO my district has told me I have to use a written assessment and also informational text as opposed to actually using a project. This is the ‘wall’ I am trying to climb now.

  • Karen Culbreth

    I used the concept of showing space in a landscape with my fourth grade classes for my SLO> They drew a scene from a story I created based on our local area that described different landscape scenes, graded on the same rubric as their final landscapes. Throughout the year we have explored all the various techniques of showing space in art. They are just finishing their landscapes showing overlap. size differentiation, object placement and the 3 “grounds” They are coming out great!

    • Karen,
      This is another excellent example of a manageable and authentic growth goal!

  • Cynthia Gaub

    Currently, our teacher evaluation system requires us to track one group of students, not all. So this year I focused on my 8th graders since they also have a state assessment in art. The focus is on value and proportions. Overall, I feel like we were very successful and the kids were super proud of their own progress. For them to see and value the growth is the best way to track and share data.
    You can see some of my reflections and results here:

  • Anon

    All this talk about “showing progress” in artwork is ridiculous. Look at Picasso– he began by drawing & painting realistic subjects, then progressed/regressed to a childlike style. If we try to apply this rubric concept to actual artists, the absurdity is immediately apparent. Following the rules and making your artwork conform to a rubric does not mean you have made worthwhile artwork. What makes an artist memorable is the fact that he/she broke the rules of “good art” of their time, and did something creative and new. It drives me nuts to see on PInterest posters hanging in art rooms showing the “right” and “wrong” way to make art– for example, how to color neatly in the lines, so the students can show improvement and their teacher can look effective. It’s so far from what art really is– personal, creative self-expression that often breaks the rules. I will do this SLO stuff because I have to, but aside from the art pre- and post-tests, my students will be free to express their own ideas about what their art should or should not be without worrying that they did it “wrong.”

    • kathleen

      AMEN Anon!!! Real Artists don’t use rubrics and data!!!!! and real art teachers shouldn’t have to waste time creating and collecting this data because it’s the latest educational fad. Career focus is the next big thing,and professional artists use portfolios not pre- and post test.

    • Anon

      And yet I see many student coming out of “self expression” classrooms having learned absolutely no technique. Those students never go on to succeed as artists.

      The opposite extreme is NOT the way to go.

  • Laurel

    A question – I have always done project/skill rubrics in the past but my program has been cut so far back that I only see students (K-5) 40 minutes classes 12 times each semester. any thoughts on how to make the SLO’s realistic when I feel that my actual time with a student is so limited.

  • distance education

    I am not fun .Thanks for making this point. Being able to define an art concept is a far leap from putting it into use. While I understand the need to track student progress, what we can measure on a test seems such a small portion of what students learn in our classrooms. basically we have to all courses regarding Art, management , engineering etc..

  • Kelly Betz

    We just finished up our first year of SLO fun and one tip I used was putting together a graph of the data you collected. We are visual people and this really helped to show my principal the data from pre-assessment of knowledge, practicing and development of understanding to the final project usage. My principal is a former math teacher so I played to his abilities and what he understand most. Plus allowed for one upload of artifact if needed.

    • Leslie Hayes Booth

      Hi Kelly, Do you have any images of said visual SLO fun? I am so overwhelmed with this!

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