NJ Student Learning Standards for Visual and Performing Arts Overhauled to Refine How Arts are Taught in Schools

WARREN, N.J. – The learning standards by which the arts are taught in the state of New Jersey are undergoing their biggest transformation in more than a decade.

The 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standard for Visual and Performing Arts (NJSLS-VPA), adopted by The New Jersey State Board of Education on June 3, outlines what students must be taught in the arts and sets the foundation upon which school districts craft instruction. They also capitalize on the unique ability of the arts to cultivate creative and critical thinking, social-emotional competencies, and intellectual and expressive abilities within students that enables them to become active, contributing members of a global society.

The review and revision of the NJSLS-VPA represent the culmination of a six-year process intent on completely overhauling the existing system. In the first phase, a series of focus groups were conducted along with an independent review of the 2014 NJSLS as compared to the National Core Arts Standards, which were first published in 2014. The focus groups were followed up by a writing team that created the first draft of the revised NJSLS for Visual and Performing Arts. A second writing team was convened in 2019, in anticipation of the need for periodic review of the standards, as dictated by administrative code. The approved standards reflect the combined efforts of both review and revision / standards writing teams. In each case, concerted efforts were made to broadly represent New Jersey, in all its diversity.

In this revision, Media Arts is now included as one of the five arts disciplines, joining Dance, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts. In addition, it includes a specialized approach to music instruction, providing standards for five subdisciplines of music: General Music (grades K–8), Guitar, Keyboard, and Harmonizing Instruments (grades 5-12), Traditional and Emerging Ensembles (grades 5–12), Composition and Theory (grades 9–12) and Music Technology (grades 9–12).

Also new to the NJSLS-VPA is the Arts Education and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Framework, which is designed to illuminate the intersection between arts education and social-emotional learning to allow for the intentional application of appropriate teaching and learning strategies, with the overarching goal of enhancing Arts Education.

But perhaps the greatest change in thinking by top educators is not in what is being taught, but rather in how, and organizing the arts around the core elements of the artistic process, namely:

  • Creating new artistic work reflective of a variety of different ethnic, racial, and cultural perspectives;
  • Performing, Presenting or Producing, as artistically literate individuals, by expressing and realizing creative ideas and implementing essential technical skills and cognitive abilities which are significant to many aspects of life and work in the 21st century;
  • Responding to artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and cognizance of the ability of the arts to address universal themes, including climate change;
  • Connecting and evaluating how the arts convey meaning through all arts and non-arts disciplines and contexts of our global society.

While the NJSLS-VPA acknowledge that each of the five artistic disciplines has independent skills, knowledge, and content, they also illuminate how the arts, as a field, are interdependent, connected, and inclusive. The NJSLS-VPA are designed to guide the delivery of arts education in the classroom with new ways of thinking, learning, and creating.

New Jersey is widely recognized as a national leader in arts education. In September 2019, Governor Phil Murphy announced that New Jersey reached a benchmark by becoming the first state in the nation to provide universal access to arts education for all public-school students. This is according to the 2019 New Jersey Arts Education Annual Summary Report released in September by Arts Ed NJ, a non-profit education organization. Statewide, nearly 1.1 million students engage in the arts in each year, representing more than 81% of all students in New Jersey—an all-time high.Adoption of the NJSLS-VPA keeps New Jersey at the forefront of arts education in the United States, ensuring that all students will have equitable access to a quality arts education that leads to artistic literacy and fluency.The New Jersey Department of Education calls for all school districts in the state of New Jersey to revise their Visual and Performing Arts curriculum, to be in alignment with the new standards by September 2021.

And not a moment too soon. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools nationwide to rethink how schools can effectively teach this fall, New Jersey will be able to put its flexible, new learning standards to the big test, effectively reshaping how arts are taught in the future, both in and out of the classroom.

“Now the exciting work begins: to shape arts education pedagogy in a manner that is more process oriented, and to help our fellow educators and school administrators come to understand teaching and learning through the artistic process in a deep and meaningful way,” said Dale Schmid, Visual & Performing Arts coordinator for the New Jersey Department of Education. “Now more than ever, a robust arts education provided by qualified arts educators is critically important for all students. Once we return to school in the fall, whatever that may look like, we can begin to offer opportunities for professional learning around the new standards. Additionally, we will now be able to illuminate the synergistic relationship between the arts and social emotional learning, and to bridge arts and learning across all disciplines.”

The new standards will be a key topic of discussion at Arts Ed Summit 2020, a virtual event to be held June 16-18 featuring presentations by leaders from the state’s top education associations, as well as social-emotional learning and discipline-based organizations.

“New Jersey continues to build its well-earned reputation as a national leader in arts education, by providing both the inspiration and infrastructure to ensure participation by all students.” said Robert Morrison, Director of Arts Ed NJ. “Bringing these new Visual and Performing Arts standards into practice will only serve to keep New Jersey at the front of the class.”

For more information about the 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standard for Visual and Performing Arts, visit the new interactive website at https://njartsstandards.org. For more information about the Arts Education & Social and Emotional (SEL) Framework, visit http://selarts.org.

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