A Grading Rubric for Art in Higher Education

Encourage students to assess each other's artwork with group critiques.
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In a discipline as subjective as art, where the attractiveness of an artwork’s aesthetic is often a matter of opinion, developing a grading rubric can be a challenge. When the outcome of an art assignment varies based on the talent and creativity of a student, the assessment tools need to focus instead on effort, understanding of the mediums, demonstration of techniques and the comprehension of design elements, principles and terminology. Since students in higher education fine arts programs are admitted based on talent and creativity exhibited in their portfolios, grading rubrics can evaluate talent and creativity in terms of growth and development.

Establish the visual arts evaluations standards that students will be expected to achieve at the beginning of the semester. Give each student a copy of the visual arts evaluation standards handout and have each one sign a contract acknowledging the standards. These standards should include assessment levels that evaluate technical ability, work habits, creativity and application of techniques.

Assemble a portfolio of artwork samples for each student throughout the semester. Periodically evaluate each artist's growing body of work to ensure that all the students are appropriately developing their talents and expanding their creativity. Note any students whose work appears to be stagnating and address their progression issues on a case-by-case basis.

Track each student’s completion of art assignments using a standard grade book or computer-based grading software. Avoid handing out letter grades to individual works of art, which can be interpreted as “subjective,” in favor of a point-based system that scores artwork based on category standards such as exceptional, satisfactory, needs improvement and incomplete. Assign three points to each exceptional work, two points to satisfactory work, one point to work that's unsatisfactory and no points to incomplete work. Keep track of the points earned for each assignment completed by the students, determining the institution-required semester's-end letter grades based off the points earned averaged into the points possible to earn on all assignments collectively.

Collect a self-assessment form with every art assignment students hand in. The self-assessment forms should require students to evaluate their own artwork with short essays that cover the various techniques the students used in creating the artwork using appropriate terminology accurately, such as symbolism, the elements of art or the principles of design.

Organize group critique sessions during which students verbally evaluate the accomplishments of one another. Ask all students to discuss their classmates’ work based on the group critique standards handout, which should include information on how to offer constructive criticism.

Schedule several written terminology tests throughout the semester that evaluate each student’s understanding of art principles, techniques, elements and terminology definitions. These tests may be in the form of short answer essays or multiple-choice tests.

  • Because art is a subjective discipline, students who receive lower scores due to a lack of effort or growth failure may be tempted to protest their grades. Establishing the evaluation standards and asking students to acknowledge those standards by signing a contract at the start of a semester increases student accountability for performance and reduces the chance of grade objections.
  • One of the easiest ways to track student progress is by requiring them to keep an art journal. Each week they must complete journal assignments to demonstrate their continued growth and effort outside of class, such as small drawings, paintings, or sketches of potential sculpting projects. Art journals allow for ongoing evaluation grades to be accumulated during those periods when students are spending weeks working on one larger project.

A former art instructor, high school counselor and party planner, Christine Bartsch writes fashion, travel, interior design, education and entertainment content. Bartsch earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communications/psychology/fine arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a creative writing Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University. She's written scripts for film/television productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.