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Fine ArtsIowa adopted statewide standards for Fine Arts covering the K-12 areas of dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts last November. It has been a long time coming and many fine arts teachers across our state are rejoicing. 

We know the arts promotes creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, global awareness, and self-discovery within our students. We thank the Iowa Department of Education for responding to the public request to adopt these standards and we are excited it has been approved by the State Board of Education.

Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards are the 2014 National Core Arts Standards (NCAS), with minor revisions in the strands of General Music and Theater. The standards unite the disciplines of Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theater, and Visual Art. For the first time, the fine arts disciplines share a common language and standards structure; all disciplines are now united by four artistic processes and eleven anchor standards. The artistic processes and anchor standards, serving as a foundation for all of the fine arts regardless of grade level or art form, are built on the bedrock of critical thinking, artistic literacy, and inquiry.

When I first heard about the NCAS Standards for Music, it was overwhelming. Change is often difficult and at first glance, these seemed so very complex. But I gave myself some time and then sought out professional development through various arts organizations. I gradually came to understand the beauty of these standards. They are amazingly inclusive, thorough, and rigorous, yet also allow teachers flexibility of curricular design.

A major focus of the new standards is the shift from emphasizing the artistic products to emphasizing the artistic processes a student actively engages in when studying the arts. The emphasis is a departure from “Did the student complete the task and complete it well?” to “What did the student learn from beginning to end of an artistic task?”  We know that, whether students are in an elementary art room or high school theatre classroom, fine arts students are constantly planning, revising, communicating, collaborating, refining, critiquing, and presenting; these vital skills are emphasized and clearly represented in our new standards, regardless of grade/proficiency level or fine arts discipline. 

I encourage you to access the Guidance for the Implementation of Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, written by the Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards Adoption Team who led the standards adoption process in our state, to gain an understanding of the connections across the arts to advocate and support the artistic learner. It gives succinct information of work at the national level done prior to state standards adoption, and tips on how to read, understand, and implement Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards. There are helpful links for assessment and guidance on using the standards for students with disabilities. Additionally, the document concludes with a discipline-specific section, which offers lenses through which to view each unique art form through the standards. Taking time to read it will give you a clear idea of the structure and nature of these standards.

I believe you’ll see that much of what you are already doing will line up nicely, yet you will also be motivated to make changes in order to boost critical thinking, emphasize inquiry, and elevate the artistic experience for your students. By aligning your teaching practice to Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards, you will ultimately enhance the artistic growth of your students by underscoring artistic processes rather than final performances or products.

One specific “A-ha!” moment I had while implementing these standards is the understanding that the four artistic processes (Creating, Responding, Connecting, and Performing/Presenting/Producing) are not meant to be equally implemented all the time. All four processes do not need to appear in each lesson or even each unit of study. The balance will be different for each artistic foci and we need to thoughtfully consider the balance unique to our specific art form and classrooms. The Model Cornerstone Assessments serve as a wonderful resource in showcasing how the processes and standards can work together in different ways in different units of study.

We know when students engage in artistic experiences, there is a unique sense of euphoria, connectedness, harmony and balance. These experiences help students imagine new possibilities. They add a much needed spark to academics and enhance student’s lifelong wellbeing. 

By 2020, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children. Mental illness is on the rise in Iowa and that one tool we can give our students is finding the comfort art can bring to their lives. The safety, beauty, belonging, and self expression art promotes could be one of the ways a student rides out the storms of depression, anxiety and just stress in general. 

The arts keep the joy and love of learning alive. Let’s promote these standards by starting discussions with our colleagues to improve student comprehension. With these standards, we can work together to promote statewide equitable access in quality artistic experiences for ALL students, regardless of race, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, or cultural heritage. We need to accept our students’ modes of self-expression and encourage their journeys through artistic endeavors. Together we are better and together we’ve adopted statewide standards for the arts that unite our disciplines under a common framework. We have created and will continue to create resources for understanding those standards.

What insights or questions do you have concerning Iowa’s Fine Arts Standards? I hope you found this blog helpful in some way and if you have specific questions or comments, I encourage you to post them here or contact me at

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