Common Core State Standards and Arts Education


The Common Core State Standards are a state-led and -driven education initiative written by teacher consultants from each state to help teachers ensure their students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful by providing clear goals for student learning. They are “designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy” (

The Common Core State Standards, now adopted by 45 states and three territories, are designed to help students reach success in postsecondary education and the workforce. Common standards open conversations between schools and states, encouraging the opportunity to share experiences and best practices to meet 21st Century student needs.

Although the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initially addressed standards in English Language Arts and Math Practice, standards for Arts Education are currently being drafted and will go into effect in December, 2012. State testing will also become common among states, and even the SAT will be realigned to reflect standards set and achieved in the CCSS (

Rather than provide a specific program or curriculum, Common Core State Standards help teachers determine the knowledge and skills their students should have and assist teachers in building the best learning environments for their classrooms.

New standards in the arts have been developed by groups of arts education teachers working to develop common skills and performance standards for students of all ages and levels. The standards will extend from early childhood/pre-kindergarten through level 14. Its focus on big ideas and enduring understandings will help teachers focus their work while embedding 21st century skills into the performing arts classroom.


Standards assist teachers in scaffolding a common body of K-8 skills, assisting with grade-by-grade maps based on most current research and using student work as anchor benchmarks. Specifically, the standards will promote an aesthetic, non-verbal value of the arts, while promoting the mastery of skills with a solid knowledge base, and a framework for each grade level. The New Standards for Arts Education set arts education on equal footing with other content areas, intentionally teaching the arts as a composite of history and culture. They also address strategies for the cognitive, emotional and social needs of all learners.

Dr. Richard Baker of the Louisiana State Department of Education serves on the writing team for the National Standards for Arts Education. He comments that the standards are an “...effort to re-envision arts standards that will embrace 21st century technology to help classroom educators better implement and assess standard-based arts instruction.”

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards considered several specific questions when designing the new standards:

  • What are global trends in arts education?
  • To what extent do the current standards align with 21st century skills?
  • What are the current expectations or guidelines for what students need to KNOW and be able to DO at the college level?
  • Which best practices address developmental needs at different grade levels?

Impacts on music education will affect both teachers and learners. The new standards will increase memorization and recitation skills, while ensuring students learn through using the latest technology options for arts education. The standards create opportunities for teacher support and collaboration, and intentionally incorporate the arts into core classes at every grade level.

Several sample activities are listed below. These excerpts from a variety of grade levels show the diversity and depth of skills and knowledge required by the Common Core State Standards in the arts:

  • Sample One: Listen to Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” as a class. Discuss how the ideas of “theme and variations” are expressed through music.
  • Sample Two: Listen to music from the Renaissance. How much does this music reflect the time period in which it was written? How is it similar to and different from music you listen to today?
  • Sample Three: Each movement of “The Planets” by Gustav Holst is named after a planet of the solar system. All planets except Earth are represented. Discuss what makes the music for each planet unique. Compare the music to the physical, environmental features of each planet. In what ways does Holst’s music make it easier to understand the science of the planet?
  • Sample Four: Play excerpts from Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” and lead the class in a discussion on whether this rendering of an epic in another medium is or is not “faithful” to the original.

Simply put, the Common Core State Standards require teachers to be intentional about student learning, identifying what students should know and be able to do at all grade levels. The standards combine knowledge with practical ability and will ask students to demonstrate knowledge with discussion, comparisons, and connections.

Students will be required to utilize technology and educational software to learn, research, and show proficiency at each level. As teachers, becoming familiar with simple recording equipment, digital instruments, and basic mixing software can help ease the transition into the application of the new standards.

As the new standards are finalized this summer and implementation begins in early 2013, Roland will continue to partner with educators, linking teachers to curriculum maps, lesson ideas, and roadmaps to navigate implementation of 21st Century Skills with current in-class curriculum.

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