Arts Standards by Grade

Standards for the Performing and Visual Arts for Grades 9-12

What high school students should know and do in the arts


The standards in this section describe the cumulative skills and knowledge expected of students upon graduating high school. They presume that the students have achieved the standards specified for grades 5-8; they assume that the students will demonstrate higher levels of the expected skills and knowledge, will deal with increasingly complex art works, and will provide more sophisticated responses to works of art. Determining the curriculum and the specific instructional activities necessary to achieve the standards is the responsibility of states, local school districts, and individual teachers.

The standards establish "proficient" and "advanced" achievement standards for grades 9-12 in each discipline. The proficient level is intended for students who have completed courses of study involving relevant skills and knowledge in that discipline for one to two years beyond grade 8. The advanced level is intended for students who have completed courses of study involving relevant skills and knowledge in that discipline for three to four years beyond grade 8. Students at the advanced level are expected to achieve the standards established for the proficient as well as the advanced levels. Every student is expected to achieve the proficient level in at least one arts discipline by the time he or she graduates from high school.


High school students need to continue to dance and create dances in order to develop more highly their ability to communicate in a way that is different from the written or spoken word, or even from other visual or auditory symbol systems. They also need to respect their bodies and to understand that dance is the product of intentional and intelligent physical actions. Continued development of movement skills and creative and critical thinking skills in dance is important regardless of whether students intend a dance career.

Technical expertise and artistic expression are enhanced through reflective practice, study, and evaluation of their own work and that of others. Because dance involves abstract images, students can develop higher order thinking skills through perceiving, analyzing, and making discriminating judgments about dance. Education in dance, which has been an integral part of human history, is also important if students are to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective. Students examine the role and meaning of dance in diverse social, cultural, and historical contexts through a variety of dance forms. Experience with dance of many cultures helps students to understand the cultural lives of others.


The study of music contributes in important ways to the quality of every student's life. Every musical work is a product of its time and place, although some works transcend their original settings and continue to appeal to humans through their timeless and universal attraction. Through singing, playing instruments, and composing, students can express themselves creatively, while a knowledge of notation and performance traditions enables them to learn new music independently throughout their lives. Skills in analysis, evaluation, and synthesis are important because they enable students to recognize and pursue excellence in their musical experiences and to understand and enrich their environment. Because music is an integral part of human history, the ability to listen with understanding is essential if students are to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective. The adult life of every student is enriched by the skills, knowledge, and habits acquired in the study of music.

Every course in music, including performance courses, should provide instruction in creating, performing, listening to, and analyzing music, in addition to focusing on its specific subject matter.


In grades 9-12, students view and construct dramatic works as metaphorical visions of life that embrace connotative meanings, juxtaposition, ambiguity, and varied interpretations. By creating, performing, analyzing, and critiquing dramatic performances, they develop a deeper understanding of personal issues and a broader worldview that includes global issues. Since theatre in all its forms reflects and affects life, students should learn about representative dramatic texts and performances and the place of that work and those events in history. Classroom work becomes more formalized with the advanced students participating in theatre, film, television, and electronic media productions.

Visual Arts

In grades 9-12, students extend their study of the visual arts. They continue to use a wide range of subject matter, symbols, meaningful images, and visual expressions. They grow more sophisticated in their employment of the visual arts to reflect their feelings emotions and continue to expand their abilities to evaluate the merits of their efforts. These standards provide a framework for that study in a way that promotes the maturing students' thinking, working, communicating, reasoning, and investigating skills. The standards also provide for their growing familiarity with the ideas, concepts, issues, dilemmas, and knowledge important in the visual arts. As students gain this knowledge and these skills, they gain in their ability to apply knowledge and skills in the visual arts to their widening personal worlds.

The visual arts range from the folk arts, drawing, and painting, to sculpture and design, from architecture to film and video -- and any of these can be used to help students meet the educational goals embodied in these standards. For example, graphic design (or any other field within the visual arts) can be used as the basis for creative activity, historical and cultural investigations, or analysis throughout the standards. The visual arts involve varied tools, techniques, and processes all of which also provide opportunities for working toward the standards. It is the responsibility of practitioners to choose from among the array of possibilities offered by the visual arts to accomplish specific educational objectives in specific circumstances.

To meet the standards, students must learn vocabularies and concepts associated with various types of work in the visual arts. As they develop greater fluency in communicating in visual, oral, and written form, they must exhibit greater artistic competence through all of these avenues.

In grades 9-12, students develop deeper and more profound works of visual art that reflect the maturation of their creative and problem-solving skills. Students understand the multifaceted interplay of different media, styles, forms, techniques, and processes in the creation of their work.

Students develop increasing abilities to pose insightful questions about contexts, processes, and criteria for evaluation. They use these questions to examine works in light of various analytical methods and to express sophisticated ideas about visual relationships using precise terminology. They can evaluate artistic character and aesthetic qualities in works of art, nature, and human-made environments. They can reflect on the nature of human involvement in art as a viewer, creator, and participant.

Students understand the relationships among art forms and between their own work and that of others. They are able to relate understandings about the historical and cultural contexts of art to situations in contemporary life. They have a broad and in-depth understanding of the meaning and import of the visual world in which they live.

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National Core Arts Standards

National Core Arts Standards

The Standards found on this site reference the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. Arts learning standards were recently revised and published as the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org). The new standards outline a conceptual framework for arts learning for K-12 students in Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts. ARTSEDGE is working to include the new standards along with existing standards during the transition period.


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