New Jersey Department of Education

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New Jersey Student Learning Standards

Visual and Performing Arts

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are all K-12 students required to participate in a visual and performing arts program that addresses the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards?

Yes.  The New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) for the Visual and Performing Arts were first adopted by the State Board of Education in 1996 and revised and readopted in 2004 and 2009.  In order to meet these standards, all K-12 students must have regular sequential arts instruction in the four arts disciplines included in the standards of the following: dance, music, theater, and the visual arts.  You can view the NJSLS at:

2. What are the requirements for students in early childhood programs?

The “Preschool Learning Expectations: Standards of Quality” establish fundamental goals in the creative arts for children enrolled in early childhood programs.  The creative arts provide students with opportunities to experience music, dance, and art and to engage in storytelling and role play.  The expectations lay the foundation for the achievement of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in grades K-12. 

3. What are the requirements for elementary students?

At the K-5 level, students must participate in standards-based instruction in all four arts forms.  This means that students should engage in learning about dance, music, theater, and visual art, as well as performing and creating works in each discipline (e.g., instrumental music, performing in plays) with the expectation of achieving basic literacy in the arts.

4. What are the requirements for middle-level students?

In grades 6-8, students should gain greater depth of understanding in at least one of the arts disciplines.  Students must continue to have opportunities to create and perform, as determined by student choice, with the expectation that they achieve competency in their chosen discipline.  All four arts disciplines must be made available to middle-level students.

5. What are the requirements for high school students?

In grades 9-12, all students are expected to communicate at a basic level in the arts and demonstrate proficiency in at least one arts discipline. This specialization allows for student choice which means that all four arts disciplines must be made available to students.  All high school students must successfully complete five credits in at least one visual and performing arts course in order to receive a state-endorsed diploma.

6. Should students be assessed in the arts?  Should they be graded on their work?

N.J.A.C.6A:8-3.1(a)3 requires district boards of education to assess and publicly report on the progress of all students in developing the knowledge and skills specified by the New Jersey Student Learning Standards, including content areas not currently included in the statewide assessment program. In order to provide the local board of education with this information, the local curriculum should outline how student achievement of the standards will be assessed and how student progress will be reported to students and their parents.  The design of the assessment and the grading process is a local decision.

7. Should grades in visual and performing arts courses be used to calculate class rank and/or grade point average?

This is a local decision.

8. Can an elementary classroom teacher teach the visual and performing arts?

Yes. Elementary classroom teachers must possess either a P-3, K-5 or N-8 license.  These certifications permit the holder to teach any of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards subjects (including the four arts disciplines) as long as such instruction does not constitute more than one-half of the teacher's assignment.  This means that an elementary classroom teacher can teach any of the arts disciplines to students in his/her class.  It also means that a full-time elementary certified teacher can teach dance, music, theater, or visual art for one-half of his/her assignment.  It does not mean that an elementary certified teacher can be hired to teach music, art, theater, or dance as a half-time or part-time teacher.  For more information go to Professional Licensure and Standards:


9. Who is authorized to teach the visual and performing arts in grades 6-12?

N.J.A.C. 6A:9-9.2 establishes the following authorizations and endorsements for the visual and performing arts:

  • Art: This endorsement authorizes the holder to teach art in all public schools with the exception of approved vocational programs.
  • Dance: This endorsement authorizes the holder to teach dance in all public schools with the exception of approved vocational programs.
  • Music: This endorsement authorizes the holder to teach vocal and instrumental music and related theory in all public schools.
  • Speech Arts and Dramatics: This endorsement authorizes the holder to teach speech arts and dramatics in all public schools with the exception of approved vocational programs.
  • Theater: This endorsement authorizes the holder to teach theater in all public schools with the exception of approved vocational programs.
  • Arts, Audio/Video Technology and Communications Career Cluster Endorsements: These endorsements authorize the holder to teach groups within the career cluster in all public schools in preparation for occupations related to the designing, producing, exhibiting, performing, writing and publishing multimedia content, including the visual and performing arts.  Authorization is limited to the teachers’ state-approved occupational experience or degree.  Vocational / visual and performing arts endorsements include: Vocational Arts/Dance (#4068); Vocational Arts/Theater (#4108); Vocational Arts/Vocal Music (#4111); Vocational Arts/Instrumental Music (#4109); and Vocational Arts/Electronic Music (#4189).

10. Can a teacher certified in English teach theater courses for arts credits at the middle and high school levels?

No, English teachers cannot teach theater courses for arts credits.  English teachers may use the literature of the theater within the context of language arts literacy instruction.

11. Can a teacher certified in physical education teach dance for arts credit at the middle and high school levels?

While dance may be easily incorporated into the elementary physical education curriculum, the arts standards at the secondary level require a higher level of dance instruction that does not align to the physical education standards.  At the secondary level, the dance standards require more sophisticated understanding of dance forms, as well as the ability to teach choreography.  Without additional training, physical educators do not have sufficient dance training to help students meet these standards.  Secondary teachers of dance must hold the appropriate New Jersey endorsement and are required to demonstrate highly qualified status in dance.

12. How many credits in the visual and performing arts does a student need to graduate? What courses count?

Beginning with the 2004-2005 grade nine class, every student must successfully complete at least five credits in dance, theater, music or visual art.  The department does not approve courses to meet any of the graduation requirements.  However, districts should ensure that courses are clearly aligned to the visual and performing arts standards and are taught by an appropriately credentialed teacher.  For example, a course entitled “Acting for the Camera” would most likely fulfill the arts requirements, while a course in television production would not.

13. Can credits be counted towards multiple graduation requirements?

Credits for courses are based on seat time as defined in N.J.A.C. 6A:8.  A credit is defined as a course meeting a minimum of 40 minutes per day, five days a week; therefore, a year-long course that meets five days a week is equal to five credits.   In a seat-time system, a district cannot award credit for more than one course using the same “time”. If the course is interdisciplinary, the credit can be split.  For example, a student taking a five-credit course in musical theater could receive 2.5 credits in music and 2.5 credits in theater; however, the student could not receive five credits in each based on seat time.

14. If a student participates in visual and performing arts activities outside the school, can the child be excused from in-school arts education?

Option Two (sometimes called Plan B or program completion) is available to high school students.  Option Two permits a local board of education to approve alternative activities e.g., participation in a dance company, community theater to achieve the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.  For more information on Option Two, please go to:  Option Two only applies to high school students.  Administrative code does not provide regulations or guidance on similar options for elementary and middle school students.  Local boards of education that wish to pursue this option for elementary and middle school students should consult with their board attorney.

15. Can dance be used as a substitute for physical education?

No. The dance standards are very specific and require a high level of dance execution.  Therefore, they are not easily aligned with the physical education standards.  For example, a standards-based physical education program may utilize dance forms as part of instruction, but its focus is on fitness and wellness, while a dance class may address various dance techniques and styles.  While there are some common elements, it is unlikely that the curricular objectives will align sufficiently.  Courses in dance should be used to achieve arts credits.  Activities such as Tae-Bo and aerobics should be used to achieve the physical education standards.  Furthermore, in grades 6-12, teachers must be considered content specialists and be certified to teach health and physical education. Similarly, teachers who hold a K-12 physical education license may only teach PE. A certified elementary school teacher in grades kindergarten through five can teach any of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards subjects, including health and physical education or dance, as long as the courses do not exceed half of their teaching load.

16. I do not have the physical space to offer a dance class.  How am I supposed to do that?

In some instances, safe spaces such as a stage with wooden floors or a gymnasium with resilient floors may have to be shared in order to accommodate instruction.  Schools may need to use specialized dance floors (padded or unpadded marly surfaces) to reduce the chance of impact and/or torsion injuries or falls due to slippery surfaces.  Dance floors should be properly maintained and periodically treated with disinfectants to prevent infections.  In all cases, safety is the predominant concern.  If a classroom must be used, it should be as obstruction free as possible.  Dancing on concrete or hard outdoor surfaces is not recommended.

17. Do I need to be certified in theater to direct school plays?

No, as long as the play is offered as an extracurricular activity and students do not receive arts credit for participation.  However, if the play is part of a theater course, then the director must hold the appropriate teaching license and be highly qualified in theater.

18. Can a creative writing class be used for visual and performing arts credit?

If the course is taught as part of the English/language arts literacy curriculum and is taught by an English teacher, then the course would not be eligible for arts credit.  However, if the course is in playwriting and is taught by a theater-certified instructor, then the course can count.

19. Can courses in photography, graphic arts, costume design, or jewelry-making be used for arts credit?  

The New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) define the visual and performing arts as dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts. Courses such as photography, graphic arts, costume design, or jewelry-making may fulfill the graduation requirement if they are aligned to the cumulative progress indicators articulated in the NJSLS for the Visual & Performing Arts. The course must be taught from an aesthetic foundation as a function of creating art versus technical production. Teachers must be certified in the specific arts domains for which they are delivering instruction.  All three of the above conditions must be met in order for the course to receive arts credit.