@noelle As someone whose teaching career started before NCLB, I assure you that memorization based testing has never been unpopular among the vast majority of curriculum writers. It's easier to assess, so it's used as a go-to.
@noelle That's the rise of PBL (Project Based Learning) you're seeing. Art teachers have been doing that for ages, but it's finally catching on.
Downside is that education as a whole is a lumbering dinosaur, and many of the "reformers" exist to make it worse, not better, so movement in any direction is painful.