By now, most music teachers are familiar with and using some form of assessment in their classrooms. Directors of performing ensembles give periodic playing or singings tests and quizzes, and may also administer written tasks to assess knowledge of music reading and analysis. General music teachers have become accustomed to collecting written student work, and using a variety of performance assessments in the classroom. Today I would like to describe an assessment procedure that has at least made a dent in my most pressing difficulty with assessment: finding the time to assess 400 students who have music class one day a week for forty-five minutes.
Finding a way to assess large numbers of students efficiently and accurately in a reasonable amount of time has been challenging for me and I suspect for many music teachers. Giving paper and pencil assessments is an easy solution, but insufficient for music. While I do assess knowledge and understanding with written tasks, I must also assess singing and playing. This is where the time issue comes in. Hearing every student individually is time consuming, but unless I do this at least three times a year, I have no way of knowing how my students are doing individually. With this in mind, I make an audio recording of each student performing a short song three times a year: once at the beginning of the year after I have taught the song. Because I teach the song first, it is not a pre-test, but the assessment of each recorded performance does provide me with a baseline against which to measure growth on the remaining two assessments. I listen to each recording and score them on a rubric, and the students fill out a self-assessment immediately after they make their recording. It is important to teach students to self-assess accurately. I look for agreement between each student’s self-assessment and my assessment of that student. The second recording is made mid-year, sometime in January after winter concerts are completed. The students record themselves performing the same song, so the two recordings can be compared for growth. The third recording is made in June, close to the end of the school year.
In between these three major assessments, I have an in-class procedure that helps me gather other information about my students’ performance in class. I give each student a piece of blank paper and have them write their name and the date at the top. I tell the students what I am assessing that day, and that I will go around the room stopping to listen to them sing, and then put numbers on their paper. The numbers will be rubric scores for the single item I am assessing. For example, if I am assessing accuracy of pitch while singing, I might assess on a scale of 1-4 how frequently they sang the right note over a ten-second time interval. The entire class is singing, as they would anyway, but I am standing next to individual students listening to one at a time. I can assess an entire class this way over the course of a class period. This data is more informal than the recorded assessments, but it gives me a sense of how students are singing in a group, and to what extent students are participating when everyone is singing. It also gives me the opportunity to encourage shy or reluctant singers, who will sing for the assessment, but not always otherwise. A high score and word of praise often results in students improving both their singing and their participation that day and in future classes. I target the object of my assessment on whatever I have identified in the class objective. Some days I assess steady tempo, or use of singing voice. I don’t try to assess more than one thing at a time so the students can stay focused on one element, and so I can be sure to assess every student in one class period. When the marking term is over, I have a good amount of data to accurately assign music grades based on documented achievement and effort.