Constructing a Music Assessment

2011 Symposium2

In my last post, I began discussing assessment in the music classroom. I explained that conceptualizing the assessment must take place early in the planning process, right after the goal, enduring understanding, and essential question is stated, and before the instructional sequence is written. From our example in that post, the goal was stated in the performance standard: “Identify and apply personally- developed criteria (such as demonstrating correct interpretation of notation, technical skill of performer, originality, emotional impact, variety , and interest) to rehearse, refine, and determine when the music is ready to perform.” The enduring understanding was, ““To express their musical ideas, musicians analyze, evaluate, and refine their performance over time through openness to new ideas, persistence, and the application of appropriate criteria,” and the essential question was, ” “How do musicians interpret musical works?” Now let’s use the goal, the enduring understanding, and the essential question to construct an assessment.

According to UbD, we have four guiding questions to use in constructing our assessment. First, “through what authentic performance task will students demonstrate the desired understanding?” The two key words in this question are authentic and understanding. Authentic means the students will perform a task that is something they would do in normal life and in normal experiencing of music. The task is not to be contrived or artificial, but something that the students will be likely to repeat on their own as they encounter and engage with music outside your class. The task also must include the opportunity for the student to show us he or she can do everything we asked them to do. In the case of our example (from my last post) we asked them to analyze, rehearse, evaluate, refine, and determine when the performance was ready to present. The evaluation is done with student authored criteria, so their assessment will include the results of their analysis showing what the musical ideas are, and an evaluation instrument, probably a rubric, which they will use to evaluate their performance. There will also be evidence of students trying different ways of expressing the musical ideas through their performance, and of them selecting what they deem to be the best way to perform those ideas. This could be in the form of a practice journal, or it could be that the teacher has a checklist he or she fills out while observing the students rehearse.

Refining inherently means there will be growth, so a measure of growth must also be part of the assessment. This is easily accomplished by evaluating the students’ performance of the music before any rehearsing, analyzing or evaluating is done (pretest), and then again when their rehearsing, analyzing and evaluating is completed. Though this all may sound like an overly involved assessment, most of the work is done by students. The teacher is

No single type of assessment can provide a complete picture of where a student is with his learning.

only directly involved in pre- and post-assessment of refining. The students assess everything else on their own. Obviously, students need to be taught how to do this if they have little or no experience, but that will be part of an early learning sequence, not part of the assessment itself. The teacher will, in collaboration with the students, develop an assessment instrument for the pre- and post-assessment of refining. Students should always know exactly how they are being assessed, and the results of all assessments must be shared with them so that they can use the results of the assessment to further their own learning. Assessments from which the only the teacher knows the results are of limited value in improving student learning.

It is important to point out that the foregoing assessment was multi dimensional. It included both written and performance assessment components. This is important, because no single type of assessment can provide a complete picture of where a student is with his learning. For instance, it is possible for a student to rehearse and refine a performance without analyzing musical ideas, or even being aware that there are discreet musical ideas combined into an expressive artistic work. On the other hand, it is also possible that a student can do an exhaustive analysis of a work, yet be only able to give a marginal performance. Because analysis, rehearsal, evaluation and refinement are part of the single process of preparing a work for presentation, each skill cannot be made discreet while maintaining that the goal is to “rehearse, refine, and determine when the music is ready to perform.” The goal isn’t just to rehearse and then perform. It is more detailed, rigorous, and meaningful than that, so all parts of the process must remain part of the whole.

One of the problems often encountered with performance assessment (what I have presented as pre- and post-assessment) is consistency. We love our students and want to give them the benefit of the doubt, and so we go easy on them, confident that if they were at their best they would have done better. While this approach to assessment may be compassionate, it obstructs knowing the true state of affairs concerning the students’ current skill. The best way to address this is to make audio recordings of all performances being assessed, and to manage it in such a way that when you assess the performances, you do it later, and you do it not knowing whose performance you are listening to. To accomplish this, number your assessment forms. Have a roster of your students with you when you hear them perform, mark the number on the form next to the student’s name on your roster, and clearly speak the number on the recording preceding the performance. Then, when you go back and assess the performances later, you can do it without knowing whose performance you are assessing, and then match the number with the name later. A copy of the completed assessment form can be returned to the student, and you will have a portfolio of student work in the form of audio recordings. Later in the year, you can compare recordings for growth assessment, and at any time after you make your assessment, you can play the recording for the student and have them self-assess their performance. For more information on assessing music students, Mitchell Robinson wrote an excellent article which can be viewed here.


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