The National Association for Music Education recognizes that assessment, and the accountability that stems from the public dissemination of the results of assessment, are key components in building quality instructional programs. Indeed, one of the basic tenets of current Federal education legislation is that students, schools, school districts, and state education systems should report on key educational indicators “to better empower parents, educators, administrators, and schools to effectively address the needs of their children and students” (NCLB Sec 6132(1)). Two major assessment challenges face those who seek to bring quality music programs to American students. First is the challenge of maintaining a balanced curriculum in an environment where dependence on large-scale, high stakes testing of students in a narrow range of programs (reading, math, and science) threatens to limit learning opportunities to those tested subject areas. In this regard, music educators, along with colleagues in most other disciplines and officials at the U.S Department of Education, are broadly of the opinion that testing must be implemented in such a way as to enrich and improve the total school experience, rather than in a way that effectively narrows educational opportunities for young people. Second, music educators face the challenge of using assessment in and of their own programs in order to inform their own teaching as well as benefit the students in their charge. Music educators have historically used various forms of assessment of their students, reported on students’ musical progress to parents, and implemented sophisticated systems for the evaluation of school performing ensembles to establish publicly accessible quality measures in selected aspects of their programs. However, they face unique challenges as they seek to expand their assessment work. For one, music teachers are often responsible for teaching and assessing large numbers of students, such as in ensemble classes or across a weeklong schedule of elementary general music students. Another challenge is that most important assessable work in music classes consists of multimedia products, such as performances and improvisations, which must be recorded and scored individually and in real time. For the sake not only of assessment but also instructional quality, schools should balance large ensemble rehearsals with small group lessons and provide recording devices and other technology to facilitate the collection, management, and scoring of students’ music work. The National Assessment of Educational Progress for 1997 established an approach to assessment for a sample of American schools based on the National Standards for Music. Since that time, a handful of states have created a variety of approaches to large-scale assessment of students’ musical achievement. These national and state initiatives have demonstrated that such assessment in music is indeed possible and even practical. As in other subject areas, there is in music and the other arts a healthy debate about the desirability of large-scale assessments. Some policy leaders contend that imposing such assessments creates significant problems for schools by diverting resources from instruction to evaluation. If the emphasis on assessment becomes too large in proportion to instruction, the quality of learning can suffer rather than improve. Furthermore, excluding core subject areas such as music from federally mandated measures of school quality tends to divert public attention and resources away from these areas, and thereby deprives students of the balanced curriculum they need. There is a parallel debate over the extent to which standardized assessment tools provide adequate information for school accountability. Almost all involved in education agree that large-scale assessment instruments alone are not a sufficient basis for evaluating schools or school programs, but rather must be combined with other, classroom-based measures to provide an adequate picture of student learning. Furthermore, assessment results must be considered in the context of the resources provided to support instruction. Music assessments alone cannot create educational excellence in music. Music program assessment should include a variety of sources of data, at least some of which should be derived from common assessments to permit consistent evaluation of program progress and quality across schools and even districts. No one formula for assessment is likely to be appropriate in all circumstances. The imposition of “high-stakes” assessments (i.e., assessments that by themselves trigger penalties for students or school programs that do not reach predetermined levels) are an unproven component of a good assessment system. Consistency in reporting assessment results is useful to schools and their communities. However, this reporting should allow schools and districts to develop systems that both work within the context of the school district and can be understood on a statewide level. Each school system will have to determine the nature and content of music assessment in a way that makes sense for those schools. While the forms and content of music assessment may appropriately vary, some form of regular assessment of music programs should be adopted. The assessment should measure student learning across a range of standards representative of quality, balanced music curriculum, including not only responding to music but also creating and performing music. This assessment should serve the goal of educational accountability by providing data that can be included in the school- or district-level “report card” disseminated to the public as required by law.
The Music Educator’s Role
Given the importance of assessment in public education, music educators have an interest in supporting approaches to assessment that are standards-based, practical, and serve to help school music programs provide the best possible experiences to all students. This interest can best be achieved through collaboration among music educators, and with other colleagues in their school, district and state, including higher education. The states that are most experienced in the development of assessment in music education have found that assessment will be most successful when the music education community works together to develop a “culture of assessment” within the system. This culture must include a willingness to embed regular assessment of students and programs within the curriculum and to embrace the public reporting of the outcomes of this assessment. Effective assessment systems provide teachers with information that enables them to provide better instruction to students and to give parents, administrators, and other decision-makers information they can use to evaluate the sufficiency of resources allotted to music education.
Guidelines for Music Teachers
- Make certain that you are able to document and explain to colleagues, administrators, and the public the student assessments that you currently use. Ensure that your supervisors understand the assessments you use to shape your teaching.
- Take a serious interest in assessment tools that evaluate individual student learning in music, such as tools that are used by other music teachers, discussed in professional literature, presented at conferences, and available through other in-service education opportunities.
- Collaborate with other music education colleagues to develop uniform assessments that can be used in your school. When your district or state develops larger-scale assessments, take an active part in the development of those assessments. Work to ensure that such assessments reflect a balanced program, including not only responding to music but also creating and performing music.
- Report on the results of your assessments to parents through all available and appropriate means including student achievement reports, school concerts, and PTA meetings. Be c
ertain to include the outcomes of traditional festival rankings, as these are one legitimate tool for assessing the quality of school music programs.
Guidelines for Music Supervisors and Administrators
- Work within your school, district, and state to develop appropriate assessments that meet the goals of educational accountability regarding music education and that help music teachers better ensure their students’ educational achievement. Be certain to engage the teachers in this development.
- Work to include the outcomes of this assessment in the school, district, and state “report cards” disseminated to the public. Ideally, these reports should be accompanied by evaluations of the level of support given to music programs — particularly the amounts of time available for music instruction.
Guidelines for School Boards, Legislators, and Other Decision-Makers
- Support efforts to develop appropriate assessments that meet the goals of educational accountability in music education, along with all other core academic subjects, and that help music teachers better ensure their students’ educational achievement.
- Provide resources essential to implementing music assessments, such as recording equipment and a student-teacher ratio that permits regular assessment of and feedback to all students.
- Establish by law or regulation that the outcomes of this assessment be included on the school, district, and state “report cards” disseminated to the public. Ideally, these reports should be accompanied by evaluations of the level of support given to music programs—particularly the amounts of time available for music instruction.
- Monitor and adjust district and state assessments in all subject areas to limit their negative impact on other core subjects.
- For the sake not only of assessment but also instructional quality, schools should balance large ensemble rehearsals with small group lessons and provide recording and other technology to facilitate the collection, management and scoring of students’ music work.