Assessing with Rubrics

What needs to be assessed in music class? “If I’m teaching it, then I should be assessing it,” says MENC member Cindy Brewer. She goes beyond assessment based on the standards. “Typically, I talk to the schools my program feeds and ask them what they need their students to know and be able to do,” she says. “If they need students to be able to read traditional notation and sing on pitch, then I make sure I’m assessing those skills.”

“Assessments don’t have to take a long time to create or to give,” says Brewer. “Once you know the things you want students to do, just make that the criteria.” When her students were playing Orff instruments and learning the bordun, Brewer wanted them to know the notes and play them correctly. She also wanted them to hold the mallets correctly, use a crossover pattern, and play the pattern with a steady beat for four measures. These skills became the basis for a rubric.

Rubric for Performance Task, Grades 1–2

Achievement Standard: 2b Students perform easy rhythm, melodic, and chord patterns accurately and independently on rhythm, melodic, and harmonic classroom instruments.
Performance Objectives: (1) Students will play the correct notes; (2) students will perform a crossover pattern using the right over left hand to correctly play a song on the barred instruments.

Criteria 0 Beginning 1 Developing 2 Secure 3 Score
Plays correct notes (knows the sequence of notes) No attempt Incorrectly plays more than half the song (measures) Correctly plays ¾ of the song (measures) Plays the entire song correctly
Plays using the correct hand crossover pattern No attempt/ Uses the wrong hand or one hand to play Plays the song using some crossover but not using the correct hands for the cross-over pattern Plays ¾ of the song using the correct hands in a crossover pattern Plays the entire song using the correct hands in crossover pattern

Brewer often takes a checklist she’s used to observe new skills to create a rubric for performance of those skills.

Rubric strengths:

  • Instantaneous grading
  • Assesses specific areas
  • Can be weighted or not
  • Provides specific feedback on areas that need improvement
  • Clearly indicates what standards are addressed
  • Indicates criteria for grading
  • Can be done in stages
  • Flexible as individual or group grade
  • Gives precise idea on where students are developmentally
  • Measures multiple skills and knowledge
  • Can have numeric value for middle and high school students

Although rubrics can take a while to create, the time involved lessens once you’ve done a few.

Brewer suggests that good-quality assessments validate a music program. “In this age of budget cuts, we need more than ever to validate our programs.”

Cindy Brewer teachers at Boulder Bluff Elementary in Goose Creek, South Carolina, and gives in-service workshops for the Berkeley County School District.

Linda C. Brown, January 28, 2009, © MENC: The National Association for Music Education (