Assessment–The How, What, and Why, Part 1

Recently, MENC members discussed assessment on the MENC general music forum. Here are some of their suggestions and ideas on HOW to assess:

Where Christine Nowmos teaches, a 3-point grading system is used for report card grades, so she uses a 3-point rubric for assessing skills.

3—the student can do an activity or skill consistently with just 1 or 2 mistakes with little or no help.
2—the student can do the activity or skill accurately some of the time or needs help.
1—the student cannot do the activity or skill accurately even with repeated assistance.

This rubric works for anything from singing a phrase on pitch to following instructions and cooperating for a folk dance.

For performance assessment, Nowmos focuses on individuals or small groups, repeating the activity until she has assessed every student, factoring in their participation and effort. When a student does not participate or does not make an effort, she contacts the parents well before report card time. She assesses students on a wide variety of activities and skills to get a balanced view of student progress.

Allyn Phelps assesses students with games, movement activities, dances, etc. “I don’t pull individuals aside; I watch the whole class. While they’re playing instruments, I’ll sit next to Johnny and listen to him sing; next repetition, I will go over to someone else.”

Jason Simmons assesses students by doing a lot of the same things he normally does. He examines the skills/concepts in a song and then grades students on whether they’re accomplishing the task.

Melanie Wolfgang mentions two types of assessment: formative and summative. “The formative assessments are the quick checks we do every class,” she says. “They drive instruction and ensure you’re reaching all students. They also tell you if you need to reteach a skill.” Summative assessments evaluate learning and contribute to students grades. After learning about “Understanding by Design”  and Kodály training, Wolfgang has “seen a huge difference in my kids’ achievement . . . and [it’s] even validated my program in the eyes of many other teachers in my building.”


Assessment: The How, What, and Why, Part 2
Assessment: The How, What, and Why, Part 3

MENC members quoted:

  • Christine Nowmos teaches at Mary S. Shoemaker Elementary School in Woodstown, NJ.
  • Allyn Phelps teaches at Greenlodge School in Dedham, MA.
  • Jason Simmons teaches at Barfield Elementary in Murfreesboro, TN.
  • Melanie Wolfgang teaches at Helke Elementary School in Vandalia, OH.

Many thanks to Christine, Allyn, Jason, and Melanie for their great input!

Linda C. Brown, February 25, © National Association for Music Education (