Assessment–The How, What, and Why, Part 2

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

Benefits for Teachers

“Assessment is more for the teacher’s benefit,” Amy Anderson says. “How do we know students are learning and mastering the skills? How can we make adjustments in our teaching . . . if we don’t assess student performance? Accountability means assessment.” She fears that if music teachers don’t authentically assess students, “two things may happen:

  1. The powers that be will decide that music is unworthy of its core subject status, and we will lose the benefits of that designation, or
  2. Someone will devise a national standardized test for music that we will all be required to give our students.

“Think about how much joy will be lost in your music classes if all the time you spend actively making music is spent memorizing facts about when Beethoven composed his Fifth Symphony and the date of Mozart’s death.”

 “Assessment should be meaningful and accurately reflect what a child knows or can do musically,” Anderson says, “If grades are reflective of students’ progress on the standards, they’ll value the assessment and, if so motivated, work to improve. I had a mom tell me that the 4 (advanced) her child got in music meant more to her than any other grade on her report card. Wow! Tell me that child doesn’t know her music grade means something!”

When Christine Nowmos knows which students are good at specific skills, she can

  • pair them with other students who need extra support in those skills or
  • call on them to demonstrate echoing, improvising a rhythm pattern, etc.

Benefits for Parents and Students

Jason Simmons points out that standards-based assessment boosts student progress and helps communication with parents. He shows parents the National Standards hanging on his classroom wall and says, “Since making this change [to standards-based grading system] this year, my students have progressed more in one 6-week grading period that we did in entire years . . . and our faculty respects me and my subject so much more because they are truly seeing the results.”

Nowmos uses assessments to justify grades when parents question them. She shows parents how their children performed on classroom activities and how individual assessments, when averaged together, led to a student’s grade. She also explains how her classroom activities related to her state’s performing arts standards. She says, “If I didn’t document, then I would leave myself open for criticism from parents and administrators that I wasn’t showing accountability for what the students are learning and for how I grade them. If I didn’t assess objectively, then parents would start to think (or reinforce their opinions) that music is just playtime and the kids aren’t learning anything of importance. . . . We need to show administrators and parents that we’re teaching something concrete with observable criteria that the students must meet and holding students accountable for learning and meeting standards.”

For Melanie Wolfgang, standards-based assessment provides useful information for students and parents—which learning goals have been attained, which need additional work, and how to measure improvement.

Benefits for the Music Program

Anderson emphasizes that documenting student progress bolsters the music program: “Our economy stinks right now. There is less money going to education. What do you think is going to be cut from a school’s budget first? It’s not going to be the classroom teacher who can show through documentation what and how his or her students are learning. . . . There’s going to be more and more accountability in public school education especially as funding decreases. . . . If we want music to remain a core content area, we need to take responsibility for showing administrators, politicians, community members, etc., that what we do really matters.”

As one forum participant summed up assessment, “It helps you, as the teacher, to plan and help each students as much as possible. It also helps you provide documentation in a world that’s all about documentation. And it helps the student.”


Assessment: The How, What, and Why, Part 1
Assessment: The How, What, and Why, Part 3

MENC members quoted:

  • Amy Anderson teaches at Maggie Cordova Elementary School in Rio Rancho, NM.
  • Christine Nowmos teaches at Mary S. Shoemaker Elementary School in Woodstown, NJ.
  • Jason Simmons teaches at Barfield Elementary in Murfreesboro, TN.
  • Melanie Wolfgang teaches at Helke Elementary School in Vandalia, OH.

Thanks to MENC general music forum contributors!

Linda C. Brown, March 11, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (