Three Qualities of Effective Assessment of Student Learning

Three Qualities of Effective Assessment of Student Learning

Using Assessments as Instructional Tools

 By NAfME Member Peter Hamlin

 Join NAfME today

Assessment is important because the information gained can be used to improve student learning, improve teaching, and communicate to others evidence about the learning process (accountability). Assessment, to be effective, should be useful, targeted, and sustainable.

assessment / Robyn Mackenzie


Assessment that is well done is useful. It should energize the teacher’s work by providing information the teacher can use to improve efforts to help students. It is an intellectually engaging and challenging inquiry into how students learn in real world situations.


Assessment that is well done should also be targeted. Assess only one or two learning outcomes at a time. Identify a small number of learning outcomes that are the most important outcomes for your program or ensemble.


Assessment should be sustainable. It should become part of your normal routine and not be an add-on, so work on something important. Assessment should occur regularly as part of the ongoing activities of your classes.


Barriers to assessment include the familiar complaints of not having enough time, lacking quality measures, and being unsure of what to assess. Despite these very often real barriers, it is imperative that teachers repeatedly assess students on meaningful learning objectives and use multiple assessment measures.

What to Assess?

In order to assess students a teacher must first decide what is to be taught. This requires setting long and short-term goals, choosing appropriate music to meet those goals, and then developing more specific learning objectives for each piece. The learning objectives are expressed in terms of what students will be able to do (SWBAT).

It is important to remember that musical pieces are only vehicles for teaching musical concepts and are not, themselves, a learning objective. In addition, student attitude and attendance do not make a curriculum. They should not serve as the primary method for evaluating students. Finally, teachers need to determine the degree or criterion for satisfactory attainment of the objectives.


Assessment Model

The following is a diagram of an assessment model for teachers to use in their program. There are three stages to the model:

(1) Where students start
(2) What their education was like
(3) Where students end up

courtesy Peter Hamlin

Where do students start?

The first box is labeled diagnostic assessment. This part of the assessment model establishes a baseline to which future learning can then be compared. In this way, teachers can have some insight, prior to instruction beginning, of students’ prior knowledge, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. It is easy to either overestimate or underestimate what students know before entering class. Having this prior information allows the teacher to set appropriate goals and learning objectives. Baseline assessment can be especially valuable for students who are new to the school and whose educational history may be less known to the teacher.

What was their education like?

The next two boxes occur simultaneously and are interdependent. These are labeled formative assessment and strategies that students employ outside of class to learn the skills and concepts. The primary purpose of formative assessment is providing both student and teacher feedback on learning progress that allows the teacher to maintain, modify, or remediate the learning process and progress toward the learning objectives. This stage of the model also examines the strategies that students are employing outside of the classroom. A self-report technique is often used. Students can provide useful reports about the kinds of pedagogies, supportive practices, and assignments in which they are engaging. These can help answer questions such as: How are students practicing? How much and what kind of effort are they expending? How engaged are they?

Where do students end up?

The final box is labeled summative assessment. This is formal assessment that occurs at the conclusion of the learning process to evaluate student achievement on the learning objectives. It summarizes one particular point in time. Data gained from summative assessment can be used to assign grades and summarize student learning. It can also be used as a baseline to set future goals.


Rubrics are an often-used tool to measure student performance. They provide guidelines for rating student performance against stated and known criteria for the student. An important educational feature of rubrics is that they allow students to see exactly what they are expected to do to earn their grade and improve their performance. A well-created rubric is one where the criteria for each achievement level are clearly stated in language that students will be able to understand. Students should be able to look at the rubric and determine exactly what criteria need to be met to move to the next achievement level. When using rubrics for making assessment judgments, only focus on the criteria presented in the rubric. In addition, be sure to allow people to spread out across the scale. Students and teachers need to know honestly at which achievement level students are performing for each of the criteria included on the rubric.


Be committed to long-term improvement. Assessment is often an incremental, long-term process. Assessment should be useful, targeted, and sustainable. It should be integrated as a natural part of the students’ learning process. It can be helpful to involve students in the assessment process. Students can help the teacher collect formative assessment evidence. Be patient and embrace the world of classroom assessment.


About the author:

band director

Dr. Peter J. Hamlin is an Assistant Professor of Music at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, where he oversees the music education program. Dr. Hamlin received his Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Miami in Florida. He was awarded a Master of Music degree from the University of Connecticut in Clarinet Performance and received his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the University of Miami.

Dr. Hamlin taught high school band in the Orlando, FL, area for eight years. He also maintains a private clarinet studio and is active as a performer. His research interests include the study of deliberate practice, self-regulation, and the development of expertise. A secondary area of interest is classroom assessment.

Dr. Hamlin presented on “Developing Quality Assessment Tools,” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference.

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

September 19, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (