Creating Standardized Assessments in Music…A Journey into the Unknown

Posted on 11 April 2012 by urbanmusiceducation.org

I thought I’d take a moment to share some thoughts about standardized testing in music since I am now on a district team to discuss, research, and eventually create a pilot assessment for music in our district by next year. Right now, it is inevitable that my 50% of my teacher evaluation will be based on student outcomes by the year 2014. This is because of Senate Bill 191 passed by the Colorado Legislature this past year. For this reason, our district arts department has put together a team to research assessments that other states are doing and come up with an appropriate assessment or two (or three or four??) to measure student growth in music.

There are many difficulties in approaching this subject as a district-formed committee. First, our team of passionate music teachers have consistently debated over philosophy while meeting to create these assessments. High school teachers believe assessments should propel them into college groups, high state festival ratings and AP coursework, even though many join high school band in our district as beginners. On the other end of the spectrum, most elementary teachers on the team want to teach and foster the “enjoyment” of music and feel strongly that any type of formal assessment will not only kill their love of music, but the teacher’s as well having to assess an average of 500 students. So how do we approach this request by the state and district to formally assess our students in a standardized way in order to evaluate our own teaching?

There are many questions our team has to work out. What is considered acceptable Growth? What model would we use to show growth? Unit-long? Semester-long? Year-long? What grade levels should be assessed? What should the dosage be? What about students who only see their music teachers less than 20 contact hours a year? Should there be a variety of assessments for the variety of school schedules and courses in the district?….and on and on…

For now, the team has designed several “units of study” to pilot with district teachers in order to gain information about the nature of their assessments and how to best administer them. This however is tricky because we only have 2 more months of school and most of us are in final concert season, unwilling to pilot anything new at this time. In a few weeks we decided to re-convene and look at designing a more comprehensive test that will cover multiple standards for one grade level, and work on it all together instead of breaking in to grade level strands. I’m interested to see if this new format will bring us closer or just drive us more and more into the depths of disagreement.

SO what do you think about standardized testing in music? Feel free to add your comments below….

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Brandt Says:

    Check out the Connecticut arts assessments.

  2. Barb Freedman Says:

    What a bind! I am sure everyone wants to do a good assessment. Remember, your jobs are tied to this. You performance evaluation will only be as good as your “worst” students. Read the state mandate carefully and also read IDEA & NCLB. You’ll need enough wiggle space to accommodate everyone. Will you have a alternative means for students to demonstrate their knowledge/skill/growth? Why wouldn’t the alternatives become the standard? Assessing music in a standard format, save music theory, is a square peg in a round hole. Be careful not to set yourselves & your students up for failure. An A for one kid doesn’t look the same for another. In my music classes, if they show up & apply themselves as best as they can, everyone gets an A. How can your assessment reflect that?

  3. Heather Says:

    What do I think about standardized testing in music? I think all forms of standardized testing are an inaccurate method of determining the knowledge and abilities of individuals. When faced with taking a test, we spend more time learning how to take the test versus learning the subject matter. I remember using computer programs to prep for the SAT… The programs taught me methods for deciphering the test questions and formulas, not how to demonstrate my knowledge and abilities.

    I hope that your district “pilots” these programs long enough for the national education system to realize standardized tests are not an accurate method for determining the breadth of an individuals knowledge and abilities.

  4. urbanmusiceducation.org Says:

    Heather, I totally agree, but when you are called to be on district teams and get paid at the curriculum rate of $33/HOUR, it’s hard to turn down on principle alone. I try to seek ways to compromise until, as you say, the nation gets its act together and actually see the arts for what they truly are, creative avenues instead of one-way streets that everyone must take to get to where they want to go.

  5. Molly Says:

    The biggest problem is that the best way to ensure music is included as a core subject along with Math, Reading, Science, History, etc. we have to play their game. Administrations like numbers. Mike Huckabee gave a great speech at the MENC (now NAfME) Centennial Congress in 2007, when he was still governor of Arkansas, and his third rule of music education advocacy was that “You only improve the games in which you keep score.” A great little book I just read is “Music Education at a Crossroads”. While trying to come to a consensus on how best to apply quantitative labels to a qualitative discipline sucks, it’s not impossible, difficult, but not impossible. Check out what other states have developed, and use theirs as a starting point. Stick to the National Standards, and Colorado State Standards especially. Assess students at their level, and grade them on improvement. Maybe a pre-test, post-test kind of thing, at a specific grade level. Florida just did fourth grade. Good luck. I’m very interested to know how it goes.

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