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In the preceding anecdote, the teacher differentiated instruction. That is, she personalized her teaching to meet the music learning needs of individual students. In a class of 22 students, she varied the difficulty levels of material the children sang based on their previous achievements. Furthermore, she chose in the moment to “press” one child to achieve at a higher level while allowing other children simply to experiment. How could she differentiate her instruction when she, like many elementary general music teachers, teaches about 400 students each week? How did she provide chances for students to demonstrate their music abilities, skills, and knowledge so that she could understand what different students needed to learn? How did she apply the results of these assessments to help each child progress at his own rate, from his own starting place, toward his musical potential?

Through this study, I sought to answer these questions by examining the impact of assessment practices on differentiation of instruction in three elementary general music classrooms. I wondered how full-time elementary general music teachers in public school settings learned what individual students knew and could do musically. I wanted to know how they kept track of the information they gleaned from these assessments, both in the moment and over time. Most important, I wanted to see how assessment affected instructional practices and facilitated the musical progress of individual students. In this paper, I investigated assessments within the classroom context. These assessment practices included formal and informal measures that teachers often designed themselves and that were primarily used to learn about students’ abilities and thus inform instruction. I wanted to learn about assessment as a natural component of teaching and learning.

Although I focused on how such assessment practices could lead to differentiated instruction, a review of the literature and conversations with the participants revealed a lack of agreement regarding the nature, value, and purpose of assessment in music teaching and learning. Therefore, I will begin this paper with a brief description of the history of assessment in music education. I will then discuss the role that assessment could play in elementary general music education and discuss the concept of differentiated instruction. Finally, this introduction will summarize recent studies that describe current assessment practices in elementary general music instruction and the challenges teachers report as they strive to integrate assessments.

Assessment and Measurement in Music Education A brief history. Researchers and music educators have shown increasing interest in methods of measuring and assessing music aptitude, achievement, preferences, and ability since the turn of the twentieth century. Seashore’s Measures of Musical Talent (1919); Gordon’s Musical Aptitude Profile (1965) and Iowa Test of Music Literacy (1970); and Colwell’s Music Achievement Tests (1968) and Silver Burdett Music Competency Tests (1979) represent only a handful of the published music aptitude and achievement tests that have been developed since that time (Colwell and Barlow, 1986). Methodological articles and conference presentations related to assessment, publication of The Measurement and Evaluation of Musical Experience (Boyle and Radocy, 1987), and the formation of the MENC Tests and Measurements Special Interest Group (SRIG; later re-named the Assessment SRIG) signaled a rise in interest in assessment among researchers throughout the 1980s. The Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning (Colwell, 1992) indicated and stimulated widespread interest in assessment by including five chapters describing research regarding the measurement and evaluation of: music ability, creative thinking in music, music curricula/programs, music teachers and teaching, and attitudes and preferences in music education.

Music education researchers’ increased interest in the measurement and assessment of music learning coincided with a national trend toward standards-based educational reform.

Responding to this trend as well as to calls from music educators, researchers, and policy groups, MENC: the National Association for Music Education (MENC) commissioned and adopted the National Standards for Music Education in 1994. In the aftermath of the adoption of the National Standards, the value of assessment in the music classroom received increased attention, this time from teachers in addition to researchers. Perhaps in an effort to help teachers implement the Standards, MENC published several monographs related to assessment of the National Standards. Performance Standards for Music Grades Pre-k -12: Strategies and Benchmarks for Assessing Progress Toward the National Standards (Music Educator’s National Conference, 1996b) suggested specific assessment methods and described examples of different levels of achievement on specific standards. That same year, MENC also published Aiming for Excellence: The Impact of the Standards Movement on Music Education (Music Educator’s National Conference, 1996a), which included three papers (Boyle, 1996; Colwell, 1996; Shuler,

1996) regarding the effects of the National Standards on assessment practices.

Interest in assessment and its relationship to standards-based music education in public schools was not limited to the United States. In 1998, the international journal Research Studies in Music Education published a special issue on assessment. In it, Swanwick discussed the “perils and possibilities of assessment” (1998, p. 1) with regard to the National Curriculum for music in England and Wales. Swanwick articulated concerns regarding assessment that seemed

to transcend any differences in curricula or standards between the United States and England:

Formal assessment is but a very small part of any classroom or studio transaction, but it is important to get the process as right as we can, otherwise it can badly skew the educational enterprise and divert our focus from the centre to the periphery; from musical to unmusical criteria or toward summative concerns about range or complexity rather than the formative here-and-now of musical quality and integrity. There are many benefits from having a valid assessment model that is true to the rich layers of musical experience and, at the same time, is reasonably reliable. One of these possibilities is a richer way of evaluating teaching and learning... (p. 7).

In 2001, MENC published Spotlight on Assessment in Music Education (2001), a compilation of articles originally published in magazines of MENC state affiliates (e.g., Connecticut’s CMEA News, Texas’s TMEC Connections, Ohio’s Triad, New Jersey’s Tempo, and Florida Music Director) and in General Music Today. Of the thirty-one articles, most presented specific ideas regarding how music teachers could assess a particular musical skill, such as “Assessing Elementary Improvisation” (Lopez, 2001). About half of the articles were specific to secondary performance ensembles. Several articles argued for more authentic methods of assessing and reporting musical skills, such as using performances in addition to paper and pencil tests (Burbridge, 2001), or reporting how students were progressing toward stated goals rather than simply giving a letter grade for music class as a whole (Bouton, 2001).

Other articles described or advocated for the use of alternative methods of assessment, such as portfolios or process-folios (e.g., Kelly, 2001; Nierman, 2001). However, none of the articles in this monograph discussed how these assessment methods would impact instruction or how the results of the assessments could be used to help individual students learn.

In The New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning, Colwell contributed a chapter entitled “Assessment’s Potential in Music Education” (Colwell & Richardson, 2002). He asserted: “…assessment is one of the more important issues in education” (Colwell, 2002, p. 194). Colwell described the educational political climate of the time, in which assessments served not only their traditional role in facilitating teaching and learning but were also used to “portray the success of society in enabling all students to attain high standards in multiple areas, with the additional role of determining the value of funding for administration, programs, and facilities” (p. 194). Colwell admonished researchers and teachers to remember that assessments must directly correlate with the curriculum taught, and that assessments must attempt to record progress toward important musical outcomes, not just those that are easy to measure.

In 2007 and in 2009, the University of Florida hosted symposia on assessment in music education. The proceedings of the 2007 meeting (Brophy, 2008) contain sections on the relationship of curriculum and assessment, large-scale music assessment (program evaluation), and specific assessment methods for various types of music classes. The symposium featured keynote addresses from Richard Colwell and Paul Lehman. In this venue, Lehman argued for an

effective integration of assessment and instruction:

Too often, assessment is thought of as a separate process that’s added on at the end of instruction. And it simply can’t be done properly that way. Assessment has to be planned along with instruction from the very beginning because the relationship between the two is intimate and inherent. If you plan the assessment along with the instruction, not only will you have better assessment, but the instruction itself will be better because the very act of planning the assessment will force you to think about how you want the student to behave differently as a result of the instruction (Lehman, 2008, p. 198).

The symposium also featured “think-tank” style work sessions that brought together presenters and symposium participants to discuss key questions regarding assessment in music education, including “in what ways can assessment data be most effectively used to improve music teaching and learning?” (Brophy, 2008, p. 45).

The 2009 Symposium (Brophy, 2010) began with an address by Richard Colwell (2010) in which he concluded that the current standards for music education have “outlived their usefulness” (p. 15), and that arts policy makers and state departments of education “…seem to be panting and drooling to become involved in music assessment” (p. 15). He argued that music is

not amenable to such large-scale testing:

The enduring outcomes of music education are not judged by performance errors or by amateur efforts of composing ala rules from freshman theory. Those individuals interested in assessment must start thinking about the true and unique contributions of music to our culture, and though many outcomes may be hard to capture on a test, that does not mean that the teacher ignores teaching for them (p. 16).

The remainder of the symposium explored a number of assessment strategies and problems related to assessment and music education in settings from early childhood to college aged students and beyond. Although a number of sessions directly pertained to assessment in elementary general music, they primarily investigated what teachers should assess, assessment design, and assessment implementation rather than the focus of the current paper, which is the relationship of assessment and differentiated instruction.

Criticisms of assessment in music education. So far, this history of assessment practices has mentioned some concerns various researchers voiced, including: that assessments must authentically describe the richness of musical experience and learning (Swanwick, 1998);

that assessment cannot be an afterthought tacked on after a lesson is complete (Lehman, 2008) and that constructing large-scale standardized assessments of music is plagued with problems (Colwell, 2010). In this vein, some educational researchers have criticized the standards movement in general and have questioned the assessment practices that accompany a standardsbased approach. According to Eisner (2005, p. 5), a standards-based educational approach constitutes a superficially attractive, rational approach to education, in which standards guide curriculum and facilitate assessment. However, standards-based education requires “…youngsters to arrive at the same place at the same time. I would argue that really good schools increase variance in student performance. Really good schools increase that variance and raise the mean” (Eisner, 2005; p. 191). In Eisner’s view, standards-based education and standards-based (i.e., large-scale) assessment practices are incompatible with good teaching and optimal learning.

Optimal role of assessment in elementary general music. The following guidelines were suggested by the MENC committee on Standards, chaired by Paul Lehman, in a monograph entitled “Strategies and benchmarks for assessing progress toward the National Standards, Grades pre-K-12.” These guidelines frequently have been cited as a foundation upon which an

optimal role for assessment in elementary general music could be built:

1. Assessment should be standards-based and should reflect the music skills and knowledge that are most important for students to learn.

2. Assessment should support, enhance, and reinforce learning.

3. Assessment should be reliable.

–  –  –

Guidelines 3 to 5—assessment must be reliable, valid, and authentic—raise difficulty for many elementary general music teachers, who may not have encountered these words (often taught in graduate courses) as a part of their undergraduate education (Hepworth-Osiowy, 2004).

It is difficult to design and administer reliable, valid, authentic assessment without knowing the meanings of these terms or the ways that one might pursue reliability, validity, or authenticity.

However, if assessment is to be a meaningful part of the instructional process, it must possess these characteristics (Brophy, 2000).

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