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Philosophical barriers to assessment. In an editorial article, Shuler (1996) identified two main misconceptions held by practicing teachers with regard to assessment: (1) assessments must be designed and/or administered by people with PhDs and/or are only of interest to people with PhDs, and (2) many music teachers had philosophical reservations about assessment—they did not believe in traditional grades, and equated assessment with grading. Talley (2005) reported this response from a teacher: “I do not believe in formal assessment for music. The only assessment is whether students try the given task” (p. 61). Shuler suggested that music teachers would benefit from “practical training in assessment as a natural and necessary part of the teaching/learning process” (p. 89). For those teachers who had philosophical reservations,

Shuler suggested it might be helpful to differentiate between measurement and evaluation:

measurement involves a determination of achievement level on a particular task, while evaluation assigns a grade (Shuler, 1996). Those with philosophical opposition to assessment also may benefit from separating high-stakes testing from curriculum and instruction, which necessarily include components of assessment (Lehman, 2008; Ravitch, 2010).

In This, Too, is Music, Upitis (1990) stated that she “never graded children in a summative fashion” because she believed that “marks [grades] almost never have meaning, no matter how ‘objective.’ At best, they confirm what the student already has judged about his or her performance. At worst, they leave children with the impression that they are dumb or stupid in comparison to their peers” (p. 125). Her use of the word “summative,” may be confusing, as it brings to mind summative assessment, which is not necessarily linked with grading.

While Upitis viewed grading and formalized summative assessments as interfering with learning, in the next paragraph, she went on to describe an atmosphere of continuous formative assessment, in which she and her students engaged in “constant evaluation, observation, examination, judgment, reflection, change, reevaluation...” (p. 125). This evaluation, observation, examination, (etc) was of pieces of music that children or groups of children were in the process of creating (composing or improvising), and also of musical performances by individual children or groups of children. As Uptitis described them, these activities are among the types of classroom-based assessments I was curious about when I designed this study.

Certainly, the types of assessment she described contribute more to an atmosphere of learning than grading. Upitis described her ability to avoid “get[ting] caught up in the giving and receiving of grades” as “one of the luxuries often associated with teaching an arts subject” (p.

126). In the current educational climate, this luxury is no longer afforded to many elementary general music teachers. However, even teachers who are required to grade could choose to create a learning atmosphere of “constant evaluation,” in which individual musical progress is the focus and grading is secondary.

Institutional barriers to assessment. Teachers have reported a number of challenges associated with systematically assessing the musical progress of individual music students.

Teaching loads, including overall number of students and large class sizes, were viewed as a major obstacle. Teachers reported a lack of time, both in-class to administer assessments and also outside of class to maintain records (Brummett and Haywood, 1997; Hepworth-Osiowy, 2004; Peppers, 2010). Administrative, community, and parent expectations that students would perform in front of audiences also complicated routine assessment (Hepworth-Osiowy, 2004).

One teacher commented: “Time is so short, curriculum is so big, and performances are always around the corner. I’m lucky if I can assess three times in one term” (p. 97). Comments like these indicate that some teachers do not view curriculum and assessment as mutually dependent components of instruction. Instead, when time is a factor, it seems that many teachers opt to deliver as much curriculum as possible and forego assessment of what has been learned. Music teachers also struggled with discipline problems, accommodating individual education plans, and attendance issues (Hepworth-0siowy, 2004). Teachers in Niebur’s (1997) study viewed population migration as a hindrance to assessment, but Peppers’ (2010) participants disagreed, perhaps due to regional differences—Neibur’s study took place in Arizona, and Peppers’ participants taught in Michigan.

After enumerating the variety of obstacles to assessment that elementary music teachers frequently encounter, the task of integrating assessment-based differentiation of instruction seems daunting. However, if teachers are reporting these obstacles, it is clear that they must be trying to assess in some form. The literature seems to indicate that many teachers are interested in tracking the progress of their students and are willing to be accountable for what they are teaching. However, these teachers face considerable administrative, curricular, and logistical challenges.

Proposed role of assessment in elementary music education. Given the number of voices in the debate surrounding assessment, testing, and accountability, it is difficult to arrive at a middle ground, even without considering the special difficulties music teachers face. Perhaps a moderate approach to assessment in elementary music education would combine a variety of measurement tools, including standardized aptitude tests and teacher-designed measures of achievement that include authentic assessments, such as portfolios and performance measures, in order to provide systematic, objective evidence upon which to base instructional decisions.

Optimally, numerous snapshots of student functioning on an assortment of tasks, recorded and tracked in a variety of ways, would result in a well-rounded picture of each child’s aptitude, achievement, learning style and response style, which would allow the teacher to differentiate instruction: to meet each student where he is and offer scaffolding, remediation, and challenges as needed.

Need for this Study Along with widespread disagreements regarding the importance of various curricular goals and the value of different methodological and philosophical approaches (Boston, 1996;

Colwell, 2002), considerable debate continues among elementary music teachers regarding the meaning and value of assessment (Hepworth-Osiowy, 2004; Peppers, 2010; Talley, 2005; Upitis, 1990). Some elementary music teachers do not appear to want to know about students’ individual differences in music aptitude or ability (Peppers, 2010; Niebur, 2001, p. 148) and researchers have proposed that it may be impossible to truly evaluate music learning (Arostegui, 2003). However, if teachers do not have a clear picture of their students’ musical aptitude and achievement levels, they may fail to challenge a child who has high aptitude, which could result in boredom and a lost opportunity for advanced musicianship, or fail to recognize a child who is struggling and adjust instruction accordingly, which could result in a student feeling frustrated or incompetent (Gfeller, 1992; Gordon, 1986, 2010; Taggart, 2005). Students experiencing either of these situations might seem poorly motivated or badly behaved, but the interventions required differ, and only individual assessment would allow a teacher to know the underlying cause behind the behavior.

Despite a wealth of research studies, methodological articles, and books pertaining to assessment techniques for the elementary music classroom, little published work has explored

what is perhaps the most crucial question regarding assessment and measurement in this setting:

How can information gained through assessment be used to differentiate instruction for individual music students in real-life elementary general music teaching? Few studies describe the progress of individual students in elementary general music classes, which entails both assessment and subsequent use of assessment information to differentiate instruction. Edmund, Birkner, Burcham, and Heffner (2008) identified several research priorities regarding assessment in music education, including a need for qualitative research investigating the success of various assessment tactics. Lehman shared this viewpoint: “We need to create a ‘best practices’ culture in education, which means finding ways to share what we do that works, so we can all benefit from the experiences of our colleagues” (2008, p. 23). The current study sought to present a qualitative picture of promising practices in elementary general music classrooms, specifically pertaining to the application of assessment in order to differentiate instruction.

Purpose of this Study The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore how three exemplary teachers used assessment to individualize music instruction. Specifically: (1) When and how did the participants assess musical skills and behaviors? (2) How did participants score or keep track of what students knew and could do in music? And (3) What was the impact of assessment on differentiation of instruction?

Delimitations When speaking of measurement and assessment in elementary music, it is nearly impossible to avoid debates about curriculum and methodology. Assessment should be linked closely to curriculum, and, in this study, educational, philosophical, and methodological background certainly influenced participants’ decisions about curriculum and assessment.

However, a discussion of the merits of various methodologies or the relative importance of diverse curricular goals was beyond the scope of this study. This study sought to find how the information gleaned from assessment was used to improve music learning and differentiation of instruction in the practices of exemplary teachers, regardless of methodological grounding.

Therefore, methodology and curriculum were discussed only as they impacted assessment and instruction in the individual classrooms.

Definitions of Terms Definitions of many of these terms vary greatly from author to author. This study adhered to the

following definitions:

Assessment: the gathering of information about a student’s status relevant to one’s academic and/or musical expectations (Brophy, 2000, p. 455).

Authentic Assessment: planned assessment procedures and tasks that simulate the context in which the original learning occurred (Brophy, 2000, p. 456).

Differentiation: teaching with student differences in mind. Instruction stems from assessment, meets students where they are, and features a strong link between assessment and instruction, an emphasis on individual growth, high standards and clear expectations for all students, and flexible grouping strategies (Cox, 2008).

Evaluation: the comparison of assessment data in relation to a standard or set of preestablished criteria, with the purpose of determining whether that data represents the achievement of the standard or criteria (Brophy, 2000, p. 457).

Formative Assessment: assessment used to monitor learning progress during instruction (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2009, p. 38).

Grading: any of a variety of systems designed to summarize and communicate a student’s performance on assessments of stated instructional objectives. These systems include but are not limited to letter grades, verbal labels such as “proficient or above average,” and whether or not performance meets a proficiency standard—pass/fail (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2009, p. 367-368).

Measurement: the use of a systematic methodology to observe musical behaviors in order to represent the magnitude of performance capability, task completion, and/or concept attainment (Brophy, 2000, p. 458).

Reliability: the extent to which an assessment task yields consistent results (Brophy,

–  –  –

Summative Assessment: assessment used to assess achievement at the end of instruction (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2009, p. 38). Although many teachers associate summative assessment with grading, the two are not necessarily related.

Validity: the degree to which a task measures what it is supposed to measure; for general music, this is related primarily to the content of the task and its relationship to the purpose of the task (Brophy, 2000, p. 460). Reliability is a necessary condition for

–  –  –

Assessment is about more than children and teachers, although it must always be for them. It is about more than sending home papers, giving performances, or generating data for reports, as important as all of these things can be. Assessment is more than a scoreboard that dispassionately displays how closely an educational endeavor approximates compliance with a given set of criteria, regardless of how sophisticated and humane the criteria may be… [Assessment] demands the dignity of submitting only reports that are likely to be useful and then having the information used as wisely as possible. Assessment is not only about asking and answering questions, but is also about the reciprocal responsibility of listening respectfully to the answers. In short, educational assessment of any kind is an inescapably human endeavor, and should, above all, edify (Niebur, 2001, p 158-159).

The current study examined how teachers in elementary general music settings applied the results of assessments in order to individualize their instruction and meet the needs of the diverse learners in their classrooms. This model of differentiated instruction is common in elementary classrooms. Therefore, the following review of related research begins with a discussion of selected studies from the elementary classroom research literature in which educational outcomes for students with a variety of learning needs were improved through the use of assessments. I then describe studies from elementary general music classroom settings in which the authors indicated that an assessment could be used to adapt instruction to meet individual needs. However, in these studies, the act of differentiation was not the focus of the study but was a theme in the research, implicit in the method, and/or mentioned in the discussion section. Finally, this review presents the few studies that specifically addressed the use of assessment results to increase student learning or to improve instruction in elementary music settings.

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