Assessment in General Music Education from Early Childhood through High School: A Review of Literature
Abstract and Keywords
This literature review synthesizes and analyzes research on assessment in general music from early childhood through secondary schools. Literature has been analyzed for content being assessed, forms of assessment used, frequency of assessments, teachers’ perceptions and beliefs about assessment, and teachers’ professional development experiences and needs. Findings reveal that the content, forms, and practices of assessment vary according to the amount of autonomy teachers have in assessing their curricula, teachers’ beliefs about assessment, and national and state policies. This is particularly evident when comparing elementary general music teachers in the United States, who have little accountability for conducting assessments, and secondary general music teachers in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, where they have required composition assessments. This analysis also reveals a need for greater professional development for general music teachers to develop strategies for implementing authentic, valid assessments and using assessment data to support and inform their teaching.
Assessment continues to be both an increasingly important and intensely debated issue for music teachers. Focus on assessment grew in response to the standards-based educational reforms of the 1990s (Salvador 2011). Further, it continues to be emphasized in national policies in the United States, such as the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) and the Race to the Top Fund, and in the General Certificate of Secondary Education in the United Kingdom. More recently, many states in the United States have adopted the edTPA program (edTPA 2015), an assessment of preservice music teachers, which requires a demonstration of proficiency in assessing students to receive teacher licensure. Although music education “didn’t start the fire” of assessment policies in education (in the words of the hit Billy Joel song), these policies have affected general music teachers at all age levels, from early childhood through high school. Music teacher educators should help both preservice and practicing teachers learn how to develop appropriate and authentic assessments, but also examine and critique these national policies to add to the conversation regarding their implementation. For this reason, it is important to understand existing research in the assessment of music education. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to review the research literature on assessment in general music education.
There are many terms used in assessment literature, which can vary in their use and application. For this review of literature, we use the following definitions to frame this topic:
● Assessment: the collection of information about a student’s status (Brophy 2000)
● Authentic assessment: assessment of students through a task that could exist in the “real world” outside of the classroom (Asmus 1999, 20)
● Evaluation: the comparison of student outcomes to a preestablished measure (Brophy 2000)
● Formative assessment: collection of information used by teachers and students to determine the next steps in the learning process; also called “assessment for learning” (Fautley 2010, 9)
● Measurement: the use of predetermined, precise methods to collect student information and represent the level of “performance capability, task completion, or concept attainment” (Brophy 2000, 15)
According to these definitions, some of the literature examined uses these terms irregularly or incorrectly, so we have changed the terms used in the original studies where applicable for consistency throughout our discussion.
This article reviews the literature on assessment in general music classrooms from prekindergarten through high school, specifically considering the following questions:
a. What content is currently being assessed in general music classes?
b. What forms of assessment are being used by general music teachers?
c. How often do general music teachers conduct assessments?
d. What are general music teachers’ perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs about assessment?
e. What kind of professional development do general music teachers want and receive regarding the topic of assessment?
Because of the great number of research studies addressing the measurement and evaluation of musical skills and knowledge, the literature delineated for this article only includes studies that pertain specifically to school music instruction, such as studies concerning the use of assessment by school music teachers or researcher-created measures designed for use in the classroom. Studies that did not include implications or applications for music teachers to use in practical settings were not included.
While this review aims to answer the listed questions, the majority of studies on assessment in general music have focused on the elementary level, with much less research existing on early childhood and secondary levels. Thus we have organized this discussion around answering these questions as they correspond with the literature pertaining to elementary general music and have included separate sections for early childhood and secondary general music assessment to better synthesize the findings relevant to these three age groups.
Content: What Skills and Concepts Are Elementary General Music Teachers Assessing?
The existing research suggests that teachers assess a range of content in elementary general music. The content assessed may vary depending on the grade level of the students, as well as on the curricular priorities of each individual teacher, and may include musical skills and knowledge, music aptitude, and nonmusical factors.
Musical Skills and Knowledge
Several researchers have found singing to be the most commonly assessed skill in elementary general music classes. Rasor (1988) surveyed elementary music teachers in Ohio, 88% of whom reported assessing students’ singing. In an investigation of curricular alignment practices among fifty-nine fifth-grade general music teachers in Texas, Shih (1997) found that singing objectives were the most thoroughly assessed curricular objectives, with participants reporting that they assess 93% of the state-mandated singing objectives. Barkley (2006) surveyed 255 elementary music teachers in Michigan on their assessment of the national standards and discovered that singing was the most frequently assessed standard, with 90% of respondents reporting that they assess singing “frequently” or “occasionally” (39).
Besides singing, researchers have found variance among the other most commonly assessed musical skills/knowledge. Several researchers have found listening/analyzing to be frequently assessed in elementary general music. In Shih’s (1997) study, participants reported assessing 83% of the state-mandated listening objectives in the curriculum, while 45% of Barkley’s (2006) respondents reported assessing the listening/analyzing standard. Movement is another commonly assessed content area, as evidenced by 78% of Shih’s participants reporting that they assess the state-mandated movement objectives and 59% of Rasor’s (1988) respondents reporting that they assess movement. Music notation skills are also commonly assessed in elementary music. Shih’s participants reported assessing 65% of state-mandated notation objectives in the curriculum, while 52% of Barkley’s respondents reported assessing the notation standard. Another frequently assessed content area is instrument-playing skills, with Rasor’s participants reporting that they assess 61% of the instrumental performance objectives in the curriculum. In addition, Barkley found that composition and improvisation were the least commonly assessed standards among her participants.
While elementary music teachers assess a variety of musical skills and knowledge, the content may vary depending on students’ grade level. In a survey of thirty-five elementary general music teachers in Michigan, Talley (2005) found that teachers more frequently assessed performance-based musical skills (such as beat competency and singing voice development) in the lower elementary grade levels and knowledge about music (such as identifying treble clef note names or instrument families) in upper levels. Although it is likely that the differences in content assessed at varying grade levels may be the result of variance across the elementary music curriculum, this also may be related to how teachers prioritize the content they teach. Shih (1997) stated that her respondents “assess the objectives they spend more time teaching. If an objective is less frequently taught, then it is less frequently assessed” (102–3). Thus, teachers tended to both teach and assess most frequently the objectives they considered most important for their students to achieve.
In addition to assessing students’ musical skills and knowledge, some elementary general music teachers also choose to assess students’ music aptitude, defined as the potential to achieve in music (Gordon 2012), with the understanding that a student’s level of music achievement may differ from his or her music aptitude (Hornbach and Taggart 2005). In a qualitative study of the assessment practices of three elementary general music teachers in Michigan, Salvador (2011) described “Hailey’s” measurement of her students’ music aptitude to tailor instruction to meet their individual needs. For example, Hailey described how a student with low aptitude may need more support and remediation to achieve, while a student with high aptitude may need extra challenges to remain engaged. Hailey also assessed students’ music aptitude to identify individuals who might be achieving below their potential.
While some teachers believe strongly in the difference between music achievement and music aptitude, existing studies on assessment in elementary general music suggest that few teachers actually measure their students’ music aptitude. Examples of published aptitude tests include “Primary Measures of Music Audiation” (Gordon 1986b), “Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation” (Gordon 1986a), and “Musical Aptitude Profile” (Gordon 1995). In a qualitative study of the assessment practices of three elementary general music teachers in Ohio, Nightingale Abell (1993) found that one participant, “Becky,” believed that “[her] most important objective [was] to help students be successful and work up to their potential” (165), yet did not mention any attempts to measure students’ potential in a valid and reliable way. In a survey of one hundred elementary general music teachers in Washington, McQuarrie and Sherwin (2013) found that only 3% of teachers said they “frequently use” music aptitude tests, while 80% said they “do not use” or “almost never use” these measures. Similarly, only two of Rasor’s (1988) respondents reported measurement of students’ music aptitude through use of a published test. Overall, these findings suggest that few elementary general music teachers are assessing students’ music aptitudes.
Although many teachers report assessing their elementary students’ musical skills, knowledge, and to a lesser degree aptitude, it is just as common (if not more so) for teachers to assess students on nonmusical factors. In a survey of twenty-one elementary general music teachers in one Michigan county, Patterson (2006) found that 86% reported that they assess factors such as behavior, participation, cooperation, attitude, and effort. Similarly, participation, effort, and attitude accounted for three of the four most frequently assessed areas reported by respondents in Lane’s (2007) survey of 129 grade 3 music teachers in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Not only do many elementary music teachers assess these nonmusical factors, but many also use them in determining students’ music grades (McQuarrie and Sherwin 2013; Wang and Sogin 1997). Furthermore, many elementary music teachers believe these nonmusical factors should be the main basis for students’ music grades (Barkley 2006; Carter 1986; Farmer 2004). Barkley (2006) found that 74% of elementary music teachers agreed that student participation and effort are the most important factors to consider when assigning grades. Similarly, one of Nightingale Abell’s (1993) participants admitted giving a student a “lower grade for poor participation … even though s/he has good musical skills” (164). These findings suggest that some elementary music teachers may allow effort or participation to override musical skills or knowledge when assigning grades.
Forms of Assessment: How Are Elementary General Music Teachers Assessing?
Existing research suggests that elementary general music teachers use a variety of forms of assessment, which may include written tasks/tests, ratings scales, rubrics, checklists, published measures/standardized tests, portfolios, student self-assessment, and informal observation, including that of group performance. The forms of assessment elementary general music teachers use seem to vary depending on the content being assessed as well as on students’ grade level.
Written Tasks and Tests
Written tasks, such as worksheets and tests, tend to be one of the most commonly used forms of assessment among elementary general music teachers. In surveys of music teachers, written tasks were reported as the first (Rasor 1988), second (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004), and third (Livingston 2000) most common form of assessment used, with 70%–93% of participants reporting use of such measures. In addition to quantitative studies such as these, qualitative studies also reveal frequent use of written tasks/tests as a form of assessment in elementary general music. Nightingale Abell (1993) found that all three of her participants assessed students through some form of written work to some degree, with one teacher assessing all students in grades 1 through 5 in written form.
Just as the content assessed may vary by grade level, the degree to which elementary music teachers use written tasks/tests as a form of assessment also may vary across grade levels. Talley (2005) found that her respondents used written tests/worksheets more frequently in upper rather than lower grade levels. This increase in the use of written assessments may indicate that teachers value conceptual knowledge over performance skills as students get older, or it may simply be that written assessments are easier to use in later grade levels than earlier ones.
The variance in the use of written tasks/tests also might be related to differences in content assessed across grade levels. As previously noted, Talley (2005) found that assessment of notation reading/writing increased in the upper grade levels. It would make sense that teachers would use written assessments more often in the upper grades, since this form can be more readily used to assess notation knowledge than to assess authentic musical skills such as singing or playing instruments. Shih (1997) found that written tests were used more frequently to assess listening and notation objectives than for singing or movement objectives, and Barkley (2006) found that written tests were used much more frequently to assess the reading/notating standard than to assess the singing, playing, and improvisation standards.
In addition, teachers’ use of written assessments may vary depending on the skills and knowledge they believe are most important for students to acquire and how they believe these can be assessed most accurately. For example, Salvador (2011) found that one participant was “concerned that written assessments were ‘not effective for measuring musical skill development’” (178). Furthermore, this teacher explained:
Rather than written work, I prefer to assess students’ skills in a musical way, such as through singing, moving, and playing. I tend to value (and thus focus on) the skills and knowledge that can be measured in those musical ways over the skills and knowledge that are measured in writing. (178)
This suggests that elementary music teachers’ choice of assessment tools may reflect their priorities for the kinds of knowledge and/or skills they believe are most important for students to master.
Rating Scales, Rubrics, and Checklists
While some studies suggest that written tasks are the most common form of assessment in elementary general music (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Livingston 2000; Nightingale Abell 1993; Rasor 1988), other researchers have found that rating scales, rubrics, and checklists are used frequently as well. McQuarrie and Sherwin (2013) found that 83% of respondents reported that they “frequently use” or “sometimes use” a rubric or rating scale to assess individual student performance, while only 17% “almost never use” or “do not use” these tools. Similarly, 71.6% of the eighty-eight elementary music teachers in Winnipeg surveyed by Hepworth-Osiowy (2004) reported using checklists to assess their students, 68.1% reported using rubrics, and 55.7% reported using rating scales.
Other researchers, however, have found these tools to be less commonly used by elementary general music teachers. Livingston (2000) surveyed 142 elementary general music teachers who were members of the Organization of American Kodály Educators and found that 43% reported the use of rubrics, while 45% reported use of checklists. Among Patterson’s (2006) respondents, only 29% reported that they use rating scales to assess their students, and Lane (2007) found that ratings scales “were rarely used” by her respondents (37).
Just as elementary general music teachers may use written tasks/tests more frequently in the upper elementary grade levels, they may tend to use rating scales, rubrics, and checklists more frequently in the lower elementary grade levels. Talley (2005) found that rating scales/rubrics were the most frequent method of assessment used by teachers in grades K through 3; however, these were replaced by written tests/worksheets as the most frequently used method in grades 4 through 6. This finding makes sense in light of the fact that the teachers in Talley’s study tended to assess basic performance skills more often in the lower elementary grades than in the upper elementary grades.
Published Measures and Standardized Tests
Few researchers have investigated the use of published measures and/or standardized tests in elementary general music, but the findings of those who have done so suggest these tools are rarely used by elementary music teachers. “Standardized tests and textbook tests” were the least used forms of assessment among Lane’s (2007) respondents, and only 8% of the teachers in Rasor’s (1988) study reported using standardized tests for student assessment. Only 1% of McQuarrie and Sherwin’s (2013) respondents reported that they “frequently use” standardized achievement tests, while 91% reported that they “do not use” or “almost never use” these tests. Talley (2005) found the use of commercially available tests a bit more common among her respondents, with 28% reporting use of such tests.
While some elementary music teachers choose to use standardized tests to assess their students, few (if any) are required to do so. However, with the recent push for more standardized testing, some US states are beginning to develop and implement standardized music tests (New York State Education Department 2011; RTTT Performing Fine Arts Assessment Project 2015; University of South Carolina Board of Trustees 2015). Warren (1994) conducted a study to develop and validate a standardized test called the “North Carolina Elementary Measures of Music Achievement,” which was designed to test student achievement of the state goals and objectives at the time. While this test was never fully implemented in the state of North Carolina, the fact that standardized music tests such as these have been and are being developed suggests that the United States may be moving toward more widespread implementation of such tests in the future.
Existing research on assessment practices among elementary general music teachers indicates that few use portfolios as assessment tools. Barkley (2006), Patterson (2006), and Lane (2007) found portfolios to be among the least commonly used assessment strategies among elementary music teachers. Similarly, 89% of respondents in McQuarrie and Sherwin’s (2013) study reported that they “do not use” or “almost never use” portfolios as an assessment tool. However, Talley’s (2005) findings suggest that elementary music teachers’ use of portfolios may increase with student grade level.
Student Peer and Self-Assessment
Researchers have found varying use of student self-assessment in elementary general music. Student self-assessment was a fairly common form of assessment used by Hepworth-Osiowy’s (2004) respondents, 64.8% of whom reported using student self-assessment in their classrooms, while 33% of Patterson’s (2006) respondents reported using it. Conversely, student self-assessment accounted for only 2%–3% of the total reported assessments used across all elementary grade levels among Talley’s (2005) respondents, and Lane (2007) found that it was “rarely used” by her respondents. Niebur (1997) conducted a qualitative study of four elementary general music teachers in Arizona and found that one utilized student self-assessment and believed it to be a valuable assessment strategy.
Researchers have also studied the use of student peer and self-assessment as it relates to the achievement of both nonmusical (Forrester & Wong, 2008) and musical goals (Freed-Garrod, 1999). In a multiple case study of primary music teachers’ use of “assessment for learning” (formative assessment) in Hong Kong, Forrester and Wong (2008) found that although students’ peer and self-assessments had positive impacts on their general communication skills, the study did not examine the effect on students’ musical skill development. In an action research study in which students and the teacher-researcher co-constructed the assessment criteria, Freed-Garrod (1999) found that self-assessments promoted “aesthetic awareness” and “artistic judgement” (59), but this seemed to be more of an anecdotal observation.
In addition to studies on elementary general music teachers’ use of student self-assessment, Riley (2010, 2013) investigated elementary students’ accuracy in their self-assessments, with mixed results. In her first study, Riley (2010) compared second- and third-grade students’ singing self-assessment with ratings made by three expert judges in four areas. While students and judges were mostly in agreement on students’ use of correct words, singing in time, and use of singing voice, their agreement for matching pitch was only 57%. Riley (2013) also found that the presence or absence of teacher feedback made no difference on students’ self-assessment accuracy. Hickey (2001) evaluated Amabile’s consensual assessment technique, in which individuals rate pieces using their own subjective definition of creativity, to determine whether it was a reliable tool for assessing student compositions. In this study, selected second- and seventh-grade students, music teachers, and composers were asked to rate twenty-one student compositions. The results revealed that the students were not reliable at assessing the compositions and that they tended to rate compositions they liked as more creative. These studies suggest that students might not always be capable of accurately assessing their own or their peers’ singing and compositions, but more research is needed to discover students’ ability to assess other musical skills, like playing instruments or reading notation.
While many elementary general music teachers use formal assessments to measure student learning and growth, the use of informal assessment is far more common. Several researchers (Barkley 2006; Lane 2007; Livingston 2000; Patterson 2006) have found observation to be the most commonly used form of assessment among elementary music teachers, and “systematic observation/roaming” was the most frequently used assessment strategy among Hepworth-Osiowy’s (2004) participants. Qualitative studies of assessment practice among elementary general music teachers resulted in similar findings (Delaney 2011; Nightingale Abell 1993).
Typically, these informal teacher observations are made without the use of a rating scale or other measurement tool and are not formally documented. McQuarrie and Sherwin (2013) found that more teachers reported assessing students’ individual performance through informal observation than through use of a rubric or rating scale. Similarly, 100% of Patterson’s (2006) respondents reported assessing through observation and only 29% through a rating scale. However, 57% reported they use checklists and rating scales in response to being asked which tools they use “when recording assessment data” (107). The difference in these percentages may suggest that these teachers do not record assessment data frequently. Nightingale Abell (1993) also found this to be the case in her observations in the classrooms of three elementary music teachers, all of whom assessed through “mental recordkeeping of [students’] progress” (p. 195). Likewise, in Miranda’s (2004) study on Developmentally Appropriate Practice among kindergarten music teachers, the teachers “collected observational impressions” (53) but “rarely created records or written documentation of children’s musical skill development” (54).
Findings of several researchers suggest that many elementary general music teachers choose to assess students in a group rather than individually, particularly when assessing singing objectives. Both Shih (1997) and McQuarrie and Sherwin (2013) found that group performance was the most frequently reported mode of assessment. In a survey of 461 elementary music teachers in Oklahoma, Carter (1986) found that solo singing was used infrequently, while only one of the four elementary music teachers in Delaney’s (2011) qualitative study incorporated individual singing. Similarly, two of the three participants in Nightingale Abell’s (1993) study most often assessed the performance of the class as a group.
This preference for group over individual assessment seems to stem from skepticism about expecting students to perform alone in class. Among Shih’s (1997) participants, reasons given for assessing students as a group included time, class size, and the “sensitivity” of the students. One teacher commented, “The only way you can assess is by group,” and another stated, “[Students] don’t like to get up and sing” (105). Delaney found a similar avoidance of individual singing among her participants, one of whom “was wary of having students sing alone because of the possibility of embarrassment” (2011, 44).
Not only do many elementary music teachers tend to assess their students as a group rather than individually, but many also consider public performance a form of assessment. Surveys have found that elementary music teachers list concerts and performances as the most common (Hepworth-Osiowy, 2004) and second most common (Barkley, 2006) assessment strategies. Two of the three participants in Salvador’s (2011) study considered group performances an assessment of student learning, although Salvador found that this use of public performances as assessment “did not result in records of individual musical skills or abilities” (87).
Frequency: How Often Are Elementary General Music Teachers Assessing?
There appears to be a wide range in the frequency with which elementary general music teachers assess their students’ learning and development. Some researchers have found that elementary music teachers may assess as infrequently as once or twice per month or less (Lane 2007; Livingston 2000; Patterson 2006). When asked how often they formally assess students, 30% of Patterson’s (2006) respondents said at least once per marking period, and 50% said at least once per month, with only 5% saying at least once every other class period, and 0% saying at least once per class period. Conversely, 20% of Livingston’s (2000) “reported that they are assessing their students constantly” (74). Salvador (2011) found a similar range of frequency among her participants. For example, Salvador did not observe “Carrie” recording any formal assessments during ten visits. However, during her twelve visits to Hailey’s classroom, Salvador noted that “assessment was a part of nearly every activity, and several activities in each class were designed to allow formal tracking of individual student progress on specific musical skills” (2011, 174).
Just as the content assessed and the forms of assessment may vary by grade level, the frequency with which elementary music teachers assess their students may also vary depending on students’ grade level. Among Talley’s (2005) respondents, 41% reported that they had used zero formal assessments throughout the school year in kindergarten, and only 10% reported using more than six; however, 30% reported using more than six assessments in fourth grade, and 31% reported using four to six assessments. This difference in frequency may be the result of a variety of factors, including greater contact time with the upper grade levels or beliefs about the appropriateness of assessing young students.
Teachers may also vary in the consistency with which they assess throughout the school year. Hepworth-Osiowy (2004) found that the participants in her study tended to fall into one of two groups: those who used ongoing assessment and those who assessed on a less consistent basis. While those who assessed less consistently tended to assess mostly prior to the completion of report cards, those who used ongoing assessment spent time assessing students in virtually every class; however, Hepworth-Osiowy noted, “the majority [of participants] do not use on-going assessment” (105).
Furthermore, it appears that some elementary general music teachers do not use any form of assessment at all. Among Shih’s (1997) participants, 20% reported that they do not assess their students. Similarly, 14% of Talley’s (2005) respondents reported that they did not use any formal assessment in their classrooms, and another teacher stated that he or she “does not believe in assessing students in music” (40).
Perceptions, Attitudes, and Beliefs: How Do Elementary General Music Teachers Feel about Assessment?
Although few researchers have examined specifically elementary general music teachers’ perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs about assessment, a number of studies investigating assessment in elementary general music have revealed insight into these phenomena. These have included beliefs about the purpose of assessment, beliefs about the importance of assessment, perceived impediments to assessment, perceived negative effects of assessment, and connections between beliefs about assessment and other beliefs.
Beliefs about the Purpose of Assessment
A number of researchers have explored teachers’ beliefs about the purpose of assessment in the elementary music classroom, the most common of which is that assessment helps teachers gauge student understanding and thus guides future instruction. When asked about the purpose of their assessment, 90% of the respondents in Patterson’s (2006) study indicated that it enables them to “determine if students are learning,” while 81% indicated that assessing helps them “plan for further instruction” (40). Peppers (2010) surveyed one hundred elementary general music teachers in Michigan regarding their attitudes toward assessment, and the top-ranked reasons for assessing were to “measure student progress over time” and to “improve instruction” (38). Similarly, Talley (2005) found that the most common purpose for assessing among her respondents was “to adapt instruction,” while the third most common purpose was to “gauge understanding” (60). These findings resemble those from qualitative studies (Niebur 1997; Nightingale Abell 1993; Salvador 2011).
In addition to using assessment to adjust overall teaching, a smaller number of elementary music teachers believe the purpose of assessment is to monitor the progress of individual students and to tailor instruction to meet individual needs. Among Peppers’s (2010) respondents, the third most important reason for assessment was to “identify different levels of students’ needs” (38). While some music teachers believe that assessment allows them to identify and/or challenge gifted students (Talley 2005; Salvador 2011), others view it as an opportunity to determine which students need remediation (Nightingale Abell 1993; Salvador 2011).
Researchers have found several other prominent beliefs about the purpose of assessment among elementary music teachers. Many teachers believe the purpose of assessment is to assign grades (Patterson 2006; Talley 2005), and a number of elementary music teachers believe the purpose of assessment is to share feedback with their students (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Patterson 2006; Talley 2005) and/or their students’ parents (Talley 2005). Assessment also may be seen as a way to motivate students (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Nightingale Abell 1993; Peppers 2010), and some elementary music teachers feel that assessment validates their music programs and/or the inclusion of music as a school subject (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Talley 2005).
Beliefs about the Importance of Assessment
Several researchers have investigated elementary music teachers’ beliefs about the importance of assessment and have found that while most teachers believe assessment is important in elementary general music, some believe it is unimportant. Peppers (2010) found that “most respondents disagreed with the statement, ‘Assessment is not a valuable tool in my classroom,’ although 5 participants strongly agreed” (41). In Barkley’s study (2006), 82% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that it is important to assess the national standards in the elementary general music classroom, while 18% did not. Among Hepworth-Osiowy’s (2004) respondents, 28.5% did not agree with the statement “Assessment is an important part of my music program,” and 12.5% agreed that “Music is a subject where assessment is not critical.” In addition, 6.8% agreed with the statement “I believe there are few or no benefits for both students and teachers who use assessment in the music program” (81).
Perceived Impediments to Assessment
Several researchers have revealed elementary music teachers’ perceptions regarding the factors that they feel make it difficult to assess or that stand in the way of their ability to assess their students effectively, the most common of which is having too many students and not enough time to assess them all. Several studies found that a common challenge to assessment was a lack of class time (Barkley 2006; Delaney 2011; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Nightingale Abell 1993; Patterson 2006; Peppers 2010; Salvador 2011; Shih 1997) and large class size (Delaney, 2011; Livingston 2000; Patterson 2006; Peppers 2010; Shih 1997). Participants further described their frustration with assessment through comments like, “Can someone help me figure out how to assess 25 kids in 30 minutes when I only see them two times each week?” (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004, 97).
The perception that there is not enough time to assess may be due in part to the amount of class time some elementary music teachers devote to preparing public performances. Interviews with teachers in Shih’s (1997) study revealed that “too many music programs and events” was a major reason that many felt they did not have time to assess. Among Hepworth-Osiowy’s (2004) participants, performance expectations/pressures also were seen as a negative factor affecting assessment: “It often seems that assessment and demonstrating what a child has learned in music class is of secondary importance to a spring concert” (99). Similarly, two of Salvador’s (2011) three participants “reported that preparing for performances hindered or even extinguished their usual assessment practices” (237).
Along with a lack of time and too many students, a common perceived impediment to assessment in elementary general music is the lack of a manageable record-keeping system. One of the teachers in Patterson’s (2006) study stated that she did not assess her students because “[I] want my students to have musical experiences. Record keeping takes away their ‘doing’ time” (41). “Not enough time to maintain records” was one of the top three challenges to assessment reported by the teachers in Peppers’s (2010) study. Two of Salvador’s (2011) three participants cited lack of a manageable record-keeping system as an impediment to assessment, one of whom “stated that her main challenge was finding a way to record assessment data immediately” (94). However, Hailey, Salvador’s third participant, frequently used rating scales to assess and record assessment data in a quick and manageable way; Salvador noted, “The quality and quantity of data Hailey amassed … allowed her to monitor the success of her teaching, tailor her instruction to meet students’ needs, and plan future lessons” (189).
Another perceived impediment to assessment in elementary general music is the challenge of incorporating assessment into daily lessons. Some teachers report that they struggle to assess due to classroom management issues (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Peppers 2010). However, teachers who used ongoing assessment felt less stressed (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004) and had more effective strategies for incorporating it into their regular class activities (Salvador 2011; Shih 1997). For example, Salvador observed that Hailey’s use of embedded assessments in her classroom activities enabled her to “constantly informally and formally [track] the music learning progress of individual students as well as the class as a whole” (2011, 181). Many other teachers struggle to successfully incorporate authentic, embedded assessments into their daily lessons, possibly due to a lack of training in how to do so. A number of Peppers’s (2010) respondents perceived a lack of preparation in college and/or a lack of professional development as challenges to their assessing, and participants in Hepworth-Osiowy’s (2004) study expressed “a critical need to find tools that can help a music teacher assess quickly, easily, and effectively” (92). It appears that helping elementary general music teachers discover manageable ways to incorporate assessment and record-keeping into their daily lessons may be key to alleviating these perceived impediments.
Perceived Negative Effects of Assessment
According to findings of existing studies, some elementary music teachers believe assessment can have negative effects. Some believe that assessment may interfere with students’ love and/or enjoyment of music (Delaney 2011; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Patterson 2006; Talley 2005) or could hinder students’ ability to be musically creative (Niebur 1997). These findings suggest that some elementary music teachers see assessment and students’ enjoyment of music as mutually exclusive. Another perceived negative effect of assessment is that it can hurt students’ musical self-esteem and/or self-efficacy (Farmer 2004; Niebur 1997; Peppers 2010; Salvador 2011). For example, one of Farmer’s (2004) respondents (who were chosen because they were considered to be experts in the field) considered authentic singing assessments to be “potentially harmful” (70) because “assessment could discourage a child” (73). While these beliefs about negative effects of assessments do not appear to be held by the majority of elementary music teachers, they do exist among some and may lead these teachers to avoid assessment.
Connections between Beliefs about Assessment and Other Beliefs
Findings of some studies suggest that there may be connections between beliefs about assessment and other beliefs. Beneath the belief that assessment may hurt students’ musical self-esteem or self-efficacy is another implicit belief: that only a minority of students will have the special, innate talent necessary to develop musical ability. For example, 16% of teachers in Talley’s (2005) study said they assess in order to “identify and challenge gifted students” (60), while one of Niebur’s (1997) participants worried that assessment might cause a child who “was not musically talented” to feel that he or she “can’t do music” (219–20). On the other hand, two of Salvador’s (2011) participants’ assessment practices were driven by the belief that they were teaching “measurable musical skills” that “all students were capable of learning” (273). Hailey felt that conveying the beliefs that “anyone can learn to sing” and “anyone can be musical” to students would help them come to “know that everyone can achieve the things that I am teaching” and assessing (228). Although no studies have focused specifically on connections between beliefs about assessment and about musical ability, it appears that these connections may exist and are a promising avenue for future research.
In addition to connections between beliefs about assessment and about musical ability, another connection revealed by existing studies is between beliefs about assessment and about the purpose of the elementary general music program. Salvador (2011) speculated that “disagreement regarding the nature and purpose of elementary general music” may be “the root of differences in instructional style and thus the practice of assessment” (274). For example, Hailey believed “that all her students could progress musically and that the purpose of music class was for all students to learn music” (226), and these beliefs formed the underlying basis for and driving force behind her assessment practices, specifically that her “practice of assessment and differentiated instruction stemmed directly from her philosophical beliefs regarding universal musicality” (230). Conversely, it appears that many teachers believe that most students will grow up to be “consumers” of music, and therefore the purpose of the elementary music program should be to help them acquire an appreciation and love of music (Carter 1986; Nightingale Abell 1993; Rasor 1988; Shih 1997). While no studies have focused specifically on connections between beliefs about assessment and about the purpose of elementary general music, it appears that these connections may exist and would be worthy of further research.
Assessment in Early Childhood Music
Although considerable research exists examining the content, forms, frequency, and perceptions of elementary general music teachers’ assessment practice, little research exists on the assessment practices used in early childhood music. This may be due to the fact that music programs are taught by music specialists in only 20%–30% of preschools reporting the inclusion of music (Golden 1989; Nardo, Custodero, Persellin, and Fox 2006). Many researchers have found that, while nearly all preschools in Australia and various locations around the United States provide musical experiences and/or instruction, classroom teachers most often lead these types of activities (Etopio 2009; Golden 1989; Kelly 1998; Kirsten 2006; Nardo et al. 2006; Odongo Okong’o 2011; Temmerman 1998).
Kelly (1998) and Kirsten (2006) surveyed preschool teachers and administrators in the United States to examine understandings and implementation of prekindergarten music education standards. Both studies revealed that over 70% of respondents were not aware of the existence of the national standards for prekindergarten, although Kirsten found that 91% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that implementation of standards would result in higher quality music education for students. Similarly, Golden (1989), Kirsten (2006), and Nardo et al. (2006) found that the majority of preschool programs providing music used teacher-designed curricula, although it is unknown if these were in alignment with any state or national standards for music education.
Only three studies have described the assessment practices of music instruction in early childhood music classes. Nardo (1995, in Nardo et al. 2006) found that nearly half of the centers surveyed about their inclusion of music did not assess music content or skill development. Both Nardo et al. (2006) and Kirsten (2006) found that 59% of preschool teachers assessed students. While Kirsten’s survey specified teachers’ assessments of musical competencies, Nardo and colleagues only stated that music was a part of their “assessment plans” (287), so it is unclear whether respondents were assessing musical factors or simply using music to assess nonmusical criteria. Overall, though, these studies provided little specificity about the musical content being assessed.
Runfola and Etopio (2009, 2010) stated that although multiple studies have been created by researchers to assess a variety of musical skills in early childhood in singing, chanting, and movement, these measures were developed for use by the researchers for a single research study and have not been evaluated for use beyond the contexts of those studies. Similarly, since these measures were designed for research, they might be impractical or invalid as assessment tools for both music and classroom teachers. Only Yi (2013) has developed an early childhood assessment measure for instructional use.
In this study, Yi (2013) developed the Early Childhood Musical Behavior Measure (ECMBM), which included twelve dimensions that were rated using continuous rating scales. The ECMBM included four tonal dimensions (singing accuracy, resting tone, major pattern imitation, and minor pattern imitation), seven rhythm dimensions (chant performance, duple pattern imitation, triple pattern imitation, rhythm improvisation, beat with gross motor movement, beat with manipulatives, and beat with locomotor movement), and continuous fluid movement. After a pilot study, the ECMBM was used by three independent early childhood music educators to assess the performances of thirty-six preschool children, which Yi used to evaluate the ECMBM. She found that the ECMBM had moderate to high content validity, interjudge reliability, and intrajudge reliability in nearly all of the dimensions, although the chant performance dimension had low reliability and the movement dimension had low content validity. Based on these results, Yi proposed that the ECMBM could be used as a tool to assess young children’s musical performance in early childhood music class settings. The ECMBM holds great promise for helping early childhood music teachers assess students’ musical achievement, and researchers should consider developing similar comprehensive, authentic measures for older students in general music classes.
Assessment in Secondary General Music Classes
Assessment in secondary general music classes has been studied in accordance with national or state curricula in Australia (Beston 2004; Bryce and Wu 1994), New Zealand (Thorpe 2012), and the United Kingdom (Fautley 2004, 2005; Fautley and Savage 2011; Major 2008; Mellor 2000; Savage and Fautley, 2011), as well as in the city of Hong Kong (Forrester and Wong 2008; Leong 2010; Wong 2014). The majority of these studies specifically explored the use of assessment in composition assignments, which are commonly used to evaluate students’ levels of achievement. Other studies looked at the forms of assessment and measurement tools designed for use in secondary music education.
Several studies have examined teachers’ use and perceptions of composition assessments. In two separate but related studies, Fautley and Savage conducted surveys and follow-up interviews with music teachers in the United Kingdom for Key Stages 3 (ages 11–14) (Fautley and Savage 2011) and 4 (ages 14–16) (Savage and Fautley 2011). In both studies, the results revealed that most teachers’ self-selected classroom assessments were influenced by the criteria included in the national General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) assessments, even though the national assessments were not designed for use in regular classroom instruction. Further, Fautley and Savage found that 74% of teachers used the national assessment levels at least once per term, and interview data indicated that many were adapting the levels for their own use by adopting more student-friendly language and creating sublevels. Although the teachers were attempting to assess their students’ compositions and adapt the language and levels to suit their needs, these adaptations may have affected the validity of these tools.
However, even when music teachers were provided with criteria, they struggled to use them consistently, especially for varying compositional styles. Beston (2004) surveyed music teachers in New South Wales, Australia (N = 228) and then had twenty-four of them participate in a simulated task assessing sample student compositions. Factor analysis indicated that the teachers did not use consistent criteria, although they did show greater agreement in assessing a composition in an art music style (as opposed to jazz or rock). Overall, the participant judges were “averse to using a prescribed set of criteria” (37). Beston claimed that this positively showed participants’ sensitivity to approaching each piece individually, but she downplayed the implications of this inconsistency and what it could mean for composition assessment as a part of the national curriculum.
In addition, students did not have confidence in their music teachers’ abilities to assess their group compositions. In a case study of one rock band music class and their teacher, Thorpe (2012) found differing amounts of confidence in the teacher’s abilities to determine individual contributions in group composition assignments. While the teacher rated her ability to determine individual contributions at 75%, students’ confidence in their teacher ranged from only 30% to 60%. Thorpe concluded that although group compositions were permitted in the national curriculum, it was difficult for teachers to accurately assess individual achievement.
Overall, studies revealed that secondary general music teachers believed that different styles of music should be assessed using different criteria, and also that the criteria provided by their national and state curricula lacked sufficient detail (Beston 2004; Savage and Fautley 2011). In addition, Fautley (2004, 2005) found that teachers used composition more as a summative assessment, but the use of listening tasks as a formative assessment could be beneficial in guiding students’ later composing experiences (2005). However, Legg (2010) found that preservice teachers used unfair gender associations in assessing student compositions, assuming that higher scoring pieces were created by males, although it is unknown whether experienced teachers would make similar associations.
A few studies have examined secondary students’ self-assessments of their compositions (Major 2008; Mellor 2000; Thorpe 2012). Students in Key Stage 3 made self-assessments that were aligned with UK national curriculum standards (Major 2008; Mellor 2000), although students were often swayed by peers and social influences in their assessments (Mellor 2000). Major (2008) conducted an action research study over five years with students aged eleven to sixteen years. Based on classroom observations and student interviews, she developed a typology of students’ compositional self-assessments that included six categories—exploration, description, opinion, affective response, evaluation, and problem solving—but not all of the categories required the use of musical, conceptual, and/or analytical knowledge. She concluded that in order for students to reach the higher, complex levels of the self-assessment typology, they needed to develop both a feeling of “ownership” (311) of their compositions and a “greater command of musical terminology and conceptual understanding” (316).
While the majority of studies in secondary general music education in the United Kingdom and Australia corresponded with national summative assessments, the United States has not yet established similar assessments at either the national or state levels. However, some US states have begun to develop and pilot their own music assessments. Zuar (2006) analyzed a secondary assessment developed and tested by New York State, although it was never adopted for full implementation. In particular, he analyzed the results of a 2002 field test that included 447 students in ninth grade from twenty districts enrolled in either performing ensembles or general music classes. Zuar found that in comparison with the 1997 national assessment, the New York assessment included both authentic performance-based and written questions. He also found that students had the strongest achievement in the areas of “understanding culture” and “creating and performing,” but students from performing ensembles achieved higher scores than those enrolled in general music classes. However, Zuar provided little methodological or theoretical groundings to frame his analysis, so his conclusions should be viewed with caution.
A few studies have examined the assessment of general music classes outside of composition activities, and these covered a variety of topics. Nierman (2007) developed a valid measure to determine the ability of students aged nine to fourteen years to keep a steady beat. Although it is unclear what content was being assessed and whether it was authentic, Bryce and Wu (1994) found that an Australian state music assessment in a paper form could be converted into a computer format. In one of the few studies exploring secondary students’ perceptions of assessment, Leong (2010) surveyed high school students in music (n = 305) and visual arts (n = 224) classes in Hong Kong about the types and purposes of assessments they were given and found that performance and written tests were the most common forms of music assessment. However, while 53% of visual arts students believed they were assessed on their creative thinking, only 6.5% of music students expressed similar beliefs. Leong concluded that music teachers needed additional professional development in including creative thinking in both their instruction and assessments.
Professional Development Needs/Interests
Little is known about the amount of professional development that pre-K–12 general music teachers have received on the topic of assessment. Hepworth-Osiowy (2004) found 45% of survey respondents reported receiving no professional development in assessment. Most who had received training in assessment stated that this took place at their annual conferences or in workshops. Hepworth-Osiowy also found that music teachers had received limited assessment preparation in their preservice coursework, stating that the topic was not studied in “any real depth” (90). This resembles findings from Barkley (2006) and Ballantyne (2005), who also found that music teachers reported that they had not received sufficient training in assessment. Ballantyne (2005) used a mixed-method design to examine the effectiveness of preservice music teacher programs in Queensland, Australia. Her findings revealed that although 80% of early-career music teachers reported that assessment was important for them to learn about, 53% stated that their training was poor or inadequate. These claims were further supported in semistructured interviews with participants who described feeling “ill-equipped” (140) to help senior students submit their senior projects for evaluation.
While few studies have focused on the topic of professional development in assessment among experienced teachers, one study looked specifically at the training of preservice teachers in their use of alternative assessments with students with special needs (VanWeelden and Whipple 2005). Although the preservice teachers had received training in using alternative assessments, they were “unable to accurately predict or perceive students’ level of mastery of music concepts” (214) as compared with students’ achievement. In addition, the letter grades assigned by the preservice teachers were unreliable according to their recorded scores for musical achievement and participation. While this study looked specifically at preservice teachers’ use of assessment with students with special needs, similar research with other student populations could yield useful results for music teacher education.
In early childhood music education, professional development needs focus not only on music teachers but also on general classroom teachers, who often have to teach music to their young students. Burgess (2013) found that early childhood teachers in a Reggio-inspired setting became more accurate in their informal assessments of children’s musical achievements as a result of having training and a published assessment tool to help guide their assessments. However, even with training, participants did not always use the provided rating scales correctly.
Although little is known about the types of professional development teachers have received in assessment, several studies have revealed that general music teachers desire more training in this topic (Barkley 2006; Bowles 2002; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Tarnowski and Murphy 2002). In a survey of 456 general music and secondary ensemble teachers from one state in the United States, Bowles (2002) reported that assessment was the second most frequently selected topic (57%) needed in their professional development, while Tarnowski and Murphy (2002) found it to be ranked as the third most-needed topic (55.88%) among elementary general music teachers.
Since many music teachers feel unprepared to do assessment and want additional professional development in this area, some have sought out additional support through online website forums. Bauer and Moehle (2008) conducted a content analysis of online discussions on the National Association for Music Education website (NAfME 2015). Among elementary general music teachers, 84 of 235 posts were categorized as being about assessments. This indicates that music teachers may be using online discussion platforms to seek out peer guidance and further reflects the need for additional professional development opportunities on the topic of assessment.
Discussion and Conclusions
Research in the assessment of general music education has examined what music teachers are assessing, how they are assessing, how frequently they assess, and what they perceive as the benefits or challenges to assessing. However, as this review of literature reveals, the assessment practices of general music teachers are directly determined by their curricula, their level of preparation in assessment, their beliefs about assessment, and the expectations of policymakers and regulators in education. For example, while few secondary general music programs exist in the United States due to the prevalence of performance-based ensembles, most programs in countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia have a focus on general music culminating in the submission of a composition in students’ senior year. This has resulted in a distinct difference between research concerning elementary- and secondary-level assessments.
Many elementary music teachers in the United States reported their preferences, practices, and beliefs about assessment, which seemed to have a connection to the content they assessed, how they assessed it, and how often they chose to assess. This suggests that American elementary music teachers have a lot of agency in their teaching but may also lack accountability and training to successfully conduct appropriate and authentic assessments. In addition, since the majority of preschool music classes are taught by general classroom teachers, there is a need for more professional development for these teachers in providing appropriate instruction that aligns with US national preschool music education standards (Nardo et al. 2006; Kelly 1998). This professional development should also include strategies for assessing these standards.
Secondary general music teachers in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Hong Kong are required to assess students using national and state curricula, so the content of this research looks more at how these curricula influence teachers’ assessments. In particular, the majority examined how teachers assessed composition projects. However, secondary general music teachers sometimes struggled to use the national and state curriculum assessments effectively because of vague criteria and limitations on the styles acceptable for submission (Beston 2004; Fautley and Savage 2011; Green 1990). Thus, the required curriculum assessments may need to be reviewed and/or revised, and greater clarification needs to be made about whether and how assessments of group compositions will be allowed (Thorpe 2012).
While the use of a composition assignment provides a great deal of information about students’ musical achievements, several scholars have critiqued aspects of these assessments. Green (1990) cautioned against placing notated compositions “on to a pedestal,” because that would downplay the value of understandings from musical styles that are rooted in “informally acquired, non-discursive, pre-literate knowledge” (195). Similarly, Philpott (2012) developed a model of assessment that could be used in self-directed learning approaches like informal music learning. He stated that there should be an emphasis placed on assessment for learning (formative assessment) rather than summative assessment, and he suggested that teachers should include student input in the criteria used and understand students’ own “self-directed objectives” (165). However, more research needs to be conducted on how Green’s and Philpott’s suggestions regarding assessment could be put into practice and their impact on students’ learning.
The research in general music assessment, particularly the surveys regarding the practices and perceptions of elementary music teachers, reveals numerous areas of concern. A large number of elementary music teachers, particularly in the United States, do not regularly or frequently assess their students (Lane 2007; Livingston 2000; Patterson 2006; Shih 1997; Talley 2005), and many who do conduct assessments of their students place greater emphasis on nonmusical factors like participation and effort (Barkley 2006; Carter 1986; Farmer 2004; Lane 2007; McQuarrie and Sherwin 2013; Nightingale Abell 1993; Patterson 2006; Wang and Sogin 1997). Even though some music teachers do assess musical content, many rely on written tests (Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Livingston 2000; Nightingale Abell 1993; Rasor 1988; Talley 2005), which could suggest that these teachers are not using an authentic assessment or are prioritizing music reading over other skills, like those involved in performing, analyzing, or creating music.
Furthermore, a large number of music teachers have reported using no tools at all, instead using informal observations as their primary form of assessment (Barkley 2006; Delaney 2011; Lane 2007; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Livingston 2000; McQuarrie and Sherwin 2013; Miranda 2004; Nightingale Abell 1993; Patterson 2006). This, too, is problematic, because it is unclear whether their informal assessments are accurate, particularly when conducted in groups and/or group performances (Barkley 2006; Carter 1986; Delaney 2011; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; McQuarrie and Sherwin 2013; Nightingale Abell 1993; Salvador 2011; Shih 1997). Without documentation of individual student progress, these teachers will have a more difficult time using assessments to plan and differentiate instruction and assign grades (Salvador 2011).
The studies about teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about assessment (Barkley 2006; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Niebur 1997; Nightingale Abell 1993; Patterson 2006; Peppers 2010; Salvador 2011; Talley 2005), as well as their lack of professional development (Ballantyne 2005; Barkley 2006; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004), indicate possible deficiencies in general music education. Music teachers at all levels need more frequent, in-depth, and research-based professional development to help them develop appropriate practical strategies and systems to incorporate assessments into their teaching. Teachers need to learn better methods to individually and authentically assess students in performing, analyzing, and creating music, particularly through the use of valid and reliable rubrics, rating scales, and checklists.
In addition, the majority of assessment studies seemed to focus on summative assessments. Music teachers need professional development to better incorporate formative assessments into their teaching process. “Hailey,” one of the elementary music teachers in Salvador’s (2011) study, showed how a teacher could use formative assessments effectively, and her model could be a powerful example for others. Her use of daily, individual assessments embedded into her routine classroom activities gave her a plethora of data to support and inform her teaching. Preservice teachers should have multiple experiences designing and implementing assessments throughout their teacher training courses, and student teaching programs might further encourage the use of assessments by requiring it as a part of the student teaching process.
Music teachers frequently expressed concerns about practical methods for collecting, storing, and analyzing student data. Technologies like handheld tablets, interactive whiteboards, and cloud storage can provide additional resources to help teachers be more effective in managing assessment data. Music teacher educators could investigate the use of technological tools in music teachers’ assessment practice, as well as provide professional development to preservice and practicing teachers about how they can utilize technology to help them with their assessments.
To better support music teachers in implementing effective assessments, music teacher educators and researchers need to provide them with more tools that have been found to be valid and reliable, similar to Yi’s (2013) and Nierman’s (2007). For example, Yi’s ECMBM tool included multiple measures to authentically assess preschool students’ musical achievement in a variety of areas; similar measures could be developed for students at the elementary and secondary levels. In addition to researcher-created tools, some US music teacher educators and other arts stakeholders are working in their home states to assemble assessment tools for teacher use. For example, the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment (MAEIA) Program is in the process of creating, field testing, and publishing a collection of assessments for voluntary use in music classrooms at all levels and in all settings (Michigan Assessment Consortium 2015). Perhaps if music teachers had greater access to quality measurement tools, they would feel more confident about incorporating them into their teaching.
While the assessments created by MAEIA and other similar programs in the United States are voluntary, some policymakers and governmental agencies have implemented or are working toward implementing required national or state music assessments. Such national or state assessments would provide teachers with greater accountability in meeting student learning objectives and could further support instruction. However, it is uncertain whether these standardized assessments are valid, reliable measures. Furthermore, standardized tests are difficult to implement using authentic practices of musical skills like singing or instrumental performance, and they do not take into consideration contextual factors among various school populations or individual student differences. Although there is a danger in putting too much emphasis on national or state assessments, including the risk of “teaching to the test” (Savage and Fautley 2011, 143), there is an equal risk of avoiding the discussion of assessment altogether. Rather than an all-or-nothing approach to assessment, it is essential that all music teachers use assessments to support and inform their teaching practice to ensure student learning and growth.
In order for more music teachers to begin implementing assessments in a meaningful way, music teacher educators must help them see the value and benefits of assessment. A number of teachers believe assessment is not valuable or important in the music classroom (Barkley 2006; Hepworth-Osiowy 2004; Peppers 2010), and their lack of belief in or buy-in to assessment may be why they do not assess (Talley 2005). Unless we help teachers recognize and believe in the importance of assessment for both their students and themselves as teachers, they will be unlikely to change their practice.
Teacher beliefs can have a powerful impact on teaching practice in a variety of ways (Ernest 1989; Fives and Buehl 2008, 2012; Thompson 2007; Vartuli 2005). We can again look to “Hailey” as an example: her use of assessments was rooted in her belief that all students are musical (Salvador 2011). This belief drove her to implement assessments and utilize assessment data in meaningful ways to help each student advance in his or her musical skill development. Further research needs to explore the connections between teachers’ beliefs and their assessment practices, as well as whether professional development can result in lasting change.
It is perhaps the notion of changing teachers’ beliefs about assessment that holds the most promise. At the beginning of the chapter, we likened educational policies to a fire sweeping through schools. Although this has the potential to portray assessment in a negative light, music teacher educators could fan the flames in a new direction by educating teachers about authentic ways to assess students’ musical growth and helping them adopt new beliefs about the power of assessment to support and improve their teaching. In doing so, we could begin a new blaze in which music teachers are not only better equipped to assess but are also passionate about the vital role assessment can and should play in their classrooms.
The authors’ names are listed alphabetically; both contributed equally to this work.
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