R – Implementing standards based assessment into a music program can appear to be a daunting task. But I have a conviction that it doesn’t have to be. In practice, standards articulate critical stepping stones in the educational journey of our students. It’s what we want them to know and be able to do. Is there a single teacher who can’t speak eloquently to what those goals are in their own classrooms? They can range from the formal curriculum goals to units of study to even the smallest pieces of our students’ educational growth. Here are some ideas for implementing standards based assessment in our music classrooms.
What do you want your students to know? Asking this question is not merely necessary for bridging into Standards Based Assessment, it’s a critical question to be asked for any music program that professes to academic in nature! The answers for every teacher vary, dependent on three variables: 1. grade level appropriate expectations, 2. prior, accumulated knowledge base of the students, 3. classroom face time considerations. The Maine Learning Results provides a wonderful framework for the first piece, but can’t presume the impact of the second and third pieces. At the Junior High and High School levels you add a fourth component of specific course expectations. Consequently, it really is up to YOU to consider these factors and determine the appropriate answers to the fundamental question, “what DO you want your students to know”?
Articulate these learning expectations into language that your students and their parents can easily understand: STANDARDS! You can’t hit the target unless you can first see the target. Same with learning expectations. Make them simple and as easily understood as possible. This is where the Maine Learning Results or National Standards can be really helpful. Study the language in them… trust me, there is not a syllable of either document that is in there by chance. It doesn’t have to sound flashy or hip, it just needs to articulate leaning expectations. My YHS Choral Standards 12-13 for this year are really boring. They also work for me and my students… and that’s the point. Standards, articulated in really clear language, makes things infinitely easier for everyone, including yourself.
How many should you write down? As many as you can, or as few as you want! This is a brainstorming session on your part ONLY. The important element is the not the volume of standards you have, but the rather the independence of each. “Sing accurately with good tone” is not a standard. It’s actually two standards. Divvy them up… isn’t it possible to sing accurately with poor tone or to have a wonderful tone while singing inaccurately? Make each a clear stand alone expectation. THIS filter, more than anything else, will determine how many standards you come up with. But read on… you may not initially actually implement all the ones you came up with. As a matter of fact, I all but guarantee it.
Cross reference your standards with performance indicators from the MLR or National Standards. Do you see alignments with them that suggest additional standards you didn’t consider? Do you have standards that are missing in those documents but you can substantiate? The initial goal here is not necessarily to align with either document, but rather to give yourself a “gut check” with regards to the standards you are developing for yourself. As a professional in the field, it’s the right step to take. But conversely, educated professionals being completely dogmatic with regard to ANY document or approach is a pet peeve of mine. Know where you are in alignment and why, know where you are not in alignment and why, and move forward from there. You can’t do so without following through on this important step of cross referencing your standards against state or national documents first, which serve as tremendous road maps for us.
Categorize your standards. For me, it has been extraordinarily helpful (and revealing!) to divide these into the following categories: content standards only measurable on an individual basis, content standards that can be measured in a group setting, and standards that are social or civic in nature. I believe that standards in each of these three categories are essential in the grand scheme of articulating why instruction in our subject area is so important. But once you categorize your standards in this way, you will not only quickly see a very clear picture what it is you value most, but also how you will need to structure your assessment practices to adequately measure student growth in each (how cool is THAT???!!!). And to offer one more amazing reveal, you will be able to tell almost immediately if your curriculum actually aligns with your learning expectations and student outcomes (even COOLER!!!).
For each standard, develop an analytic rubric. This too can seem daunting at first, but if you truly understand what the learning goal is, you’ll also be able to articulate what varying degrees of accomplishment of that goal looks/sounds like. At it’s most basic core, that’s all rubrics do. In function, they have to be well written and very, very clear, but don’t make these more than what they are intended to be. By the same token, avoid at all costs the temptation to insert words such as “very” to delineate the difference between a “4” (exceeds the standard) and “3” (meets the standard) for instance. And hey, choices you have to make such as whether or not the rubrics will be on a 2 point, 3 point or 4 point scale? That’s up to factors such as what your school district is moving toward, functional reality of what you’re trying to do, and so on. Look at TONS of examples on the web for ideas and talk to colleagues in your region for their input. My belief is that, all things being equal, it is more time consuming to develop a 4 point scale, but worth every minute of the effort in that it forces you to be extraordinarily clear and specific, and it will be a piece of cake to transfer it someday to a 3 point scale if you choose to make that switch at some point. The same is not so true the other way around. One more thing: make your rubric brief! If it takes longer to read through every darn indicator than it does to apply it, uh, hello? 🙂
Tire to the pavement: select the standards you want to begin assessing. Go one term at a time, even one unit or lesson at a time. Select standards that require individual assessment. Select at least one standard that incorporates subject area knowledge so that they’re not all just social or civic. But most of all, incorporate only ones that are manageable and DOABLE! If you attempt to do it all and do it all at once, no good is gonna come of any of it. Keep it real… do only to ones you believe you have the time and resources to incorporate them. The YHS Choral Standards for this year constitute about 25% of what I really want to be doing. And that’s okay, it really is! I’m refining these while also developing strategies to incorporate more each year, even each semester. As for the ones that don’t get incorporated? Don’t loose them! You determined for yourself that these are standards that you value most for your students, so work diligently towards a day that you’ll be able to include many more.
You completed these steps? Congratulations, here’s just SOME of your rewards:
* you are able to your engage your non-music colleagues in a cross platform discussion around assessment practices and their ties to instruction.
* you are on your way to self-evaluating your instructional practices, your assessment practices, and your consistency in tying the two together.
* you will be compelled (trust me on this one!) to reevaluate what you do and why you do it on a nearly daily basis. If you checked out the pdf above of my choral standards for this year, did you notice standard d. is completely missing? Yeah, didn’t like it once I tried using it, so I ditched it and altered how I assessed standard c. instead. You’re allowed to do that sorta thing, and you’ll find yourself doing so!
* you are making the transition from “this is what I teach” to “this is what my students learn… and how well they learned it”.
* you have put in motion perhaps the most powerful tool you’ve ever had for advocacy (can’t teach certain standards due to time or facilities restrictions? NOW you can articulate that in a way that ANYONE can understand and see the value in!).
* you have a tool to now incoroporate authentic, reflective, OBJECTIVE evaluation of your PK-12 program.
* you will never see or hear your student’s work the same way ever again.
Game on! Start big or small, but start. Forget the fact that states all over the country, including Maine, are moving this direction for keeps. To me, it’s simply about this: it has the potential to transform how you evaluate what you and your students do while also positively impacting their experiences and learnings. Isn’t that motivation enough? Yet even MORE on all this coming soon!!! 🙂