Standards-Based Learning

Our district is moving to a Standards-Based Learning model, and our 6-12 Instrumental Music Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) has jumped right in! I wanted to discuss a bit what that looks like for us, what we are wrestling with to improve our student’s learning. If you need a little bit more about what Standards-Based Learning is overall, JumpRope (an SBL software we are looking at using) provides some basic information on their blog. Our district has also released a document entitled Fair and Consistent Practices to detail what this will look like for us. In a previous post, I described our vertical lesson format that is allowing 6-12 grade students to take lessons with a teacher who is a "pro" on their primary instrument. We are using these lessons as our leaping off point for incorporating Standards-Based Learning into our programs.

Prior to my teaching in our district, all of the PLCs went through curriculum review. Part of this process involved developing power standards for what they wanted our students to know and be able to do at the end of their time with us. For 6-12 Instrumental Music, that looks like this:

Rhythm/Beat/Meter Competency

The student will be able to…

  • Dictate a performed rhythm (play and/or write)

  • Perform a given rhythm with characteristic tone

  • Identify a performed rhythm

  • Identify meter

  • Maintain a consistent pulse

  • Breathe in time with proper technique and in musically appropriate places in performance

Tonal Literacy

The student will be able to...

  • Perform a major scale with characteristic tone

  • Identify do through key signatures

  • Identify tonal center

  • Dictate a performed tonal sequence

  • Perform a tonal sequence with characteristic tone

  • Identify a performed tonal sequence

  • Identify a harmonic sequence

  • Perform a harmonic sequence with characteristic tone


The student will be able to…

  • Identify, label, define, and perform dynamics articulation and tempo marking

  • Make expressive decisions based on historical context, genre and style


The student will be able to…

  • Apply learned musical performance, literacy, and critical thinking skills to the music- making process with various sizes of ensembles

This year, our 6-12 Instrumental Music PLC has been working to define what each of these power standards looks like in 6th Grade Band, 7th Grade Band, 8th Grade Band, 9th Grade Band, 10th Grade Band, and 11-12th Grade Band.

We created a Wind Rubric and a Percussion Rubric for helping us assess our students in a variety of different scenarios. The rubrics give a rating of 1-Not Meeting the Standard, 2-Making Progress towards the Standard, 3-Meeting the Standard, or 4-Exceeding the Standard. I should point out now there is NO correlation between the 1-4 and an A-F letter grade. Students get these ratings across a range of areas including for wind players:

  • Tone Quality - do you sound like a (insert instrument) player at grade level?

  • Technique - are you playing correct notes?

  • Rhythm - are you playing correct rhythms?

  • Articulation - are you playing with correct articulations?

  • Expression - are you using dynamics, phrasing, etc?

And for percussionists:

  • Basic Technique - are you holding the stick/mallet correctly?

  • Advanced Technique - are you performing style markings and stockings accurately?

  • Rhythm - are you playing correct rhythms?

  • Tempo - are you playing at a steady, appropriate tempo?

  • Expression - are you using dynamics, phrasing, etc?

The rubrics also include feedback on behavior including:

  • Posture - are you sitting/standing and holding the horn correctly?

  • Equipment - are you using appropriate equipment for the music?

  • Preparedness - do you have all of the necessary materials ready for this performance?

In practice, we have created a Google Form for each of our three buildings. When teaching a lesson in that building, the teacher fills out the form for each student completing a lesson. The data we collect from these is formative and does not affect a student's academic grade. It gives us and the student a snapshot of where they are at that given point in the school year. Below is what the Google Form looks like:



Our primary focus has been on the standards dealing with identifying and performing within a tonal center. We use that same rubric when evaluating assessments our students have completed revolving around these standards. At the 8-12th grade level, these assessments are based off of exercises in the method book Foundations for Superior Performance, a resource all of those students have access to in hard copy and via SmartMusic. At the 10-12th grade level students complete the following exercises about every two weeks: Mini-Scale & Tonic Arpeggio, Scale Pattern 1, Scale in Thirds, and Chord Study 1. The exercises shift keys as they progress through the school year, and each year the tempo requirements increase.

We use SmartMusic to help us with our assessment. All of our students have a Google Apps account with the district that we use to register them for free accounts within the program. We also have 8 pinned practice room subscriptions at our high school that students are free to use. SmartMusic allows us to create the assessments, assign them to students registered in our classes (10th Band, 11th Band, 12th Band), record their performances, assess their performances, and give feedback on the performances. While we have played a bit with SmartMusic's rubric assessments, we found it quicker and easier to continue to use Google Docs for collecting the data.

Our PLC recently had a conversation around what we can continue to do better. While none of us are new to teaching, we are new to teaching as this team of five teaching vertically together. With a better understanding of how our year plays out, we are working to better this process. Some of the questions we have been wrestling with are:

  • Do our assessments tell accurately show what our students know/are able to do? What needs to be modified?

  • How do we accurately assess our other power standards?

  • Are we accurately providing our students with feedback from their performance assessments? Is it improving their performance?

  • What other methods could we use to quickly and accurately collect and use data from our students?

It is an exciting time to be teaching, especially with this team. We are excited about identifying what our students know and are able to do and helping them progress down the path of becoming independent musicians. I hope to keep you updated in our progress along the way!


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.