Assessing in a New Year

Sorry for the long delay between posts. Getting married, moving, and beginning a new school year provides a bit of a distraction from blogging! Over the summer and leading into this school year, we met as a Vertical PLC to discuss how we can begin better assessing our Power Standards. We ran into a few snafus as we began implementing them this Fall. Our school district reports grades every six weeks via Infinite Campus. We have been adapting our assessing and reporting to this system while integrating SmartMusic into the mix. We feel like we are finally stumbling in the right direction!

Each teacher in their role as a grade-level band director (two 6-7th grade directors, one 8-9th grade director, and two 10-12th grade directors) identified 1-2 assessments to be completed within each six week grading task. In their role as an instrumental specialist (1 flute teacher, 1 double reeds teacher, 1 clarinet/saxophone teacher, 1 brass teacher, and 1 percussion teacher) these teachers then selected melodic etudes from the lesson book material at each grade level that could demonstrate a student's ability to perform in the specified tonal center. Our goal is for these assessments to occur during lessons and assess the following power standards:

  • 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

  • Perform a major scale with characteristic tone

  • Identify do through key signatures

  • Identify tonal center

  • Perform a tonal sequence with characteristic tone

We will assess these using our Wind and Percussion Rubrics in addition to asking a few prepared questions:

  1. Is this time signature simple or compound?

  2. What notes are in the key signature?

  3. Identify the tonal center.

  4. Play the scale of the tonal center.

  5. Say the excerpt using takadimi syllables.

  6. Play the excerpt.

We have collected our different assessments into a Google Sheet which you can view. The last tab, Master, is the collection of assessments across each of the six-week grading tasks. You may notice not all of the cells are filled. The document is a work in progress as we continue throughout the year. More on that later. The first tab, Standards by Grade, is the list of our Power Standards developed in curriculum review several years ago. We took those power standards and identified what and how we wanted to assess and introduce at each grade level. The second tab, Assessments by Grade, was our guide for beginning to find the specific melodic etudes for the different instruments. The third tab, Instruments by Grade was our first stab at choosing assessments by grade level and instrument.

Our sixth and seventh grade students are using Student Instrumental Course Level 1. Eighth and ninth grade students are using Student Instrumental Course Level 2. 10-12th grade students are using Rubank Advanced Volume 1. Originally we had decided on a progression of concert key signatures across the six grades concluding with assessing seniors over Bb, Eb, Ab, F, C, Db, and G major and g, d, c, f, and minor. We discovered that the progression of key signatures in the Rubank method books did not work well for this.  We revamped the 10-12th grade assessments to better reflect the progression of keys in each individual method book.

We are discovering at the end of our second lesson cycle that this works much better. The rhythmic and tonal difficulty of the assessments better scales to the ability level of the students. This new method of assessing allows us to continually work on developing tone quality, technique, articulation, and expression over several lesson cycles. Some students need one lesson on the material prior to the assessment. Others may need several, and it is quite beneficial for them.

Making it Work with SmartMusic Our next experiment this year involves making this all work with SmartMusic. Because not all of these melodic etudes are in SmartMusic, we needed to get creative. Our current plan is to use SmartMusic's Response Assignments to make this easier for us. To create a Response Assignment, you must have an Educator Subscription and have created a class. When logged into that class in SmartMusic, Response Assignment is an option under Additional Tools.

We attach a PDF like this to each of the Response Assignments. The PDF explains the procedure for the students to record themselves using the Practice Tools. It also includes the information for where the assessment material is located in their method books. We are discussing creating PDFs or Finale files of the material that isn't currently in SmartMusic. This allows us to differentiate tempi and a variety of other musical aspects without creating several different assignments in the SmartMusic Grade Book.

This next lesson cycle (starting tomorrow!) is the first assessment cycle. I will keep you posted on how it goes!


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.