A Standards-Referenced Instrumental Music Program: Prioritizing Standards

On October 23, 2016, I began a blog post trying to collect my thoughts around our work in standards over the past four years. As I have organized (and reorganized) those thoughts, the post has evolved into plans for a presentation at the 2017 Iowa Bandmasters Association conference as well as a companion website of "how" we did our work in standards. This is the fourth in a series of posts detailing the "how." The first four posts detail our district's process for curriculum review and looking at the Iowa Core Curriculum, looking at national and state music standards, and presenting the standards we developed in 2011-2012.

Those previous four posts have been setting up the background for our answer to Question 1 of the four essential questions for a PLC: what do we want students to learn/know/be able to do? The answer that our K-12 music teachers came up with during the 2011-2012 school year was the following:


This is a lot to assess, especially for a sixth grader! At the time, we did not know that what we were doing was prioritizing standards, but we narrowed the focus down. Grade-level teachers decide what each of the above standards would look like and if they would be assessed at their grade level. The result was the following document:

Red text now indicates what we would call an introductory area. At the time, we were just indicating we would not assess those particular skills in those particular grades.

The next step was to answer Question 2: how will we know they know/have learned/can do it? We continued in our roles as grade-level teachers, looking at how we would assess during each 6-week grading period. The result was the following document:

And then we stepped into our roles as instrument-specific teachers to identify specific melodic etudes out of their lesson books that met the criteria of the above two documents. This resulted in the following (still in-progress) document:

These identify the grade level, the time of the assessment, the repertoire for the assessment, and the tempo of the assessment. Currently, our students use Student Instrumental Course Level 1 and Level 2 in grades 6-9 and Rubank Advanced Volume 1 in grades 10-12.

I think the next step for us is to better align our assessments so we can compare across instruments. Currently, every student will demonstrate the necessary skills over the course of the year, but the flutes might not necessarily demonstrate them at the same time as the trumpets.

Each student is graded against our rubrics:


Down the left-hand side of the rubrics are the necessary skills, across the top are the different proficiency levels. In the past year, we have worked to unify the language across so a 4 means you are always demonstrating the skill, 3 means usually, 2 means sometimes, 1 means rarely, and I means there was not enough evidence of the skill demonstrated. If a student receives an I in any category, we ask them to redo the assessment.

I have seen several examples of rubrics that align prompting with the proficiency scale. For example, a 4 would mean demonstrating the skill without any prompting, 3 would mean with a little prompting, etc. I'm sure those will come up in our discussions as we move forward.

The next step is to discuss how to analyze and respond to data.


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.