Like any other subject in school, assessment in a band class should be a measure of student achievement and understanding, attitude and overall effort.
While most school band curricula dictate both specific and general learning objectives for students in a band class, there seems to be much latitude on how band students are assessed. Some teachers believe in rewarding students based solely on attendance with little regard for any measure of student understanding and achievement. Some teachers only assess demonstrated playing skill with little regard for attitude, effort or regular attendance. Some teachers assign “team” marks that reflect the efforts or accomplishments for an entire ensemble.
Some teachers encourage student input in assigning marks where others do not. Some teachers allow students to complete assignments late without penalty while some will not accept assignments or a demonstration of competency beyond a specified due date. Some teachers allow students to retest again and again to raise marks while others do not and expect students to be ready to meet a hard deadline. The point is to find what works best for you, your students and your situation.
Let’s face it; in most classes and particularly in band class, most students and their parents are generally more concerned about marks than meeting the objectives of the curriculum. If we simply award high marks we can keep everyone happy. But are we really showing students the value of hard work and achievement if they receive high marks just for showing up? It is difficult to justify awarding high marks when we may have some students that perform badly due to a lack of effort and the willingness to assume any personal responsibility. In a math class students must demonstrate an understanding of concepts presented. Band class should be no different and our assessments should reflect playing performance, effort, growth and overall musicianship.
Assessment may be formative or summative, but most importantly should encourage student growth and success. Students are much more likely to stay involved in band class if they are having fun making music with their peers and experiencing success. What is important is the need for regular assessment. Regular assessment does not necessarily mean constant and rigorous individual testing, this is very time consuming and not particularly enjoyable for all parties.
Conversely, providing only assessments that don’t really measure student achievement often don’t lend themselves to a true measure of student musicianship and understanding. For example, the occasional “pencil checks” for marks can be beneficial for assessing student effort and attitude but they certainly don’t measure musical skill and understanding. It is much more effective to design regular assessments where students can demonstrate a variety of skills and in a variety of ways that empower them and allow them to succeed. Aim to have your assessments include a measure of the understanding of concepts presented. This may take the form of performing a short excerpt from their repertoire or a scale or scale pattern.
These formative evaluations do not need to be extensive and are not always necessarily for marks. To be most effective they do need to occur regularly and it is the regularity of these assessments that helps us as teachers gauge student learning and make necessary adjustments to our teaching to improve student learning.
Some students prefer live testing where many others would prefer turning things in electronically. Where possible, give them the option. This brings us to the point of whether or not to use your valuable class time and have students perform in front of one another. Do it! By having students perform in front of their peers, it holds them accountable to themselves and to one another.
At first this can be very intimidating for some students and it will take some time for them to feel comfortable performing in front of their classmates. In these cases, consider allowing students to perform their test in a private setting before the scheduled test time. As time goes on you will likely find that before long students are much more willing to play in front of their peers if you set them up for success and foster an environment where you and their classmates support their efforts and learning. The added bonus in this approach is seeing students garner more and more confidence in themselves.
For a more summative evaluation of their playing skills you can save testing time by assigning several items that they are responsible for but only actually testing part of the assignment as determined by a coin toss, roll of a dice or other creative means. Students will still have to prepare everything but you don’t necessarily need to hear everything. In summative evaluation, try and include evaluative tools like rubrics where students can get feedback on their strengths and areas for improvement.
Encourage mastery learning by having students redo assessments if they don’t reach an appropriate level of performance. While some students are able to complete assessments with little extra preparation needed, some students have to work very hard to meet expectations. As long as a student is working and demonstrating improvement in their skills, allow them, where possible and reasonable, more time to master these skills.
Student assessment is an important aspect of band class. Set your students up for success.