Assessment in Music Education

by Jace Stearn
Concert and jazz band director at Highwood High School in High River, Alberta

A Grouping of Random Thoughts and Ideas from 20+ Years in the Band Classroom

Over the years I have had the opportunity to hone my craft, developing teaching skills as a result of stealing ideas from a myriad of guests who were invited into my classroom. The importance of establishing a growth mindset in my students required that I, myself, must in fact embody the growth mindset. A personal commitment to professional development, and the implementation of new ideas into my teaching and procedures, has allowed for my students to continue to succeed in an ever-changing environment, where the noise of social media and distractions from technology have impacted the student ability to focus and commit.

In the beginning of my teaching career, I ran a relatively small program where it was easy to collect 25 tape test recordings from my students and return them in short order without much disruption to my regular class prep time. That changed quickly once I moved to a large junior high band program and assigned the same tape test requirements to all of my students, in all of my classes, all at the same time. Lesson learned: stagger the assignments, mark in smaller chunks, and preserve my sanity. This assessment strategy was further modified once I started teaching in my current school. Students were logged into a “virtual” school; they recorded their single assignments bi-weekly and submitted them for marking.

Fifteen years later, I still use a similar system. Students work in class on a series of concepts/techniques in a specific key area; record their video assignments and upload to our Google Classroom; complete a self-evaluation statement (details below); and receive both a rubric assessment and written feedback. My commitment is to ensure that students can submit assignments at any time before the deadline in order to receive “free” formative feedback, and can re-submit any assignment in order to demonstrate their mastery of an exercise. Rarely do students actually re-submit, but the offer always stands.

Assessment Philosophy

  • Regularly scheduled student submissions or opportunities to perform as an individual serve as a guide to MY instruction. If I am not taking the opportunity to actively listen to my students, how can I authentically guide their learning?
  • Regularly scheduled assignments promote consistency of home or outside of class practice.
  • Students are encouraged to submit their best work (wrong notes or missing key signatures = automatic redo); this instills habits of repetition and isolation of difficult patterns, techniques and excerpts.
  • Video recordings allow for the teacher to correct habits that they see and hear; i.e. fly-away fingers, embouchure issues, fingering pattern problems.
  • Live recorded video in class is done from time to time. Students have the opportunity to record up to three times consecutively on the iPad, where they record the entire performance. This encourages student focus and preparation, and encourages the students to rise to the occasion. We aim to Practice as we Perform.
  • Live in class encourages individual confidence, with the mindset being that if we can’t play for each other, who can we play for? There is always the chance for redemption; either again in class or recorded that night from home.

Self Evaluation

The process developed over time in this program encourages a thoughtful reflection of their assignment with the following statement provided along with their video submission:

  1. Where am I now (what is working with my technique/articulation etc.)?
  2. Where am I headed (what still needs work/isolation in my practice)?
  3. What do I need to do to get there (what specific skills or techniques/patterns am I choosing to isolate in my practice and preparation)?


The rubrics used in this band program were developed in an attempt to familiarize students with the language found in a variety of commonly used music festival adjudication forms. As our program believes in the value and significance of learning through performing, this alignment endeavour made, and still makes, sense relative to our program philosophy.

Our credo in the program, “If I am persistent, I will get it; If I am consistent, I will keep it”, lends itself to all participants; both teacher and student alike. Feel free to use these materials if you wish – modify to meet the needs of your philosophy and program.

Performance = Practice x Passion/Patience