Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

Debating Assessment in Music Education

Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

Debating Assessment in Music Education

Article excerpt

Music education organizations achieved a huge success in Texas several years ago when legislation declared music as a part of the core curriculum. Similarly, more recent national education legislation like No Child Left Behind has recognized music as a core curricular subject. Since that time, little has been done to assess music students to ensure a set of basic skills and knowledge is being achieved. While national and state music standards exist, these standards, in many cases, are not mandatory and merely serve as a guide or recommendations for music educators to follow. Other core subjects endure severe oversight and rigorous testing at the state and local levels to measure whether or not students are attaining minimum standards. Some music educators are pushing for national testing of music students to demonstrate that music has an academically measurable component. Yet other music educators are fearful that assessment of music education will have the same negative effects that other core subject high-stakes testing has had on schools. This article serves to discuss the current debate on national music assessment and to argue that music education's place in the core curriculum demands an increase in oversight through standardized music assessment of students in music education classes.

History of National Music Assessment (NAEP)

Before discussing the debate over national music assessment, it is important to review its history. To date, three national music assessments have been administered to students in the United States. In 1971, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered the first national music assessment. Three age groups were randomly sampled from schools for this test: 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. The purposes of the test were to determine what the music students knew, could do, and their attitudes toward music education ("A National Assessment," 1971). Results indicated that while students' attitudes towards music were positive, their performance on the exercises was, by and large, quite low (Rivas, 1974).

NAEP administered a second national music assessment in 1978 and recycled some of the exercises from the first test in order to detect changes over time. The same age population was measured and the results, similar to the first test, were not encouraging. Thirteen and 17-year-olds especially performed poorly in their responses to music history and style items ("Music 1971-79", 1981). On the items replicated from the first assessment, the 9-year-old and 17-year-old groups showed a slight decline from 1971 to 1978. Commenting on the utilization of the results from these national assessments, Mark (1996) wrote, "The information in the National Assessments reports was of great potential value to the music education profession, but actually had little influence on practices" (p. 280). Some criticisms of the second assessment in 1978 were that it did not include performance assessment like the first assessment due to lack of funding (Colwell, 1999a) and that the results were underreported (Oliver, 2007).

It would not be until 1997 when the next assessment would be administered. This great chasm between the second and third assessment was largely due to the lack of funding and an absence of focus and concern on arts education. The political efforts of national arts education organizations were largely successful in the 1990s in regaining the awareness of policy makers through the creation of the national arts education standards as well as their strong advocacy initiatives. By means of funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Getty Education Institute, the assessment project was administered by the Council of Chief State School Officers (Lehman, 1999a). This assessment, unlike the others, was largely based on the National Standards for Arts Education and measured all of the arts disciplines (music, art, dance and theater). …

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