Assessment and Evaluation as Discussed in Provincial Elementary Music Curriculum Documents

By Mitchell, Nancy | The Canadian Music Educator, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Assessment and Evaluation as Discussed in Provincial Elementary Music Curriculum Documents


Mitchell, Nancy, The Canadian Music Educator


Provincial music curriculum documents provide guidance for music teachers across Canada. These documents outline not only the specific knowledge and skills that students are expected to develop through their involvement in school music classes, but also establish the place of music in the overall curriculum and the influence of various stakeholders on music education practices and outcomes. Assessment and evaluation practices influence every aspect of teaching and learning in a school context. Provincial assessment and evaluation guidelines attempt to ensure that each student in a particular jurisdiction is given an opportunity to achieve the curriculum expectations for his or her grade. In many provinces, music or arts curriculum documents also contain assessment and evaluation guidelines that are specific to these domains.

In this article, I explore the assessment and evaluation recommendations that are included in provincial music curriculum guides. While provincial ministries of education provide other publications related to assessment and evaluation in general, I have chosen to focus here on the information included along with music curriculum expectations for a two main reasons. Firstly, hopefully all music teachers in a particular jurisdiction would have ready access to that information and would avail themselves of the opportunity to read it attentively. While detailed assessment and evaluation guides (such as Ontario's Growing Success document) are valuable resources, a summary of a few pages that is included in a curriculum document is likely more accessible and memorable for many busy teachers.

In addition, while general assessment and evaluation guides provide a view of the overarching philosophy and approach being endorsed by a particular jurisdiction, they do not necessarily address the unique challenges inherent in assessing and evaluating student learning in music (Boyle and Radocy, 1987, p. 2). These challenges include the difficulty in quantifying creative and interpretive aspects of music learning and the fact that much assessment in music classes is conducted during class time, forcing the teacher to come to a judgment of the student's performance on the spot. Assessment and evaluation guidelines that acknowledge and address the challenges faced by music teachers provide help in balancing the need for students to experience rich, meaningful engagement in musical activities with the need for generating report card marks.

To ensure a manageable scope to this discussion, I have focused on the information that is included in elementary curriculum documents (Kindergarten to Grade 5, 6 or 8 depending on the province). The elementary years are particularly important, as elementary students are generally required to take music classes. The way elementary music students are assessed and evaluated can have a profound effect on the development of students' musical self-efficacy and their overall impressions of their music education experience.

The chart below summarizes the main assessment and evaluation information conveyed to music teachers across Canada through music curriculum documents. While the specific terminology used to describe assessment and evaluation varies somewhat from one province to another, for the purpose of this article "assessment" will refer to formative feedback that is designed to help students develop their skills and understanding but is not included in the calculation of marks and "evaluation" will refer to summative tasks that are used to calculate students' report card marks.

This chart is based on the information that is available through curriculum documents accessed via provincial ministry of education websites. It is not necessarily reflective of actual teaching practice in a particular jurisdiction or of any supplemental information that may be conveyed to teachers through various forms of professional development.

As can be seen in the table above, some provinces provide very detailed assessment and evaluation guidelines for music teachers, but there is a wide variance in the amount of information supplied and in the kinds of assessment and evaluation strategies suggested. …

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