Assessment and Progression – Mapping Progression

I’ve been thinking a great deal recently about progression in music education. I’ve written a lot in the past about how the National Curriculum levels are not, and never were, fit for this purpose. In this blog I outline a suggestion of one way in which progression can be delineated, building on assessments, to give a rounded picture of pupil progress.

I would like to begin, however, by endeavouring to disentangle assessment from progression. Again, I have presented, written and published on this topic on a number of occasions in the past. Assessment refers to attainment, and involves marking, grading, commenting, discussion, talk, demonstration, etc., and can be formative, summative, or ipsative. Progression refers to attainment tracked over time, to build up some form of picture of a learner. This is a very simplistic differentiation, just for the purpose of this blog, but I hope it will serve? What this means is that assessment happens in and of a moment, progression looks back retrospectively over time.

What happened with NC levels was that the two functions of assessment and progression became confused and conflated (see, for example, my 2012 publication available from the ‘misc papers by me’ section of this site, and an earlier blog entry), and ended up being not a lot of use for either purpose!

Now, with the opportunity to do something creative as a result of no longer needing levels, I have been considering how to address this. What I am suggesting in this blog post is one way of doing this that I have been working on for a while now. Indeed, I have talked about it to a number of people, so I would like to suggest it as a possible way of working, and am writing about it now with a view to garnering feedback. It is very much a work in progress, however!

Before I do, though, I would like to make one thing very clear. I firmly believe that each school is a unique context, and that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach just will not work. For example, take two schools; school X is a choir school, and trains choristers for the Cathedral. The pupils sing most days at services, and rehearse a range of context-appropriate music. School Y, a few miles up the road, has a whole-class rock band approach to music education, and the pupils play a variety of instruments, and sing and perform a range of context-appropriate music. Any assessment scheme predicated on school X will not suit school Y, and vice versa. As for assessment, so for delineating progression. The most appropriate thing for each school to do is to say that “in this school, at age N, this is what we expect of our pupils…”, and describe accordingly.

Assessment and progression

I believe that a system of progression needs to build on an assessment system, but be distinct from it. In this proposed methodology therefore, are two distinct elements:

a)    Assessment Criteria: Specific to each topic, with differentiated grades

b)   Progression data: Building on the above

I feel that it is important that the assessment system has its own integrity, and so I suggest that it should be based on each topic taught, and then results from a series of these assessments be used to delineate progression.

Proposed System

In an earlier blog I wrote about assessment criteria, and suggested a 5-point scale would be appropriate for grading. In the assessment work for Primary Schools I have been doing with Alison Daubney, published by the ISM, we have suggested a three-point scale for grading. Either of these will work, and be appropriate for the assessment system I am proposing here.

So, let us take the example of a KS3 classroom composing topic based on the idea of Ostinato. In this project the pupils are given a series of visual images (for example, a steam train, car-assembly robots, runners in a race) and have to compose a piece using an ostinato for the image given. Here is the assessment grid, using a three-point scale simple grading scheme:

= +
Effective use of Ostinato
Generates ideas well
Accurate performance
Works well as group member
Refines work based on own and others ideas

My suggestion is that for each topic in the school year, such an assessment grid is used. In the Listen, Imagine, Compose report I suggest that teachers could do fewer projects, but in more depth, so this grid might only be employed occasionally throughout the year.

To demonstrate my ideas for charting progression (and it is important to note that this is an illustration only, each school can and should come up with their own), I am going to take the five strands of musical activity that we suggested form the basis of assessment. These are:

Singing, playing, improvising, composing, listening

 To these I am going to add a sixth, which I shall call social, which covers things like group work, ensemble membership, and so on. These six strands form the central axes of progression in music education which I shall be recording over a key stage.

To operationalise this, I assign one element from the progression axes to each criterion from each of the grids. It will is a matter of debate as to whether the axes should be defined in advance, and then grids constructed accordingly, or vice versa. As I have an extant grid, I am going with latter. So, here are the assessment criteria mapped against the progression axes:

Effective use of Ostinato Composing
Generates ideas well Improvising
Accurate performance Playing
Works well as group member Social
Refines work based on own and others ideas Listening

As this is a composing project using instruments, there is no singing grade. Over the course of a year, I would expect all the axes to be covered, though.

Using the grading criteria from the grid, I am going to convert the scale to a numerical one from 1-3, with 3 equating to +. What will result, for an individual pupil, is something like this:

= +
Effective use of Ostinato 1
Generates ideas well 2
Accurate performance 2
Works well as group member 3
Refines work based on own and others ideas 1

Over the course of a year, a number of these grids will be generated. What happens at key points of the year, maybe end of each term, is that the cumulative results of these grids are plotted onto a multi-axis progress chart. The important thing in using the grids for progression is that it is the axis statement which is taken forwards. This means that the teacher needs to think about this when constructing the grids. So, in the case of the grid above, here are the marks for that pupil:

Composing 1
Improvising 2
Playing 2
Social 3
Listening 1

My suggestion is that a multi-axis progress chart is employed, with one axis for each of the chosen assessment foci, like this:



Plotting our pupil’s results onto this produces this:


I have added a scale of 0-6 here, this can expand as the pupil progresses. (The sums are: using a 3-point scale, and assessing twice a year for each of 3 years in KS3, the maximum score for each axis would be (3 X 2) X 3 = 18. In Y7 the maximum score is 6, in Y8=12, Y9=18)

At the next assessment point, some months later, and arriving from a specifically constructed assessment grid for the project done (this time including singing) the pupil scores this:

Composing 1
Improvising 2
Playing 1
Social 3
Listening 4
Singing 3



These points are the simply added to the grid, so at the end of Y7 our pupil’s chart now looks like this:


As the shaded area increases, progression is shown. This is additive, so is shaded as such progress is noted. It avoids the nonsense of not being able to get a level 4c this time as the pupil got 5b last time, and shows at a glance areas of strength and areas needing improvement.

Similar additive techniques can be employed during Y8 and Y9, and can be reported on in this format too.

The charting function here is simply the product of a spreadsheet (I used Excel) where it is built in. It is also easy to construct a formula so that having entered the marks Excel will add them up, and produce the progression chart automatically.


It is important to reiterate that this blog is a work in progress, and I am researching it at the moment. I know a number of schools have produced similar ideas, as have subject associations, and I am not claiming originality. What I am suggesting is that the assessment grids for each topic, and the resulting progression chart should be linked, though. It is by doing this that I feel that meaningful results can be achieved, and genuine progression grades recorded and reported upon.

Anyway, that’s what I think this week!



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12 Responses to Assessment and Progression – Mapping Progression

  1. Some good stuff here, Martin and it seems to me you may be onto something. Spider diagrams, or multi-axis progress charts, are a great way of showing progression, which is why I built my transition tool for the Musical Bridges project around the use of these. if you overlap iterations in different colours, progression can be shown even more clearly. Of course, setting it up relies on music teachers being tech savvy, but once set up it works well and is not too time-consuming.

    My concern is that breaking activity down into ‘components’ can be problematic. As you yourself have suggested, we need to assess holistically. The problem, as I see it, is twofold:

    It is often not possible to break down activity into discrete categories where everything fits neatly. For example, generating ideas can be the result of both composition and improvisation and is likely to vary from one student to the next. What about the student who wants to use their voice for performing the ostinato? What about the student who produces a great ostinato first time around and therefore, does not feel the need to revise it? What about the student who produces perfectly good results and makes progress largely by working on their own, rather than in a group? What would Stravinsky’s multi-axis progress chart look like for this activity?

    A consequence of this, for the student, is to then start addressing things that really do not need addressing – in order to make their chart look ‘better’. They might be better off moving onto further musical activity. Instead the tail continues to wag the dog.

    • drfautley says:

      Thanks David. Yes, I agree, and I’m actually very wary of suggesting something that atomises where a gestalt approach would be much better. Sadly when coming to design such an assessment stratagem it gets very difficult. This is why I think a multi-level approach is needed, in this case, for simplicity, I have proposed 2. So at the 1st level, what I have called assessment grids are used; these are rooted in the project/learning itself, and unique thereto. At the 2nd level the results from these grids are plotted against bigger overarching themes, the radar-chart axes in this case.
      This is nowhere near perfect, but I worry that SLTs want something to ‘demonstrate progress’, and this is a stab in that direction. I think this is progress documented in summative assessment terms, and may be of limited formative utility.
      But as I say, it’s a preliminary stab, and I thought worth positing publicly even at this early stage. (This is a new way of academic working for me, so it’s also an epistemological experiment in viewing how multiple simultaneous ontologies impact upon an idea, crowdsourced research if you like!)
      Anyway, I’m v interested in following up on comments, so thanks!

  2. misswerry says:

    I’m using radar diagrams in my new assessing-without-levels system. Each project actually ends up having 12 areas of assessment. I look forward to showing you the details after half term! I absolutely see what you and David are talking about here, with the problems of atomisation. However, I’ve found that provided you think really carefully about what the assessed areas will be, it gives you amazing detail in terms of information on each students’ progress, and the parts contribute to the whole in a very enlightening way.

    I’ve thought about making some ‘holistic’ criteria for each project too, a bit like the ones used in Edexcel mark schemes, but stopped short of this as it seems like a set of criteria too far…

  3. This is where I am starting from with this:

    I have had a go at this today and I have taken it very literally in the hope that I can then tweak it, adapt it etc. I started by discussing it with a colleague and what jumped out was:

    1. I really like being able to design the criteria to suit the topic and my aims for it. I found it harder than I should to come up with criteria that is general enough to allow scope to flex and be creative with and to be personal. I had to think hard about my musical aims for the project I’m doing. Breaking it down into Impro, perf, comp, singing etc. was useful. It made sure that I am giving them the chance to do all of these in every lesson. I am not a fan of ‘composing lessons’ or ‘performing lessons’ but it’s too easy to relax into these if you are trying to assess a strand and tick a box. There’s also a danger that in a ‘cover song’ project there is no chance to compose, it’s my job to make sure those opportunities are there. I tried to make sure the criteria for each linked up and were embedded in the overall task set.

    2. I added a section called ‘knowing’. Not the best way to describe it at all but I wanted to share the things I want them to learn more about generally through the project. I chose recognising the chord progression we were using, understanding what a chord progression is and getting a feel for how a baseline, rhythmic ‘feel’, chords and melody come together in music they may be familiar with and hopefully that they aren’t. I also left a space for them to fill in what they would like to ‘know’. I struggled with putting into words what I want them to ‘know’ and actually after the lesson today, I need to add to it as something came up in several groups that we need to work on together. I’m also not sure my wishes for what I want them to know are musically ‘worthy’. Need to ponder.

    3. I went through the sheet with them and asked them to rate where they felt they were – = + under each criterion. That gave me a reason to explain these, to make sure they understood what we are working towards. I then asked them to convert these to numerical values and plot them on the radar grid. They knew what these were from maths and liked this. They had very specific ideas about this. I asked them what they thought they needed to do and they found it easy to identify from the shape the area they needed to focus on. We talked about how they could do this and pretty much everyone accepted that a lack of confidence (a real school issue for us) means they don’t always show what they can do. After the lesson I plotted where I think they are. I based this on what I’ve seen them do in previous lessons. The differences between mine and theirs highlighted loads of really interesting things (that I probably already knew but now I have the basis for a good discussion with them as I work round their groups and some visual evidence to show SLT).

    4. I like the idea of this as a working document. I have to mark work and give feedback every 3 weeks. If I revisit this, redraw their grid to reflect what I’ve seen them do suggest something else for them to try, that’s not too onerous. I can watch the shape change, talk to them about it and really focus those learning conversations I know I have but which are sometimes not specific enough.

    5. I know my SLT will come up with a system and expect me to fall in line with it. At present, it’s levels and I haven’t seen any sign of this changing. So that’s fine I will level as required. What I won’t do is waste student time on a process that isn’t gong to help their learning in music by burdening them with it. After all if they know what they are doing, why they are doing it, how they are getting better at it, the value of it, then I trust my SLT that this will be OK.

    However, I think the key for me in Martin’s ideas is that this can help me to focus my learning conversations that happen as the music happens on things that will. I can adapt it as I go along, change the criteria working with them to find better ones. The questions others have raised about using numerical values and what constitutes a 6,5,4,3,2,1 is still a muddle in my head and I think that’s because having never tried this before I don’t know what a 6 for improvising in a find your voice project might look like in relation to improvising in a 12 bar blues project. I think they will look different and because of that I think I will need to reflect this somehow. But if it all feeds into a wider school assessment system that I don’t know yet this is all something that I will need to work through as I try it.

  4. Susan Glaisher says:

    I enjoyed reading your ideas on Spider diagrams. This is an interesting model and mirrors thinking and design currently being worked on by Bryan Welton of ARK schools.

    • B Reeve says:

      Yes Susan! This whole article reeks of BW! In fact, Bryan started testing a simplified version of this assessment model a few years ago (well before we knew that levels were being ditched), and has been developing it more recently, seeking the opinion and advice of music educationalists across the country before it potentially ‘goes live'(!) in ARK academies. Nice to see Bryan’s hard work being used as a basis for an alternative assessment model for music. However! The thought of coming up with clear success criteria for 18 levels(!) across (at least) 6 ‘progression axes’ is frightening, and in my mind an even more confusing, over-complicated solution to an already confusing NC level model. Teachers, pupils and parents need the assessment model simplified, not complicated. This whole thing is a massive headache.

  5. Sarah Brown says:

    I’m interested in the idea of having a social dimension to an assessment grid. I agree that the ability to respond to feedback from others (teacher or peers) and the ability to give feedback to others often results in better outcomes for that individual. Learning from others is how most of us learn – by instruction/cooperation/emersion etc. But this is not unique to musical learning. I fear that we are assessing their ability to learn (or ability to work with others) rather than their musical thoughts/outcomes. When I was at school, being the best musician in an ensemble group was tough; working well with them hindered my creativity but developed my social/teaching skills. It’s vital to develop/discuss/encourage social learning in the classroom but should it be assessed and given the same importance/place as ‘ability to generate interesting musical ideas’. I prefer to mark students on their musical outcomes rather than their social abilities. I disagree that “works well in a group” ought to be on an assessment grid that is used to give a judgement on the quality of the music that a person is capable of producing.

  6. MrH says:

    I like the look and principle of this model of an easy to read and, once embedded, easy to use model. However I may have misunderstood something which someone may be able to clear up for me please. If the points are added then wont progress be indicated even if a student constantly gets 1. The only way I can see this really indicating progress is if the work has a clear increasing difficulty rating like say, ABRSM exams are graded 1 to 8. Have I missed or misunderstood something?

  7. OleG says:

    First, aren’t the scope and difficulty defined by the objectives and outcomes of the planning? If schemes of work from year 7 to 9 are planned with objectives that correspond to the general level descriptors, then progress should be indicated with difficulty level taken into account. This is the key job we’ve always done of setting objectives, cross checking them with level descriptors, and from those identifying clear outcomes as a simple template for mark schemes and assessment grids.

    Second, the 1 score indicates a minus on the original marking scale (- = +), but it’s not clear if that means slower than expected progress (compared with the average) or lower attainment, and whether effort’s linked or not.

    Using the ABRSM/ Trinity grades though, as they are a great benchmark for GCSE and A level standards – a grade 4/5 is said to have similar level of difficulty as high GCSE grade. So if a kid does perform a grade 6 piece in year 7, how could the model reflect that alongside what we often see, which is lower attainment in composing pretty much across the board? The same student’s chart in years 8 and 9 then ought to reflect differentiated progress indicators for performing at least – whether it was a case of doing that for a small number of talented musicians, or a whole school.

    I agree though it really does look good – SLT can get their numbers to crunch, and we get a meaningful representation with which to hopefully stimulate better learning outcomes. Arriving at GCSE grade predictions from each student’s end of KS3 level will be as contentious as it ever was. This is a more encouraging visualisation for parents and students maybe, and confidence is often the issue as mrsgowersclasses indicated above. The key with implementing this I would think is get SLT to support only using NC levels internally to track progress, and report to parents using the model.

  8. Heard about all this on the Summer Primary Music assessment and Progression day, a day, which, by the way was extremely useful. Still trying to get my head around producing something practical across KS1and 2. I think I have got the idea that I can provide for progression in my overall planning and alongside that I will look at what I teach, coming up with a continuum of assessment in the 5/6 strands. The problem is that I only work one day a week and need it to be practicable for me. I think I have persuaded the Head that all will be well, so she has for now left me to my own devices. It’s really work in progress still!
    By the way, I will be in the webinar tomorrow and look forward to our follow-up on the earlier course.

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