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.
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|
|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|
|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|
|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:
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:
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!