Progress and Progression – Micro Assessment of a Performing Unit

I wrote in my last blog about possible ways in which the progress of an individual might be assessed. In this blog I want to problematise notions of progress and progression.

For the purposes of this discussion I wish to disentangle progress from progression. The former I am going to treat as the ways in which an individual learner, or group of learners perhaps, moves on in their learning; the latter, progression, I am going to describe as being the developmental pathways that enable breadth and depth to be increased over the course of a learning programme.

The reason that these areas are problematic is that there is a common entangling of the two areas, progress and progression, with assessment. Indeed, many assessment schedules I see are basically progression routes mapped out as assessment schedules. These often take the form of something like this:

Table 1: NC levels

Level 4c Can play the keyboard melody with one finger
Level 4b Can play the keyboard melody with more than one finger
Level 4a Can play the keyboard melody with many fingers fluently
Level 5c Can play the keyboard melody with many fingers fluently and add a single note left hand accompaniment
Level 5b Can play the keyboard melody with many fingers fluently and add   triads in the left hand accompaniment
Level5a Can play the keyboard melody with many fingers fluently, add a more complex left hand accompaniment

….and so on.

Now, what this is, in fact, is not so much an assessment schedule, as a plan of complexity of lesson delivery. So, let us take this (perfectly laudable) lesson aim of pupils playing keyboards, and turn it instead into a progression route:

Figure 1: Planning outline

Progress and Progression


What we now have is, essentially, a lesson planning outline, suitably differentiated, for progression through this keyboard task. Another thing this has done is to detach into stages the learning components required. In this example only two stages are shown:

  • Assessment Focus 1: Melody
  • Assessment Focus 2: Left Hand (LH) accompaniment

So, in order to assess these stages more logically, it is now possible to use the assessment grids I have discussed previously, something like this:

Assessment statements (‘Rubrics’ in American usage):

Assessment focus 1i: Melody: Is able to play the keyboard (RH) melody

Is not yet able to play the melody – –
Plays the melody falteringly
Plays the melody competently =
Plays the melody well +
Plays the melody fluently + +


Assessment Focus 1ii: Melody – Skill – Fingering

Is not yet able to play the melody – –
Attempts to play the melody with random fingering
Plays the melody with one finger =
Plays the melody with more than one finger +
Plays the melody with more than one finger fluently + +


Assessment Focus 2i: Harmony

Is not yet able to add harmony – –
Plays single notes in LH
Plays triads in LH =
Plays more complex chords with LH +
Plays developed harmony part with LH + +


Assessment Focus 3: Musicality

Not yet producing a musical performance – –
The beginnings of a musical performance
A basically competent musical performance =
A musical performance +
A highly musical performance + +



I am trying to explain things simply, so I have omitted a number of areas. The most notable being a grid 2ii which would mirror 1ii for technique. As the project developed over time, teachers may want to roll these into a single skill/technique/fingering grid. Other areas of assessment focus might also be included, whatever teachers feel appropriate. 

Rating scale

In previous blogs I have advocated a 3-point rating scale, here I have used a 5-point one, simply in response to those teachers who have asked for more subtlety in marking. However, a 3-point scale could easily be designed

Construct Validity

I have tried to separate out a number of constructs, which in table 1 are all mixed up together. For clarity I have only included four constructs:

  1. Playing the melody
  2. Fingering technique
  3. Harmonic technique
  4. Musicality

Doing this means that a musical performance with ‘poor’ fingering is recognised as being of worth. It also means that pupils who play the early stages of the melody well are recognised too. I have also added in assessment focus 3 the notion of musicality, so that a quality performance of the piece with RH only can be recognised.

Musicality is a tricky area, I know, and elsewhere in this blog, and in other places too, I write about it, and how to make judgements concerning it. But I do worry that if we don’t do this we end with the situation where “‘We start out with the aim of making the important measurable and end up making only the measurable important” (Wiliam, 2001 p.58).

Assessment and planning

I think that planning a unit of work has to be a sequential activity. I thought a lot about this whilst writing a book on it with Jonathan Savage (Fautley & Savage, 2014), and one of the things we noted was this:

Each lesson that you teach does not exist in isolation. It relates to other lessons that you teach in a complex set of relationships. At the most basic level, any one lesson relates to the one that preceded it and the one that follows it. (Fautley & Savage, 2014 p.127)

In this blog entry I have tried to show how thinking about the planning of the sequence of learning as shown in figure 1, can replace levels of what I call ‘assessment by accretion’ in order to produce a more focussed assessment strategy.

Formative –Summative

I see the purpose of assessment as being to help with pupil learning. Assessment in the way I have described it here is quite complex, and time-consuming. But by separating out the assessment foci from the unitary approach of table 1, I hope that it becomes clear that the separate areas are all able to produce work of worth. Using the terminology of the assessment foci in lessons during the course of a unit of work means that the learners come to realise what is important, in other words “…it aims to help pupils to know and to recognise the standards they are aiming for” (Assessment Reform Group, 1999 p.7), and knowing this should help both teaching and learning.


So, what has this to do with progress and progression? What I have been describing in this entry is ways in which to disentangle progress from progression from linear assessment. I realise that this is a little obtuse, and that in real-world situations they all bound up with each other, but anything that stops progress being hampered by assessment, which is what many music teachers tell me they feel their current assessment regimes do, has to be a positive contribution.

I also wanted to try to provide a real example of what I see being assessed in schools. I am more than happy to have a discussion about what should be being assessed, and am more than happy if this generates a discussion about whether keyboard fingering should be being assessed, and some blog entries are more philosophical in that regard. Here I am trying to be pragmatic, and provide discussion based on quotidian classroom ontologies.

I often tell our PGCE students that some aspects of what they do on teaching practice is the equivalent of moving the mirror in the driving test to make it obvious you are looking in it! I know that everything I have written in this entry could be done invisibly, with no evidence trail at all, and indeed, in many ways I would much prefer that. But I also know that many music teachers are being ‘leant on’ to produce an evidence base, so if some of these ideas are of use to them, or reduce pointlessness or irrelevance, that’ll be fine by me!

There’s a lot more to the issues of progress/progression, but I don’t want to overload a single blog entry with it!

Anyway, that’s what I think I think about assessment and progression in micro-assessment this week!



Assessment Reform Group (1999) ‘Assessment for learning – Beyond the black box’. Cambridge, University of Cambridge School of Education.

Fautley, M. & Savage, J. (2014) Lesson Planning for Effective Learning, Abingdon, Open University Press.

Wiliam, D. (2001) What is wrong with our educational assessment and what can be done about it? Education Review, 15, 1, 57-62.



This entry was posted in Assessment, KS3, Music Education, Progression and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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