I have been worrying a lot recently – and not so recently in fact – about the meanings of words. In particular these sets of words have been giving me sleepless nights:
When Jonathan Savage and I wrote our “A to Z of Teaching” book we wrote about some of these words, and so I have spent some considerable time thinking about what these words mean. And JS and I were very thorough and careful in our planning, and so I don’t want to revisit that too much, save to say that we were writing for teachers of all subjects, and what I am worrying about here is the very specific application of these words to music education.
Now I know that a popular perception of academics is that we sit in our ivory towers deliberating upon how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin, but in reality meanings matter, as words can also be used as weapons:
“Your pupils have not made the required amount of progress”
“The attainment of your pupils is not at the national standard”
“Measurement of your pupils in tests show that they are falling behind”
And saying, “ah – it depends on what you mean by…” probably won’t help your case!
So what do these words mean? Well, let’s be even more academic, and ask what we mean by another word: “meaning”. I am rather fond of Ogden and Richards (1927) work entitled The Meaning of Meaning. But even that doesn’t help us much, as O&R weren’t writing for music teachers. So, lets take the list one set at a time, as that is how I have presented them.
There is a problem doing this, which I recognise, and that is they are interdependent on each other for meanings, thus in defining one I often invoke another, without having defined that first. Sorry. (Still this is a blog, and I hope no-one is grading it!)
Set 1: Assessment; Evaluation; Measurement
For me, all of these words have something to do with judgements, either formal or informal. Assessment troubles me, as I think formative assessment is very different from summative. I have cited Dylan Wiliam on this before:
“”The big mistake that Paul Black and I made was calling this stuff ‘assessment’,” he said. “Because when you use the word assessment, people think about tests and exams. For me, AfL is all about better teaching”” (Stewart, 2012).
Quite. So formative assessment, (and I’ve given up on distinguishing between it and AfL) is about working with children, in the moment, helping them know what to do next; whereas summative assessment ascribes a ‘summing up’ grade, mark or level.
Evaluation seems to have different meanings depending on where you are in the world. Here is Wynne Harlen:
“The terms ‘evaluation’ and ‘assessment’ in education are sometimes used with different meanings, but also interchangeably. In some countries, including the USA, the term ‘evaluation’ is often used to refer to individual student achievement, which in other countries including the UK is described as ‘assessment’. In the UK ‘evaluation’ is more often used to denote the process of collecting evidence and making judgments about programmes… The processes of assessment and evaluation are similar, but the kinds of evidence, the purpose and the basis on which judgments are made, differ.” (Harlen, 2007 p.12)
And now Saville Kushner:
“Unlike the USA, Britain does not have a well-defined professional community of evaluators. Programme evaluation, particularly, has, in the USA, been the subject of much meta-evaluation and critical review. This has helped spawn a range of accredited university courses in evaluation around a robust evidence base and scholarly discourse. Issues in the conduct and use of programme evaluation are well rehearsed. This has not been the case in the UK.” (Kushner, 2005 p.111)
So, depending on where you are… and I am well aware that readers of this blog are all over the world, I tend to use ‘evaluation’ in the way Harlen describes above, to describe the evaluation of programmes of study, and so on, although I have noticed here in the UK we are using it more and more to describe individual attainments too.
Measurement really troubles me in music education, again especially in UK usage. We can measure some things, like the speed of playing a scale, but the moment any sort of subjective judgement comes in I want to turn into a positivist, and say that that isn’t measurement! Now this isn’t to diss the ABRSM, who are experts at measuring within instrumental music exams, but they undertake comprehensive standardisation procedures to endeavour to ensure accuracy. I am not convinced that, say, A-level examnation composing, is ‘measured’ in any way accurately at the moment.
Set 2: Attainment; Achievement
Once again, for me – and again my view might be different from others – attainment is a response to assessment, it’s that which results in a mark/grade/level. Achievement is more about reaching potential, and usually involves some evaluation of the progress involved. Thus, for me, running a mile would be a very significant achievement, but for some of my colleagues this is something they easily dash off before breakfast! The differences matter in assessment terms as although the attainment is the same, a mile has been run, the differences in the work put into it have been very significant. Ofsted have a very specific view: “Achievement takes account of pupils’ attainment and their rate of progress” (Ofsted, 2012 p.6). This clearly has implications for the ways in which we assess pupils, as in order to maximise their potential attainment levels we need to have a view as to where they started, in other words we need to take into account the progress that they have made.
Set 3: Progress; Progression; Development
Now I am happy to link the first two! Progress, for me, is moving through attainments, resulting in grades/marks/levels. Progression is the process of doing this. We can add an element of speed to this, ‘rapid progress’ is different from ‘slow progress’. The end result may be the same, but one has taken longer to get there than the other.
Development, for me, is somehow psychologically or physiologically related. Cognitive development occurs, as does physical development. We plan our curricula for the former, and take account of the latter (eg in singing, especially for boys).
So, how many angels are dancing on the head of this particular pin? Well, for me, I worry that sometimes people can say one thing, and the listener hears another. A while ago I published an article entitled “Lost in Translation” (Fautley, 2007), and the matters in this blog are another example of this, only here there is no translation, we think we are speaking the same language, but are we? And if nothing else, music teachers thinking about these issues, and discussing them with colleagues might help clear up some other confusions which have crept in, especially with regards to assessment, recording, and reporting. If we think we are doing something, but actually aren’t, this matters! And if our colleagues use the words differently, then the fact that my trousers are his pants ceases to be a matter of amusement!
Fautley, M. (2007) Lost in translation – The changed language of assessment in music education. NAME (National Association of Music Educators) Journal, 2-4.
Harlen, W. (2007) Assessment of Learning, London, Sage.
Kushner, S. (2005) Qualitative Control A Review of the Framework for Assessing Qualitative Evaluation. Evaluation, 11, 1, 111-22.
Ofsted (2012) ‘The evaluation schedule for schools 2012’. London, Oftsed.
Ogden, C. & Richards, I. A. (1927) The Meaning of Meaning, London, K. Paul Trench, Trubner & Co.
Stewart, W. (2012) ‘Think you’ve implemented Assessment for Learning?’. Times Educational Supplement, London.