Aligning assessment with Threshold Learning Outcomes in the Creative and Performing Arts

Assessment in Music

Performance standards exemplars

As Griffith University employs standards-based assessment, one of the main aims of the Assessment in Music project is to provide exemplars of student performances in order for both students and their teachers to gain an understanding of what standards are applied in the assessment of student performances. Such exemplars compliment written descriptions as provided by criteria in rubrics. The importance of students deriving their own understanding of quality is strongly supported by the literature—especially the pioneering work of D Royce Sadler who advocates that students should learn to identify overall quality in creative works through extracting their own criteria for what makes a performance good.

It is intended that these performance exemplars will be used as a focus for meetings with QCGU teachers so that they can discuss the holistic quality of works and what characteristics combine to constitute particular standards. The recordings were also available for developing inter-institutional dialogue with other Australian universities regarding quality and standards in performance, as has been demonstrated in the consensus moderation exercise account.

Review of related literature
In the creative arts, teachers’ professional judgements often include a holistic appraisal in addition to criteria-based assessments of performances and creative works. Sadler (2009) notes that one of the challenges of using explicit grading models is, however, that “experienced assessors often become aware of discrepancies between their global and their analytic appraisals” (p. 7). McPherson and Thompson (1998) and Stanley, Brooker, and Gilbert (2002) therefore call for an approach to performance assessment implementing complementary aspects of holistic and criteria-based methods “to ensure reliable and valid evaluations of student achievement” (Blom & Poole, 2004, p. 115). In suggesting a way forward, Sadler encourages students to develop facility in making “holistic judgments for which criteria emerge during the process of appraisal” (2009, p. 18). Indeed, equipping students with “holistic evaluative insights and skills” (2009, p. 21) is essential and reduces the need for teacher-derived feedback.

Sadler (2013) suggests that there are strong grounds for being wary about the sole use of criteria-based methods, and the negative impact they have on students’ developing skills for ascertaining quality in a global manner. He reminds us that “much more than we give credit for, students can recognize, or learn to recognize, both big picture quality and individual features that contribute to or detract from it” (p. 63). Students need to understand what constitutes quality at both overall and specific levels and must develop a vocabulary for use in their evaluations. If students can be inducted into the practice of holistic assessment, they will become better able to monitor the quality of their own work while it is under production.

In addition, Sadler (2009, 2013) has identified the critical role that tacit knowledge plays in students fully understanding and applying assessment criteria and feedback. In order for students to have a clear understanding of the acceptable level of quality on a task, students must be able to assess their work in the same manner their teachers do. This requires not only being familiar with set criteria, but with more salient criteria which influence a teacher’s qualitative and holistic assessment of a work (Sadler, 2010). Such knowledge and skills cannot be imparted through explicit teaching alone, and thus students must experience and be inducted into non-overt methods of making judgements about quality. Rust et al. stress the difficulty in developing such tacit knowledge as this involves years of “observation, imitation, dialogue and practice” (2003, p. 152).

Sadler identifies three basic requirements for students to successfully self-regulate their work: “they acquire a concept of high quality and can recognize it when they see it; they can with considerable accuracy judge the quality of their works-in-progress and connect this overall appraisal with particular weaknesses and strengths; and they can choose from their own inventories of potential moves those that merit further exploration for improving quality” (2013, p. 54). This involves being able to attend to two facets of their work—a holistic evaluation of its quality and smaller separate aspects of quality as gained through both explicit and tacit knowledge of assessment criteria.

Ultimately, suggests Sadler, the crucial test of a student’s understanding of abstract criteria is not whether they can define it formally, it is whether they can use the criteria to explain judgements about their own work and to make assessments about quality in the work of others. For feedback to be effective, students need a sound working knowledge of three concepts; task compliance, quality and criteria. These assessment concepts must be understood “not as abstractions but as core concepts that are internalised, operationalised and applied to concrete productions” (2010, p. 548).

Reference list

Blom, D., & Poole, K. (2004). Peer assessment of tertiary music performance: opportunities for understanding performance assessment and performing through experience and self-reflection. British Journal of Music Education, 21(1), 111–125. doi: 0.1017/S0265051703005539

McPherson, G., & Thompson, W. (1998). Assessing Music Performances: Issues and Influences. Research Studies in Music Education, 10, 12–24.

Rust, C., O’Donovan, B., & Price, M. (2005). A social constructivist assessment process model: how the research literature shows us this could be best practice. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(3), 231–240.

Sadler, D. R. (2009). Indeterminacy in the use of preset criteria for assessment and grading. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(2), 159–179. doi: 10.1080/02602930801956059

Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 535–550. doi: 10.1080/02602930903541015

Sadler, D. R. (2013). Opening up feedback: Teaching learners to see. In S. Merry, M. Price, D. Carless & M. Taras (Eds.), Reconceptualising Feedback in Higher Education: developing dialogue with students (pp. 54–63). London: Routledge.

Stanley, M., Brooker, R. & Gilbert, R. (2002). Examiner perceptions of using criteria in music performance assessment. Research Studies in Music Education, 18, 43–52.

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