Standards-Based Grading in the Music Room

Standards-Based Grading in the Music Room: The what, why, and how of implementing standards-based grading in your music lessons

Have you been wondering how to use standards-based grading in your music room? In this blog post, I'll detail the what, the why, and the how of standards-based grading, to help you successfully implement it in your music classroom!

What is Standards-Based Grading?

According to Schoology’s website, standards-based grading is an intentional way for teachers to track their students’ progress and achievements while focusing on helping students learn and reach their highest potential. It is based on students showing signs of mastery or understanding various lessons and skills.

In a typical grading system, there is often only one grade assigned to students for music class, encompassing everything they do in music. In my district’s standards-based grading, we have split up the grading into five categories: Reading/Writing, Performing, Classifying, Creating, and Responding. There might only be two categories assessed during any marking period, but by the end of the year, all categories have been assessed.

Instead of giving a traditional grade, like E for Exceeding Expectations, M for Meeting Expectations, etc., there are numbers assigned. In my district, 4 means the student is meeting end-of-the year-expectations, 3 means they are making adequate progress toward end-of-the year-expectations, 2 means they have less than expected progress toward end-of-the year-expectations, and 1 means they have little to no progress toward end-of-the year-expectations, even with assistance.

The grade of “4” is not typically given until you are done assessing everything in a particular strand. More on that later!

Why use Standards-Based Grading?

Research shows that a standards-based grading mindset paired with standards-based grading correlates to higher academic achievement.

Study from Northeastern University Tweet

As a music teacher, I love that with standards-based grading, I can communicate far more specifics about a student’s achievement than I can with traditional grading. If a student gets a 3 in reading/writing, and a 2 in performing, that tells the parent much more than just a “P” (for progressing) in music. I also use the comments section to communicate specifics.

How do I Grade with Standards-Based Grading?

With standards-based grading, you are still assessing as you typically would, but with each assessment, you are assigning it to a category. As I stated previously, you’re not giving a “4” until you’re done with that strand, so if you are expected to teach ta, ti-ti, and rest in 1st grade, you’re not giving a “4” in reading/writing until you’ve done some assessments for rest. 

Some of the elementary music teachers in my district completed a course about PLD’s, or Performance Level Descriptors. With this course, we came up with PLD’s, which are much like rubrics, for each strand. We decided that with the limited time we have students (once every 5 days for 50 minutes), we would only hold students accountable for ta and ti-ti and sol-mi by the end of the first grade year. For first grade reading/writing, our PLD for what constitutes a 4 states: “A first grade student at this level can do all of the following:

  • Read and write rhythm patterns with quarter notes and eighth notes
  • Visually and aurally identify two-pitch patterns from notation
  • Write two-pitch patterns with melodic direction.

Once we have assessed all of those skills, we can then potentially give a 4 for that strand, or if a student isn’t quite there, a lower grade. We can also re-assess before the end of the year, to measure whether a student has achieved all of those skills.

When assessing a specific assignment with standards-based grading, you might give the student a 3 in the grade book shown to parents, but a 4 in your own grade book, so that you know which students are doing really well, which will help your differentiation. In the above scenario, if a first grader can read most of the rhythm patterns with ta and ti-ti, can usually identify melodic patterns, and only makes minor mistakes when writing on the staff, he/she could get a 4 on the reading/writing strand. However, if that child is struggling with one of those skills, he/she might get a 3 instead. 

In general, a 4 means that a student can achieve all of the skills in a specific category, 3 means that they can achieve most, 2 means they can achieve some, and 1 means that they are struggling to achieve any, even with assistance. A “4” on the report card does not mean that the child does perfectly in every skill, but that he/she does well (and makes only occasional mistakes.)

How do I implement Standards-Based Grading?

If you are in a district with other elementary music teachers, I would suggest spending time together, collaborating. This work is so helpful in getting everyone on the same page, and thinking through exactly which categories you’d like to use, and what you want students to achieve in each area.

If your music team is really small and you don’t have many others to collaborate with, I suggest studying any work your classroom teachers have done in this area. This will likely inform your work.

Looking for materials to help you with standards-based grading? My rubric sets could be helpful to you, as you figure out assessments, data collection, and more!

I hope this has been helpful to you as you begin standards-based grading. Happy teaching!

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Hi, I'm Aileen

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