Using the Internet to

Assess the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content

Standards in Music


by James Frankel    


            The accurate assessment of performance-based skills has long been a topic of conversation between music educators.  Now, with the onset of testing the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in Music, the ESPA, this topic has turned into a genuine concern.  While there are many aspects of music education that can easily be assessed with standardized testing methods, there are many that simply cannot. 

            While portfolio assessment techniques provide an opportunity for accurate assessment of performance-based skills, using them on a state-wide level would prove to be logistically impossible.  Imagine sending hundreds of tape recordings to the state from each school being tested.  Simply finding someone to listen to each recording would be a daunting task, much less finding someone to grade them. 

            If the assessment of these performance-based skills is left to the local music educators, how can there be a truly  accurate rating of their music students compared to other students from around the state?  If the assessment is left to state officials, what is the logistically feasible option for delivering each studentÕs performance?  If performance-based skills are to be assessed, what is the best way to do it?  Each of these questions has no simple answer, adding fuel to the growing concerns of music educators across New Jersey.

            One possible solution to these concerns is the creation of a website where music educators could not only submit student work for assessment, but could also receive information about the standards, read through grading rubrics, listen to examples of the various levels of proficiency, and receive instant feedback on some of the student work submitted.  

            The internet is an untapped resource in the field of educational assessment.  The following is a blueprint for a website that would assess each of the Core Curriculum Content Standards in Music.


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Home Page


            After logging on to the website, users would have the option of choosing the teacher pages, student, or guest pages. 


Teacher Pages


After selecting the teacher option, users would have to input their user ID and a password.  This would enable the user to access specific information about their school, and the results on previously submitted student work.  The site would be able to keep records for each school involved.  After the teacher gains access, they would have a number of options to choose from.  These options would include:


Instructions on using the site.

Reading the actual standards, and how they relate specifically to music.

Reading a comprehensive grading rubric that would outline how students would be graded on each of the six standards.

Listening to recorded examples of each of the proficiency levels in the performance-based standards.

Reading examples of each of the proficiency levels in those standards that require a written response.

Relevant links to other similar sites, including the N.J. Department of Education.

Reviewing the results of their respective schoolÕs music students.


            Aside from these options, teachers would be able to review the actual assessment activities that their students would be taking.


Student Pages


            After the student has logged on to the site, they would be asked to submit some information about themselves, including: name, grade, age, musical experience, and school attended.  After completing this form, students would then be directed to their respective grade level assessment activities.  Upon completion of the activities for Standard 1.1 and 1.5, students would receive instant feedback on their performance.  For Standards 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.6, students would be asked to submit their work, with an assessment following within a certain amount of time (perhaps one week).  Students would also have the ability to listen to and read examples of various proficiency levels, as well as look at the actual grading rubric used in assessing their work.


Guest Pages


This section would allow interested educators to take a tour of the site, read through the standards and rubrics, and look at some sample activities.  Guests would not have access to all of the activities, nor would they be able to view the results of any specific school or student.  They would have the option of becoming a member-which would give them this access.


Activity Pages


Standard 1.1


            This standard is among one of two that can be assessed with standardized testing methods.  For example, in the sample ESPA questions distributed, 5th grade music students are expected to be able to look at pictures of various musical instruments and group them into their respective categories (woodwind, brass, strings and percussion).  This question is easily transferable to an internet activity.  Students would be shown various instruments, and underneath each picture would be a list that the students would select from.  Once they have made all of their choices, they would submit their answers for immediate feedback.  Music symbols, terminology, note naming, rhythmic dictation, melodic dictation, dynamics, form, and other music theory skills could be tested using multiple choice forms that students would complete and submit.  The programming required to grade their responses is surprisingly easy.  Adjustments in difficulty level would be made for the different grade levels being tested.


Standard 1.2


            The assessment of this performance-based standard is one of the advantages of using the internet as an assessment device.  Most newer computers come equipped with built in microphones.  Although there are definite recording quality issues with standard built in microphones, the convenience of recording a short example of a student either singing or performing on an instrument and sending the file as an email attachment balances it out.  Some educators might even have digital recording capabilities that would eliminate the recording quality problem.  Students would be asked to perform either a given composition, or a composition of their choice.

Students would submit their performance via email.  This performance would then be evaluated by a qualified music educator, and a written assessment would be sent to the teacher within a specified amount of time (perhaps one week) to share with the student.  Grading criteria would obviously vary between grade levels.

            In the event that a school did not have any computer recording capabilities, they could submit work through the mail on audiotape.


Standard 1.3


            Here, as in the previous standard, the internet provides a convenient and accurate way to assess student work, more specifically, student composition.  Students could submit their compositions in one of these four ways:


As a standard MIDI file using a notational software program.

Scanning in the score and sending it via email.

Recording a performance of the piece on to the computer, and sending it as an attachment via email.

Faxing or sending the score through the mail.

As with the previous standard, a qualified music educator would review the composition, and send a written assessment to the teacher within a specified amount of time (perhaps one week) to share with the student.  Once again, grading criteria would vary between grade levels.


Standard 1.4


            In this activity, students would be asked to listen to a recording chosen from a list of important musical works from various periods in musical history, and from a variety of styles.  Although selections could be listened to on the website, it will be suggested to listen to an actual recording of the piece.  The list will hopefully be diverse enough to contain a composition that most educators would have in their collection.  Upon listening to the piece, students would be asked to create a critique of the piece.  Suggestions for what to include within the critique would be made.

            Here, unlike in standardized testing situations, the student could take their time in writing the critique, and upon completion, send it via email.  This email would be read by a qualified music educator and an assessment would be sent to the teacher within a specified period of time, as in the previous two activities.  Grading criteria would increase in difficulty as the grade level increases.


Standard 1.5


            This standard, dealing with historical, social and cultural aspects of music is a little more ambiguous than the others, and could be handled in two ways: a multiple choice test, or an essay.  Students would have the choice of which assessment technique they preferred. 

            Students opting for the multiple choice examination would be asked a number of questions dealing with various aspects of music, including the role it has played in history, other arts, social changes  and world cultures. 

            Students opting for the essay would be asked a question that would have students draw these relationships on their own.  Perhaps a statement about music and itÕs relationship to these aspects of history and society would be made, and the student would have to either support or contradict the statement, backed up with relevant reasons.

            While the multiple choice portion would provide students with instant feedback, the essay would again require a qualified music educator to read the essay and provide a grade for the response.


Standard 1.6


While the wording of this standard might suggest composition skills in music, the Framework Curriculum suggests that this standard deals with creating a concert program, or programming music on a radio station.  Here again is a standard that would be difficult to assess with traditional testing methods. 

            In this activity, students would be given a list of musical works with a brief description of each.  Some of the works would be ones that they will hopefully know, and some that they hopefully do not know. After reading through the list, students would be asked to create a program given certain conditions.  One program might be for a Holiday or Winter Concert, another might be for a Spring Concert, another might be for an evening of chamber music.  Although it would be quite easy to have students fill out a form for each scenario and submit their answers, their reasoning for their choices would be lost.  Instead, students would be given time to think about their answers    ,and their reasoning for them.   Upon completion of the various programming scenarios, students would submit their programs via email for review and assessment by a qualified music educator.


Results Page


Each student and teacher who become members of the website would have access to their results.  It is quite possible for a website to keep records for a user, just as many commercial websites keep track of your buying history.  Students and teachers would be able to complete activities at their own pace and convenience, and would be able to read their results either instantly, or within a short period of time.  This is one of the distinct advantages of an assessment website over the ESPA.




Teachers and students will soon find out the method for assessing the standards in music.  At the time of this writing, the 5th Grade ESPA Field Test had not yet been administered.  While there are many schools in the state that do not have the ability to assess their students work over the internet, there are many that can.  All you need for each of these activities is a computer with a word processor, internet capabilities, and a recording device. 

            While certainly not the only way to assess the standards, the internet provides educators and students with an opportunity for accurate assessment of every aspect of music, especially performance-based skills.


Fantasy or Reality?


As part of my doctoral work at Teachers College at Columbia University, my dissertation will focus on the feasibility of the internet as an assessment device.  Beginning this February, I will begin running a field test of my internet site entitled:


This site is specifically geared for assessing the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards in Music, and the activities laid out in the article will become a reality. 

            The purpose of the site is to provide the music educators of New Jersey with a device for accurate assessment of their students work with regards to the standards.

            If you would like to become a part of the field study, or help in the assessment of student work, please contact me at the email address listed in the article header.  I am looking for approximately 20 schools to participate in the study.