Revisiting the Arts Classroom-Based Performance Assessments in Washington

Mike Lawson • Archives • August 5, 2009

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Two years ago, we reported here about the Classroom-Based Performance Assessments (CBPA) program being implemented in the state of Washington (SBO August, 2007). Many readers were interested enough in this news that they accepted the invitation to take a closer look. Now, educators from 15 states and seven countries have contacted Ms. AnnRene Joseph, Arts Program supervisor, for permission to cite and use the Washington CBPAs as a model for their own state, district, and school arts assessment programs.

Since that time, we can report that excellent progress has been made. Washington has completed its second phase of this important fine-arts classroom-based performance and assessment project involving 295 school districts and is the only state in the nation conducting a large-scale reporting of performance-based assessments at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, in all four fine arts disciplines: music, art, dance and drama.

The positive impact of the CBPAs ensures that arts instruction is occurring in the state of Washington and validates the need for highly qualified and certified instructors in the arts to meet and exceed the expectations of the state for its one million students. Teachers are reporting that the CBPAs and the statewide reporting process “saved the arts programs in their districts” during the past year of financial issues across the nation.

Rob Lindfors teaches music at Newport High School, as well as guitar, piano and 5th-grade orchestra in the Bellevue School District. He uses technology extensively in two classes: Composing Music with Technology and Guitar. “All of my instruction,” Rob says, “is guided by a desire to help students recognize and appreciate their own musical and creative potential, and to help them gain confidence in their own abilities. The greater the success in this, the more captivated they will be by music, and the more relevant music will be to their lives.”

For Guitar class, Rob has created a variety of materials that make effective use of Sibelius’ Scorch software for home practice and study. He uses the same material in class with Scorch, rather than with Sibelius, so that students become familiar with using Scorch interactively. “Scorch allows students to change the tempo to suit their needs and to begin playback from any point in the song,” Rob says. “This allows them to focus on the sections that most need work. It even allows students to transpose the music to a different key: great for those who need the additional challenge. When a play-along track includes both melody and accompaniment, I mix it so that the melody comes out of one speaker and the accompaniment comes out of the other, allowing students to turn off the melody and play along with just the accompaniment if desired.”

This material is intended to help students learn how to become “their own best teacher,” by improving their own practice strategies, which is a focus of Rob’s instruction. He continues, “I provide scaffolding for a number of pieces through special ‘learning versions,’ which isolate key elements to facilitate practice and increase understanding. These help students better grasp how to tackle a difficult piece.”

No prior music experience is required for the Composing, Music Technology class. Rob notes that his teaching is guided by a concern for leveling the playing field for students with little experience. “Nevertheless,” he states, “it is essential that they learn about notation, melody, harmony, rhythm, form, phrasing, dynamics, texture, timbre, et cetera. That’s a lot for beginners to absorb, while simultaneously learning how to use the technology, and then having to put it all together into composing. To help students develop confidence, I provide a great deal of scaffolding.”

One way technology helps Rob do this is through something he calls “Music Minus One” assignments: composition exercises that are missing one part melody, harmony, bass, or counter melody, et cetera which the student needs to add to complete the piece. Rob has found that this is an effective way to help every student succeed. These exercises were designed primarily to provide scaffolding for creating pieces with clearly defined harmonic progressions, allowing students to focus on writing melodies that more creatively respond to the harmonic structure and to the form the harmonic progression provides, which also helps with phrasing. The teacher emphasizes that nearly every student’s work improves markedly if greater attention is paid to these crucial elements: form and phrasing. “To do this,” he says, “I teach students enough about chord construction and chord progressions for them to grasp how harmony provides the underlying structure to most music. Even just a basic knowledge of how harmonic progressions function helps students better understand form and phrasing, and how repetition figures strongly in the harmonic structure, which also aids in melodic phrasing. Students are provided with numerous sample progressions (some from popular songs), and emphasis is placed on learning how tempo, texture, and style affect the feel and sound of a progression.”

It is important that students grasp how the harmonic basis of music influences the melody. They learn about the use of stepwise motion versus arpeggios in creating melodies, and the benefit of understanding what the underlying harmony is in their compositions, and of knowing what the chord tones are. “Music Minus One” exercises allow students to put these concepts into practice when writing melodies, focusing on how the melody intertwines with the harmony through a combination of arpeggios and stepwise motion. Alternately, students may be asked to write a supporting harmony to a given melody.

Other exercises ask students to re-orchestrate and re-arrange the rhythm parts (chords and bass) to a given melody, to get them to think more deeply about style and timbre. Examples of the missing parts are provided for every exercise, so that students can study them individually or for class discussion.

AnnRene Joseph is happy to announce that the CBPAs have been utilized in K-12 classes and developed for courses that include and are not limited to traditional arts classes. Technology classes are using Sibelius, Finale, Garage Band, and other programs. Teachers in all areas of music study, including technology in music, orchestra, band, guitar, and more have contributed to development, designing, piloting and refining the first menu of 60 Arts CBPAs into a new menu that can be found online by going to, clicking on “WASL,” under the “assessment” tab, and then scroll down to find the link for CBPAs on the left-hand side. These new CBPAs are scheduled for final approval six month from now.

Washington currently has a one-credit requirement in the arts at the high school level for all learners. Beginning in 2013, provided that full funding is given, two credits in the arts will be required for graduation, taught at the high school level. Washington will be the first state in the nation to have such a requirement.

AnnRene Joseph, whose full title is “program supervisor for the Arts for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction,” is credited as leading the decision making and development that resulted in the creation of the CBPAs for dance, music, theatre, and visual arts at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She has nurtured this innovative program from 2002 to the present with the unyielding support and participation of her state’s arts educators and leaders. One of her mantras is this: “Our lives, and all aspects of our lives personal and professional are an artwork in progress.” Ms. Joseph can be contacted at [email protected] or at

In his statement in support for arts education, Mr. Randy I. Dorn, Washington’s superintendent of Public Education notes, “We know that arts education allows students to learn and practice skills and behaviors that foster ‘out of the box’ thinking and creative problem solving. Those skills will be crucial to innovation in the 21st century.”

Links to information on arts education in Washington:

1. Designing the Arts Learning Community: A Handbook for K-12 Professional Development Planners: – Washington’s CBPAs are featured as an effective and successful process in the professional development of educators.

2. Complete Worksheet with Instructions, FAQs, Links, Elementary, Middle, and High School Arts CBPAs in Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts, Optional Survey, and Arts Courses:

3. Arts Assessment Article, “The Journey in Progress”:

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