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Children’s School Lives Study: Report 7

Children’s School Lives Study: Report 7

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Assessment and Reporting

Assessment in education involves gathering, interpreting and using information about the processes and outcomes of learning. It takes different forms and can be used in a variety of ways, such as to record and report achievement, to determine appropriate routes for learners to take through a differentiated curriculum, or to identify specific areas of difficulty or strength for a given learner. While different techniques may be employed for formative, diagnostic and summative purposes, the focus of the assessment and reporting is on the improvement of student learning. To do this it must fully reflect the aim of the curriculum.

The junior cycle places a strong emphasis on assessment as part of the learning process. This requires a more varied approach to assessment in ensuring that the assessment method or methods chosen are fit for purpose, timely and relevant to the students. Assessment in Junior Cycle Music will optimise the opportunity for students to become reflective and active participants in their learning and for teachers to support this. This rests upon the provision for learners of opportunities to negotiate success criteria against which the quality of their work can be judged by peer, self, and teacher assessment; and upon the quality of the focused feedback they get in support of their learning.

Providing focused feedback to students on their learning is a critical component of high-quality assessment and a key factor in building students’ capacity to manage their own learning and their motivation to stick with a complex task or problem. Assessment is most effective when it moves beyond marks and grades, and reporting focuses not just on how the student has done in the past but on the next steps for further learning. This approach will ensure that assessment takes place as close as possible to the point of learning. Final assessment still has a role to play, but is only one element of a broader approach to assessment.

Essentially, the purpose of assessment and reporting at this stage of education is to support learning. Parents/guardians should be given a comprehensive picture of student learning. Linking classroom assessment and other assessment with a new system of reporting that culminates in the awarding of the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) will offer parents/guardians a clear and broad picture of their child’s learning journey over the three years of junior cycle. To support this, teachers and schools have access to an Assessment Toolkit. Along with the guide to the Subject Learning and Assessment Review (SLAR) process, the toolkit includes learning, teaching and assessment support material, including:

  • formative assessment
  • planning for and designing assessment
  • ongoing assessments for classroom use
  • judging student work – looking at expectations for students and features of quality
  • reporting to parents and students
  • thinking about assessment: ideas, research and reflections
  • an assessment glossary.

The contents of the toolkit include the range of assessment supports, advice and guidelines that enable schools and teachers to engage with the new assessment system and reporting arrangements in an informed way, with confidence and clarity.

The assessment of Music for the purposes of the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) will comprise two Classroom-Based Assessments: Composition Portfolio and a Programme Note; a practical examination and a written examination. All assessments will be at a common level. The State Examinations Commission (SEC) will assess the practical examination (held towards the end of third year) and the written examination in June.

The two Classroom-Based Assessments for Junior Cycle Music are distinct markers in the student's learning journey, while still being an integral part of ongoing assessment and routine classroom practice. In this way they are similar to the formative assessment that occurs in the ebb and flow of classroom interaction that occurs every day in class. However, in the case of the Classroom-Based Assessments, the teacher's judgement is recorded for the purpose of subject learning and assessment review, and for the purpose of reporting to parents and students.

Junior Cycle Music will have two Classroom-Based Assessments. The Classroom-Based Assessments will relate to the students' work during the second and third years of junior cycle education.

Over the three years of junior cycle, students will be provided with the opportunity to stimulate their creativity, explore the expression and communication of their ideas, and develop an understanding of how music can teach us so much about cultures and societies. The Classroom-Based Assessments link to these priorities for learning and teaching in music. The Classroom-Based Assessments will provide an opportunity and vehicle for students to:

  • collaborate with others on creative endeavours 
  • research information using an appropriate variety of methods
  • express themselves in a non-verbal context 
  • communicate effectively and with confidence 
  • develop an understanding of the relationship between music and societies 
  • reflect on their progress and their musical choices.

This Classroom-Based Assessment offers students an opportunity to celebrate their achievements as creators of music artefacts, by compiling a collection of their musical ideas and creative expressions in a variety of genres and styles over time.

Through this process students will develop their musical voice and their identity. When composing music for their chosen audience, students will learn how to bring an idea from concept to realisation.

The development of creative expression in music is a central element of this course, as outlined in the rationale. It is important to instil in students a creative disposition where they are free to experiment, allowed to take risks, encouraged to explore new and challenging opportunities and reflect on the creative process.

In the majority of cases, the work in the student's collections will arise from the ebb and flow of classroom practice. The collections of student compositions promote student engagement when students: identify and choose the stimulus for the creative work choose the format(s) in which to create the piece of music develop their ideas through engagement with other aspects of the music course.

  • identify and choose the stimulus for the creative work 
  • choose the format(s) in which to create the piece of music
  • develop their ideas through engagement with other aspects of the music course.

Two pieces from the portfolio of compositions will be selected by the student for assessment purposes.

The focus of this assessment activity will be on the creation of a set of musical compositions which might include the following options:

  • responding to an auditory or visual stimulus
  • arranging an existing piece of music 
  • answering phrases(s) to an existing phrase
  • adding music to text 
  • responding to a story or text
  • creating an advertisement jingle
  • devising a piece of electro-acoustic music
  • music for a school event 
  • music as a response to a personal experience.

This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but serves to suggest that the collection should be a varied one. The options included above can overlap, there is no restriction on the choices that students can make.

The compositions can be in any recognised musical style/genre and can be written for instrument or voice and as a solo or group performance. It can be presented in written, digital, visual or audio form, or any other format that is deemed suitable by the student and appropriate for capturing the essence of their ideas.

Underlying and informing this Classroom-Based Assessment, is a focus on the developmental and progressive nature of exploring creative ideas, and on students developing an understanding of the creative process. This is best supported by ongoing student practice in this artistic pursuit. To this end, students are encouraged to include drafts, redrafts, and other workings in relation to the compositions, although this work will not be assigned a descriptor.

A student reflection must be included with each of the two compositions chosen for assessment purposes. This is intended to give students the opportunity to set out a brief statement on the purpose or intention for the creative idea, and asks the students to indicate what they have learnt from the process and what they might do differently on a subsequent occasion.

For this Classroom-Based Assessment, the student will prepare a programme note to inform an audience on the content of their upcoming performance which itself will comprise the practical examination.

The formative assessment related to the production of this note will be reported upon to the student and parent/guardian by the school as for all other second Classroom-Based Assessments. However, as detailed below, the performance which makes up the practical examination will be graded by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

This programme note is intended to illuminate the content of the upcoming performance in an interesting and relevant way. While this illumination is important for the audience, it also enriches the performance by the student, as knowing about the stories of compositions impacts on the performance of these pieces.

The provision of some background information on the composers or songwriters can provide important insights into their intentions, and an understanding of the wider context of the music to be performed. Providing the listener with signposts as to what to listen out for and giving them some interesting anecdotes about the composer or the piece, enlightens and informs their experience.

The programme note could include:

  • a brief introduction to the composers/songwriters
  • a description about the historical context of the pieces and the circumstances surrounding the composition
  • one interesting musical point in each piece for the audience to listen out for
  • famous exponents of a tune or an instrument
  • the student's role in a group performance.

The structure of the programme note will be influenced by many factors, and students are offered the flexibility in allowing for different degrees of emphasis be focused on different musical elements and features.

More detailed material on assessment for reporting in Junior Cycle Music, setting out details of the practical arrangements related to assessment of the Classroom-Based Assessments, will be available in separate assessment guidelines. This will include, for example, the suggested content and formats for student work and support in using 'on-balance' judgement in relation to the features of quality. The NCCA's Assessment Toolkit also includes substantial resource material for use in ongoing classroom assessment of Junior Cycle Music as well as providing a detailed account of the Subject Learning and Assessment Review process.

The final examination will consist of a practical examination and a written examination. The practical examination will be allocated 30% of the marks available. The written examination will be allocated 70% of the marks available.

Practical examination:

The practical examination will take place in third year. Students will perform three musical songs/pieces. Solo and group performing may be freely mixed. The songs/pieces may also be presented on a variety of instruments or through a combination of voice and instruments. Technical control, fluency and musicality will be assessed. The standard required will reflect what can be attained in three years class-based tuition.

Students will also take an unprepared test. They will choose from aural memory (rhythmic or melodic), sight-reading (instrumental/vocal/rhythmic) or improvisation. Aural memory and sight-reading tests will be four bars long. In the case of improvisation, students will be required to improvise for at least four bars. 

The practical examination will be allocated 30% of the marks available and will be marked by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).


Written examination:

There will be one examination paper at a common level. This paper will be set and marked by the SEC and will be allocated 70% of the marks for the final assessment. The examination will be of one hour 30 minutes duration and will take place at the end of third year. During this assessment, students will be required to engage with, demonstrate comprehension of, and provide written responses to stimulus material.

In any one year, the learning outcomes to be assessed will constitute a sample of the relevant outcomes from the tables of learning outcomes.

This specification allows for inclusive assessment practices whether as part of ongoing assessment or Classroom-Based Assessments. Where a school judges that a student has a specific physical or learning difficulty, reasonable accommodations may be put in place to remove, as far as possible, the impact of the disability on the student's performance in Classroom-Based Assessments. The accommodations e.g., the support provided by a special needs assistant or the support of assistive technologies should be in line with the arrangements the school has put in place to support the student's learning throughout the year.

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