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Preservice Teachers’ Predictions, Perceptions, and Actual Assessment of Students With Special Needs in Secondary General Music

October 3, 2005

By VanWeelden, Kimberly; Whipple, Jennifer

The purpose of the current study was to examine preservice teachers’ predictions and perceptions of students with special needs’ level of mastery of specific music education concepts and actual grades achieved by these students using alternative assessments and testing accommodations within two subpopulations: students with emotional and/or behavior disorders, and students with acute cognitive delays. The preservice teachers predicted students within the EDBD class would achieve a significantly higher level of mastery of the music concepts than students within the ACD classroom. After the field experience, however, the preservice teachers perceptions of all students’ level of mastery increased from predictions scores overall. Additionally, preservice teachers were able to execute testing accommodations and implement successful alternative assessments which gave empirical data on the students’ level of mastery of the music education concepts within the curriculum. Finally, there was no correlation between how the preservice teachers thought students would perform, how they thought the students performed, and how the students actually performed based on assessment data.

The question of how to grade students with special needs in educational settings was brought to the forefront after PL 94-142 was passed in 1975 (Lindsey, Burns, & Guthrie, 1984). Since then, descriptive research investigating grading practices of students with special needs across subject areas has found teachers often grade these students on different educational objectives than their nondisabled peers (Donahue & Zigmond, 1990; Frisque, Niebur, & Humphreys, 1994; Gfeller, Darrow, & Hedden, 1990; Zigmond, Levine, & Laurie, 1985). It is theorized this phenomenon may occur because teachers are uncertain of how to implement alternative grading practices that accurately assess the content taught and/or question the fairness of creating such assessments when traditional grading policies are already in place (Bradley & Calvin, 1998; Christiansen & Vogel, 1998; Darrow, 2003; Schumm & Vaughn, 1992). However, as Darrow (2003) explains:

Students placed in the inclusive music classroom may be educationally and psychologically penalized by being evaluated using the same standards applied to students without disabilities. Music educators need to be flexible and fair by providing an evaluation system that accounts for students’ varied abilities. Alternative grading procedures can be employed to ensure that students are not subjected to discriminatory testing, (p. 54)

The ideas of alternative assessments and testing accommodations are not new to educators; however, creating actual strategies and implementation procedures of such alternatives for special learners has only recently been investigated within general education (Bradley & Calvin, 1998; Elliott, Kratochwill, & Schulte, 1998; Erickson, Ysseldyke, Thurlow, & Elliott, 1998; McLesky & Waldron, 2002). These studies advocate creating different presentation and response formats, providing assistance during the assessment, and using several test formats to assess the same content for students with special needs. Experts also suggest teacher education programs should train preservice teachers in these procedures so they may learn how to accurately assess special learners’ educational achievement within their subject areas (Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2002; Snyder, Garriott, & Aylor, 2001).

For music therapists working in school settings, educational assessment issues may be of greater importance because of the many roles they often serve. At the same time as providing therapy services, music therapists in these settings are often asked to serve on multidisciplinary teams or to act as consultants to music educators or non-music education faculty (Wilson, 1996). As Grant (1995) states, “music therapists working in school settings as part of multidisciplinary teams have much to offer other team members in terms of assessment information” (p. 273). In the role of consultant, because both music educators and music therapists are oftentimes working on many overlapping goals and objectives (Darrow, 1996), it may be logical that music educators turn to music therapists for help and expertise to devise music-based alternative assessments and testing accommodations for students with special needs. Additionally, music therapists may be able to garner information regarding client/student functioning and non-music goals from assessment of music objectives.

While general education has begun investigating alternative assessments and testing accommodations for students with disabilities, to date, no experimental research examining these same issues has been conducted in music education. Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to compare preservice teachers’: (a) predictions of students with special needs’ mastery of specific music education concepts prior to instruction, (b) perceptions of students with special needs’ mastery of specific music education concepts after instruction but before assessment, and (c) grades assigned to students with special needs for level of mastery of specific music education concepts using alternative assessments and testing accommodations.

Method

The participants (N= 15) were undergraduate music education majors at a large university enrolled during the fall semester in a course titled “Assessment and Teaching Music: secondary.” This course is part of the undergraduate music education curriculum and includes students emphasizing in choral, instrumental, and general music. The class consisted of 10 weeks of in-class instruction (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 1 hour per day every week) and 5 weeks of field-based secondary general music lab experience (working with secondary students with special needs on Monday and Friday for 30 minutes each day) during the semester.

In-class Instruction

The in-class instruction included activities pertaining to various aspects of teaching general music within secondary schools. Specifically, five broad areas were covered: (a) song leading, Orff instrumental orchestrations, and Western Art music microteaching; (b) music listening; (c) musical games; (d) issues within secondary schools (e.g., classroom management, students who are at-risk, professionalism, etc.); and (e) assessment and evaluation procedures. The first three areas gave the preservice teachers an opportunity to plan and teach various musical activities that would be appropriate for a secondary general music class. No accommodations for special learners were required for these activities. The last two areas included multiple assignments, lectures, and readings for accommodating and grading students with and without disabilities in secondary general music class settings.

Field-based Experience

The field-based secondary general music lab experience consisted of working with students with special needs at a local middle school. These students were primarily educated within a self- contained setting and were divided into two classrooms based upon the students’ disabilities. The first class was comprised of students with emotional and/or behavioral disorders (EDBD) and the resulting academic delays that often accompany these disabilities. The second class contained students who exhibited acute cognitive delays (ACD), including students with autism, Down Syndrome, mental retardation, and extensive learning disabilities. Each classroom had 8 to 9 students that represented the same ages as all middle school children.

The preservice music educators were divided into two groups: one to work with students in the EDBD classroom and the other to work with students in the ACD classroom. Both classes were taught during the same time but in separate locations. Therefore, it was necessary to divide the preservice teachers into two groups to facilitate the logistical constraints. Each class was supervised by one of the researchers. The division of the preservice teachers was based upon their gender and major emphasis (choral, instrumental, or general) to create roughly the same teacher demographics within each classroom. Teachers were further divided into teaching groups of three to four persons, creating two teaching groups per classroom, using the same demographics. The researchers determined all divisions immediately prior to the field experience.

One secondary general music curriculum, created by the researchers, served as the foundation for the field teaching experience and was taught to students in both the EDBD and ACD classrooms. Thirty music concepts were taught within four broad categories: (a) musical terms, (b) rhythm, (c) ballets, and (d) composers (see Figure 1). The curriculum contained the same types of activities found within the in-class portion of the course to teach the music concepts, which included the various microteaches, music listening, and musical games, but were adapted to best fit the needs of special learners. Each concept was presented in multiple alterations during the field experience and each lesson contained a review of previously taught materi\al at the beginning and a recap of material introduced that day at the end.

FIGURE 1.

PREDICTIONS AND PERCEPTIONS SURVEY.

Using the scale provided, please indicate how consistently you think students in each special needs classroom will demonstrate mastery of the following concepts.

1 = Never

2 = Less than half of the time

3 = More than half of the time

4 = Always

The week immediately prior to the field experience was devoted to explaining the logistics of the field experience, dividing the students into teaching groups, discussing the curriculum, and giving the teaching groups time to plan and prepare for their first teaching experience. During the first week of the field-based experience the preservice teachers introduced themselves, created nametags for each student, sat interspersed with the students, and participated as teaching assistants as the researchers taught the lessons. The purpose of this first week was to give the preservice teachers time to acclimate to the experience and students without the additional responsibilities of teaching.

Beginning in the second week, the teacher groups were given the responsibility of preparing and teaching all aspects of the lessons. Since there were two teaching groups per classroom, the groups alternated lesson responsibilities every other lesson. Each lesson contained four different types of activities (singing, instrument playing, listening, drama, games, worksheets, puzzles, etc.) from the curriculum covering multiple music concepts. This gave each member of one teaching group the opportunity to plan and lead the class during the lesson. Additionally, teachers were required to teach a different part of the curriculum every lesson. When preservice teachers were not actively involved in teaching the lesson they acted as teaching assistants to help students individually. During the last two days of the experience, teachers were given the responsibility for planning, preparing, and implementing alternative assessments and testing accommodations that would accurately assess the students’ learning of all the music content taught within the curriculum. Prior to implementing the assessments, the researchers reviewed each assessment and accommodation and provided suggestions for needed revisions. When the field experience was completed, each preservice teacher had taught three times in different general music curricular areas, assisted individual students with various musical tasks during 10 class periods, and prepared and implemented an assessment.

The Survey Instrument

The dependent variable was a survey listing the 30 music concepts in the curriculum. Prior to any in-class discussion relating to students with special needs or the general music lab experience, each subject was asked to complete the survey that included ratings for both EDBD and ACD students. Participants were asked to rate every music concept according to their predictions of EDBD and ACD students’ level of mastery using a 4-point Likert-type scale. The scale ranged from “never” to “always” for each item to ensure all participants interpreted the rating scale in the same direction. At the conclusion of the field experience students were asked to complete the same survey to rate their perceptions of EDBD or ACD students’ level of mastery of the music concepts taught. On this survey presentation, participants only gave ratings for the classroom in which they were assigned, creating a pretest-posttest design.

Alternative Assessments and Testing Accommodations

The preservice teachers prepared alternative assessments to evaluate the students on the music content covered within the field experience. Each classroom administered six assessments over a 2- day period. The alternative assessments were in game, listening, written, and demonstration formats, as required by the researchers, and all music concepts were assessed within two or more formats. Before implementation, the researchers reviewed the assessments and, if necessary, asked the preservice teachers to make minor revisions.

Additionally, preservice teachers within each classroom devised testing accommodations that would best meet the needs of their students. Testing accommodations within the EDBD classroom consisted of dividing the students into three-person groups with careful attention given to placement based on observations over the course of the field experience to help control personality and/or behavior clashes amongst the students. The classroom was also divided into three assessment “stations” that were separated from one another with two to three preservice teachers at each to help administer the test to the students. Finally, students rotated between the different stations until all students had completed every assessment. Testing accommodations within the ACD classroom consisted of assigning a preservice teacher to each student to act as an assessment “aide.” The preservice teachers administered all assessments individually to their assigned students, helping the students focus on the assessment task, rereading or reiterating assessment directions, and checking the students’ written work to make sure they were providing only one answer per question. Also, when designing the written assessments, icons supporting the written language were included to ensure student mastery of the concepts was assessed rather than student literacy.

All written assessments had the students’ names listed at the top and were collected by the researchers at the end of the class periods. For other assessment formats, preservice teachers recorded student responses. Immediately following the field experience, the preservice teachers met at the university and graded the assessments for their classrooms. Because the music concepts were assessed within two or more formats, all assessments were divided and graded by individual concept rather than overall test. This created two or more grades from different assessment formats for each of the 30 music concepts. Percentages for individual music concepts, using the number of correct answers divided by the total number of questions for each concept, were calculated. Preservice teachers then converted the percentages into letter grades, including pluses and minuses.

During this class time, discussion arose among the preservice teachers concerning the lack of an assessment to evaluate the students’ progress and participation during the general music lab. Teachers from the ACD classroom, therefore, decided to give a grade to reflect student progress. The intent of this grade was to account for “improvement” in music learning since they felt the students should be rewarded for growth. The teachers in the EDBD classroom felt a “participation/good behavior” grade was needed to accurately indicate acceptable behaviors during the activities and graded the students accordingly. These grades were subjective and were assigned through the preservice teachers’ recollections.

A master grade book was made for each classroom with every students’ actual grade for each music concept and their subjective grade for improvement or participation. The preservice teachers decided to weight the grades for every music concept equally. For the subjective grades, teachers within the ACD class assigned the same weight to the progress and each of the music concept grades, while the EDBD classroom teachers gave double weight to the participation grade compared to each of the music concept grades. To calculate the overall letter grade for each student, the percentages were summed then divided by the total number of individual grades. The researchers rechecked the grade calculations for reliability. Student grades by classroom are listed in Table 1.

TABLE 1

Actual Grades Assigned by Preservice Teachers and Researcher Reliability

Results

The 30 music concepts on the survey were grouped into four broad categories: terms (survey items 1-5, 22, 27), rhythm (survey items 6- 21), ballets (survey items 23-26), and composers (survey items 27- 30). All preservice teachers completed a pretest predicting level of mastery of music concepts for students in both classes. However, only the pretest survey responses for the classroom to which the preservice teachers were subsequently assigned were used to compare predictions (pretest) to perceptions (posttest), and to compare perceptions for both classes. An exception to this was the comparison of predictions for both classes in which all preservice teacher pretest responses were used.

One-way ANOVAs comparing mean prediction scores for each grouping and overall survey for the EDBD and ACD populations were completed. For the total survey score combining all survey questions, there was a significant difference between scores for the two populations, F (28,1)7.00, p = .013, with EDBD higher. In addition, mean scores for the terms, F (28,1)4.79, p = .037, and rhythm categories, F’(28,1)5.53, p = .026, were significantly higher for the EDBD classroom. For all other concept groupings, the EDBD population prediction scores were also higher than the ACD population, though not significantly.

Using one-way ANOVAs, pretest and posttest scores for the combined classes for overall survey and each grouping were compared. The preservice teachers’ perceptions scores significantly increased from their prediction scores in the rhythm category, /”(28,1)5.72, p = .024. Mean scores within all other categories increased from prediction to perception, though not significantly. When divided by classroom, there were no significant differences between pretest and posttest scores for either ACD or EDBD classroom. For the ACD classroom, perceptions scores were higher for every grouping and overall survey while the EDBD classroom scores were higher for overall survey and every grouping except composers, which had a higher prediction mean.

One-way ANOVAs comparing mean perception scores for overall survey and e\ach category for both classrooms were completed. For the total survey and each category scores, there was no significant difference between the EDBD and ACD populations, though the EDBD means were higher. Means and standard deviations for predictions, perceptions, and predictions versus perceptions by combined and separate classrooms are listed in Table 2.

In addition, mean grades given to the students by the preservice teachers were compared to preservice teacher predictions and perceptions. The overall survey average and averages of survey groupings were used instead of survey and grouping sums in order to maintain the fourpoint Likert-type scale to most closely match the standard four-point GPA system. Six grade categories were used by the preservice teachers: musical terms, rhythm, composers, listening, stories, and progress (ACD classroom) or participation (EDBD classroom). The first three grades corresponded to the three survey groupings of musical terms, rhythm, and composers. The fourth survey grouping of ballet equated the final two grade categories of listening and stories, as these grade categories were based on different types of assessment and aspects of ballets studied. Only students in the ACD classroom were assigned a grade for musical terms. Consequently, the pretest and posttest survey responses for the terms grouping could be compared only to the terms grade assigned by the ACD preservice teachers. The EDBD preservice teachers chose not to assign a terms grade since they could not clearly extract terms data from the assessments. However, because the EDBD preservice teachers elected to double the weight of the participation grade, students in both classrooms were still assigned six grades.

TABLE 2

Means and Standard Deviations for Predections, Perceptions, and Predictions versus Perceptions by Combined and Separate Classroom

To determine the relationship between the prediction, perception, and actual achievement scores, a Pearson Product Moment Correlation Coefficient test using only the preservice teachers’ pretest prediction survey responses for the classroom to which they were assigned was completed. In the terms category for the ACD class, there was a significant correlation between the perception of achievement (postsurvey) and the actual grade given for that category from assessment data (r= .802, p= .017). However, between all other grade categories and survey groupings, including the overall survey scores and grades, there was no correlation between prediction of achievement, perception of achievement, and actual achievement.

To obtain the reliability grades, each student’s six letter grades, assigned by the preservice teachers, were converted into grade point average (GPA) format then averaged. see Table 1 for letter grade to GPA conversion scale. This allowed an overall/final reliability grade to be obtained in GPA format, then converted to an overall/final reliability letter grade. Analysis of the overall/ final grades assigned by preservice teachers versus the reliability grades revealed that for the 17 students receiving final grades, the reliability grade was the same for only 5 students (see Table 1). Within the EDBD class (n = 8), the reliability grade was the same for one student, while the preservice teacher assigned grade was higher for the other seven. In the ACD class (n = 9), the reliability grade was the same for four students, lower for three, and higher for two (see Table 1).

Based on a one-way ANOVA, the overall/final reliability letter grade (converted back to a standard GPA scale was significantly higher (p = .020) for the ACD students (M= 3.411) than for the EDBD students (M = 2.737). However, there were no significant differences for the combined, separate ACD, or separate EDBD classes between the preservice teacher assigned grades (converted to a standard GPA) and the reliability letter grade (converted back to standard GPA).

To determine the relationship between the preservice teacher assigned grades (in GPA format) and reliability grades (in letter grade and converted GPA format), a Pearson Product Moment Correlation Coefficient test was completed. For the combined teachers and classrooms, there was a significant correlation between final/overall grades given by preservice teachers and the reliability grade given by the researchers calculated from the grades given by the preservice teachers for individual categories (r = .913, p= .001) and for the reliability final letter grade converted back into GPA format (r = .906, p= .001). There was also a significant correlation between the assigned participation/progress grade, the final reliability grade calculated in GPA (r= .541, p= .025), and the reliability letter grade converted back into GPA format (r= .529, p = .029). For the ACD classroom alone, there was a significant correlation between the reliability letter grade (converted back into GPA format), the preservice teacher assigned grade (r= .958, p = .000), and the reliability obtained GPA (r = .991, p = .000). There was also a significant correlation between the preservice teacher assigned grade and the reliability obtained GPA (r = .951, p = .000). Similarly, within the EDBD classroom, there were significant correlations between the reliability letter grade (converted back into GPA for calculation purposes), the preservice teachers’ assigned grade (r = .982, p = .000), and the reliability GPA (r= .976, p = .000).

Discussion

The preservice teachers in this study predicted students within the EDBD class would achieve a higher level of mastery of the music concepts than students within the ACD classroom. Before the preservice teachers completed the pretest survey they were given a brief one-sentence description of what the acronyms EDBD and ACD stood for in educational settings (i.e., emotional/behavioral disorders and acute cognitive delays). While the researchers only defined the acronyms, pretest responses indicate the preservice teachers may have inferred stereotyped associations from these labels and thus made predictions according to general beliefs about the possible achievement level between the two classrooms of students with special needs. After the field experience, however, the preservice teachers’ perceptions of students’ level of mastery increased from predictions scores within all music concept categories. Since the preservice teachers worked with secondary special learners over a 5-week period, the field-based experience may have given the teachers a different perception through personal contact and observation of what EDBD and ACD students in these classrooms were able to achieve.

Assigning the actual overall letter grade, which combined the individual grades for each music concept grouping and the progress or participation grade, was difficult for the preservice teachers within this study. In fact, the preservice teachers’ actual assigned letter grade for each student proved to be mostly unreliable. When the researchers checked each grade point average and assigned letter grade given to the students, it was discovered that only five of the 17 students received the correct letter grade. However, a post hoc reliability check on all the steps the teachers completed to determine the actual letter grade revealed the individual concept GPAs and weighting of scores were completed correctly; it was only during the last step of the grading process that the preservice teachers faltered. Interestingly, the preservice teachers had a copy of the four-point GPA scale, used throughout this study, to use as a scale for determining the students’ grades. While reasons for this anomaly are unclear, it should be noted there was a correlation between preservice teacher grades and researcher reliability grades as well as no significant differences between the two.

The preservice teachers within this study were able plan, prepare, and implement successful alternative assessments which gave empirical data on students with special needs level of mastery of the music education concepts within the curriculum. Each classroom of teachers administered six assessments in different formats and all music concepts were assessed within two or more formats. Additionally, when the teachers began the grading process, the assessments were divided by individual music concept rather than overall test creating two or more grades per each concept. This allowed the teachers to accurately determine the students’ with special needs level of mastery for all 30 music concepts within the curriculum. Preservice teachers were also able to implement testing accommodations that were appropriate for the population to which they were assigned. Each classroom of teachers employed different accommodations, from dividing the students into neutral personality/ behavior assessment groups within the EDBD classroom to administering all assessments to each student individually within the ACD classroom, to best meet the needs of their students. The results of this study indicate preservice teachers were able to make necessary accommodations, rather than relying on traditional grading procedures, in order to accurately evaluate students’ with special needs learning within music education. These results are important since similar strategies and implementation procedures for special learners within general education have been found essential (Bradley & Calvin, 1998; Elliott et al., 1998; Erickson et al., 1998; McLesky & Waldron, 2002) yet have not been examined in music education settings.

Furthermore, since the researchers represented one music educator and one music therapist, the preservice teachers witnessed firsthand how the two disciplines could work together to create a successful working partnership within the school setting. Throughout the entire field experience, the researchers provided suggestions based on their personal expertise to help the preservice te\achers plan for their next lesson as well as their music-based assessments. These suggestions helped the teachers consider presenting the music concepts in several formats, which is a part of music education, while also considering the types of testing accommodations that would be appropriate for the students, which is a part of music therapy. Both components were necessary for the preservice teachers and the students with special needs to be successful with their tasks.

There was no correlation between how the preservice teachers thought students with special needs would perform, how they thought the students performed, and how the students actually performed based on assessment data. Regardless of disability, preservice teachers were unable to accurately predict or perceive students’ level of mastery of the music concepts from what the students actually achieved. Therefore, while teachers might make predictions of special learners’ level of achievement based on stereotypes and have perceptions of special learners’ level of achievement based on observations in class, until alternative assessments with testing accommodations that meet the needs of these students are employed, teachers cannot actually know what level of achievement special learners can attain.

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Kimberly VanWeelden, PhD

Jennifer Whipple, PhD, MT-BC

Florida State University

Copyright American Music Therapy Association Fall 2005




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