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An Analysis of the NAfME National Standards

In 1994, the Music Education National Conference (MENC), now known as the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), established a set of nine K-12 National Standards and four Pre-K Standards. These standards were specifically developed by MENCs Task Force to create a coherent vision of what it means to be educated in music, provide a foundation for building a balanced, comprehensive, and sequential curriculum in music, and to provide specific assistance in improving the music curriculum. (The School Music Program: A New Vision, 1994). Despite the MENC Task Forces efforts to provide this foundation with the standards, many studies have illustrated specific criticism and concern. Two studies in particular, from 2002 and 2003, will highlight these criticisms and concerns later in the analysis. In 2006, the MENC Task Force on National Standards was asked by the National Executive Board of MENC to review the 1994 Standards and to consider whether they should be revised to reflect current conditions and, (2) if so, how. This report will also be described in greater detail later. In addition to the actual standards that were published in 1994, the MENC Task Force provided a separate publication, The School Music Program: A New Vision (1994), which exclusively addressed and presented the standards in music. The following is a brief overview of the National Standards outlined in this publication, which include grade specific traits and needs that correspond to the standards.

Pre Kindergarten (Ages 2-5)

Pre K National Standards: 1. Singing and playing instruments 2. Creating music 3. Responding to music 4. Understanding music

The years before children enter kindergarten are critical for their musical development. Young children need a rich musical environment in which to grow. A music curriculum for young children should include many opportunities to explore sound through singing, moving, listening, and playing instruments, as well as introductory experiences with verbalization and visualization of musical ideas (Standards 1 4). Infants and toddlers experience music by hearing it, feeling it, and by experimenting with pitch and timbre in their vocalizations (Standards 1, 3 & 4). They should experience music daily while receiving caring, physical contact (Standard 3). Pre-K students need an environment that includes a variety of sound sources, selected recorded music, and opportunities for free improvised singing and the building of a repertoire of songs. An exploratory approach, using a wide range of appropriate materials, provides a rich base from which conceptual understanding can evolve in later years. (The School Music Program: A New Vision, 1994)

Kindergarten 12th Grade (Ages 6 18)

K 12 National Standards: 1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music 2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music 3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments 4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines 5. Reading and notating music 6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music 7. Evaluating music and music performances 8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts 9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture GRADES K 4
Students, particularly in grades K-4, learn by doing. Singing, playing instruments, moving to music, and creating music enable them to acquire musical skills and knowledge that can be developed in no other way (Standards 1 & 2). Learning to read and notate music gives them a skill with which to explore music independently and with others (Standard 5). Listening to, analyzing, and evaluating music are important building blocks of musical learning (Standards 6 & 7). To fully participate in a diverse, global society, students must understand their own historical and cultural heritage and those of others within their communities and beyond. Because music is a basic expression of human culture, every student should have access to a balanced, comprehensive, and sequential program of study in music (Standards 8 & 9). (The School Music Program: A New Vision, 1994)

The period represented by grades 5-8 is especially critical in students musical development. The music they perform or study often becomes an integral part of their personal musical repertoire. Composing and improvising provide students with unique insight into the form and structure of music, and at the same time help them to develop their creativity (Standards 3 & 4). Broad experience with a variety of music is necessary if students are to make informed musical judgments. This breadth of background enables them to begin to understand the connections and relationships between music and other disciplines. By understanding the cultural and historical forces that shape social attitudes and behaviors, students are better prepared to live and work in communities that are increasingly multicultural (Standards 8 & 9). The role that music will play in students lives depends in large measure on the level of skills they achieve in creating, performing, and listening to music (Standards 1, 2 & 7). (The School Music Program: A New Vision, 1994)

The study of music contributes in important ways to the quality of every students life. Through singing, playing instruments, and composing, students can express themselves creatively, while knowledge of notation and performance traditions enables them to learn new music independently throughout their lives (Standards 1, 2, 4 & 5). Skills in analysis, evaluation, and synthesis are important because they enable students to recognize and pursue excellence in their musical experiences and to understand and enrich their environment (Standards 6 & 7). Because music is an integral part of human history, the ability to listen with understanding is essential if students are to gain a broad cultural and historical perspective (Standards 8 & 9). (The School Music Program: A New Vision, 1994)

Two levels of achievement, proficient and advanced, have been established for grades 9 12. The proficient level is intended for students who have completed courses involving relevant skills and knowledge for one to two years beyond grade 8. The advanced level is intended for students who have completed courses involving relevant skills and knowledge for three to four years beyond grade 8. Every student is expected to achieve the proficient level in at least one arts discipline (music, dance, theatre, visual arts) by the time he or she graduates from high school. (The School Music Program: A New Vision, 1994)

In 2002, Evelyn Orman conducted a study entitled, Comparison of the National Standards for Music Education and Elementary Music Specialists Use of Class Time. Its purpose was to examine use of class time in elementary general music classes in relation to the nine voluntary National Standards for Music Education. Thirty elementary music specialists were videotaped teaching students in Grades 1 through 6. Use of class time was analyzed separately for teachers and students according to the activity and the focus of the activity. Overall, results indicated that elementary music specialists spent class time on all nine standards. However, less time was devoted to those standards that required creative or artistic decision-making skills from the students. Congruent with previous research by Fonder and Eckrich (1999), teachers in this study spent the majority of class time (46.36%) engaged in talking. Additional results showed that students spent the majority of class time (57.07%) in passive roles. Further esults found that

teachers consistently overestimated the amount of time they perceived spending on these various activities as compared to the time derived from the analyzed videotapes. The majority of the teachers surveyed (98%) perceived that singing occurred more often than the videotapes indicated. Researchers found that elementary specialists believed 40-50% of their time was devoted to singing and playing instruments, and 11% to reading and notating music. None of the other standards were believed to have taken more than 7% of classroom time. Orman concluded that elementary music specialists devoted class time to the nine standards. All the standards were covered across the grade levels analyzed, which is reassuring, considering that all the teachers in this study began teaching before the national standards were written and published. Singing, playing instruments, and reading/notating were the most With the exception of

prevalent national standards addressed across all grade levels.

listening/analyzing (8.7%), all of the remaining standards comprised less than 5% of the total class time analyzed. All the standards that required creative and/or artistic skills received the lowest proportion of class time: Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments

(3.09%), composing and arranging music within specific guidelines (1.03%), and evaluating music and music performances (0.29%). All of these standards require creative decision making, which many would place at the very core of our discipline. An additional study that sought feedback of the National Standards was conducted by Cindy Bell in 2003 entitled, Beginning the Dialogue: Teachers Respond to the National Standards in Music. The study involved 14 active music teachers, and evaluated what effect their participation in a standards based graduate level course would have on their teaching the National Standards. Some of the results showed that while the teachers were cognizant of standards, applications and support systems within individual school districts were inconsistent. Many

teachers stated that they lacked the basic supplies, space and instruction time to do, what they felt, would be an effective job of teaching music in the public schools. When asked to identify which standards were most difficult to implement in the current teaching situation, 36% specifically mentioned singing alone (Standard 1), and 36% claimed improvisation (Standard 3). In regards to singing alone responses included: Students are not comfortable using (their) voice in a classroom setting, Adolescent children do NOT sing alone, and Most of my students feel embarrassed and timid in front of others, and they refuse to sing. Some of these students sing for church and other groups, but are afraid of rejection from their peers. There were also a few responses regarding improvisation. Elementary teachers felt that improvisation with young children is attainable but not substantial, and encumbered by eyehand coordination and the skills needed to accomplish such complex tasks. A middle school teacher said, I am not sure how to achieve this with students who have never had the experience. Another teacher admitted that it was a weakness of theirs, which makes it difficult to teach. Bell concluded that higher education institutions and school districts must play a stronger role in disseminating standards information. Teachers found that a professional development course could assist them in instituting changes in their teaching; however, after a semester of study, teachers still desired additional training. An elementary teacher commented:
Id love to see additional strategies for all the standards this is how one grows as a teacher, by expanding knowledge, even on standards I already feel comfortable teaching. There may be strategies Ive never thought of, that I would enjoy learning to use in my classroom. And continual learning/new ideas help battle boredom as a teacher. Its easy to fall into a rut and teach the concept one way every time.

Bell added that after nearly a decade, the effects of the standards are being felt in the public school music classroom. Teachers are qualified to provide opinions and feedback

regarding music standards and effects on their daily music instruction. This beginning dialogue with teachers offers valuable, insightful, and pointed beliefs, and will provide direction for professional development training. Bell suggested that we need to establish a two-way dialogue, in which standards makers hear from standards implementers. First, further investigations would elicit broader feedback from teachers on how to make the national standards a meaningful part of music curricula, and how more curricular change could be more relevant to their classrooms. Second, a study could also include voices of the music supervisors of school districts, providing additional perspectives from the county or district level on the implementation of music standards. Third, a study could examine the issues facing teachers as they attempt standards implementation in ensemble rehearsals. In 2006, the MENC Task Force on National Standards was asked by the National Executive Board of MENC to review the 1994 Standards and to consider whether they should be revised to reflect current conditions and, if so, how. This resulted in the development of a Report to the MENC National Executive Board (MENC Task Force on National Standards, 2007). The review process included a three-step program of data-gathering and consultation. First, Eureka Facts, LLC, of Rockville, Maryland, was commissioned with funds from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct an online and mail survey of teachers throughout the nation to gather data concerning their familiarity with the National Standards, the extent to which the skills and knowledge called for in the National Standards are emphasized in their teaching, and the extent to which the National Standards have exerted influence and been effective. Email invitations were sent to 33,090 teachers, and the response rate was 17.8% (5,890 teachers). The Task Force also conducted its own online survey in which it invited teachers to

express their opinions concerning whether the National Standards should be revised and, if so, how. A total of 757 responses were received. The same question was asked of members of the 2007 MENC National Assembly, the past national presidents, and a sampling of other thoughtful and knowledgeable leaders in music education. A total of 249 responses were received. In general, the data gathered confirm that the National Standards are believed by music educators to represent highly desirable goals, and are considered to have had a significant positive influence on music education. In the decentralized system of education, standards are controlled by the states, and virtually every state has developed standards in music or in the arts. Some positive impacts made by the National Standards include: Twenty-one states have based their standards directly on the National Standards, or very nearly so. State standards frequently describe in detail how they are aligned with the relevant National Standards. Many publishers of educational materials have worked to develop instructional materials that reflect and promote the National Standards. The data revealed certain misunderstandings and concerns regarding the National Standards, and the nature and role of standards in general:
Concern #1: The single most frequently expressed concern regarding the National Standards in the surveys was that they are unrealistically high, and simply cannot be achieved in the limited instructional time available to many music teachers. Response: The Standards were never intended to reflect the status quo, but rather to provide a vision for the future. They seek to set forth the long-term goals of society for what music education ought to be. They are based on the best practices within our profession and are grounded in the collective judgment of our professional colleagues. Concern #2: Some teachers suggested that a separate set of standards should be developed for elementary schools where music teachers see their students for 20 minutes a week or less. Also, some suggested that the standards should be flexible so that they can be adjusted to the level of support a school is able to provide. Response: Those ideas, too, reflect a misunderstanding of the purpose of the standards. If a school does not or cannot provide sufficient support to make possible the level of learning its students deserve, the solution is not to lower its expectations regarding learning, but rather to find ways to increase the level of support. Concern #3: In regards to the statement that every course in music, including performance courses, should provide instruction in creating, performing, listening to, and analyzing music (A New Vision, 1994), some directors of performing groups expressed concern that this is neither feasible nor necessary in their ensembles.

Response: It is not the intention of the statement that there should be a major emphasis on each of these skills in every specialized elective. The fact that creative and imaginative teachers, including directors of performing groups, are finding ways to incorporate these various skills into their programs confirms that this is possible, and the positive reaction of students confirms that it is desirable. Concern #4: Other survey respondents suggested that the references to composing, arranging, and improvising in the Standards should be de-emphasized or deleted. Response: There is no better way to gain insight into the essence of music than by composing, arranging, and improvising, even if done at a very basic level. Since the publication of the Standards, many innovative directors have found imaginative ways to incorporate composing, arranging, and improvising into their curricula, and the response of students has usually been enthusiastic and appreciative.

One of the most urgent needs at present is for professional development opportunities for P12 music educators. Tradition, coupled with community expectations rooted in tradition, exert a powerful barrier to change. The Standards dealing with improvising, composing, and arranging provide an excellent example. Interestingly, one respondent reported that he would like to incorporate improvising and composing into his program, but was unable to do so simply because he had never learned these skills. Furthermore, MENCs Strategies for Teaching

publications, coordinated effectively by Carolynn Lindeman, made an invaluable contribution in helping teachers teach to the Standards. Regardless, more help is needed, especially with those strategies, subject matter, and school populations where teachers face the greatest difficulties. The flexibility provided by an online resource would be especially useful. The template used for the Strategies for Teaching could be used to provide consistency and completeness. A data bank in which teachers could share teaching strategies or lesson plans might find a large number of users. Similarly, there is evidence of widespread interest among music educators in sharing assessment strategies. MENC might consider developing a policy statement concerning the selection of music repertoire and teaching materials for instructional use. Future developments at the national level with respect to standards should be monitored continuously so that music education can remain in a leadership role.

Bell, C. (2003, Spring). Beginning the Dialogue: Teachers Respond to the National Standards in Music. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, No. 156. MENC Task Force on National Standards (1994). The School Music Program: A New Vision. The K-12 National Standards, Pre-K standards, and what they mean to music educators. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference. MENC Task Force on National Standards (2007, October). Report to the MENC National Executive Board. Orman, E. (2002, Summer). Comparison of the National Standards for Music Education and Elementary Music Specialists Use of Class Time. Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 155 164.