Semester assessment of college wind band members is an issue that conductors would probably agree falls within their academic freedom. Institutions may award as little as no credit or even a percentage of a credit for ensemble participation, although the time and effort required of the students and their conductor is undoubtedly equivalent to, or exceeds, that of a three-credit course. If an academic administrator, seeing a large percentage of A’s in an ensemble, were to question the assessment process of the conductor and/or the rigor of the course, could that conductor produce tangible evidence, such as grades or numeric scores, to justify each student’s grade? As improbable as this might sound to college wind band conductors, it was, for a brief period, a serious issue at the author’s institution. The following article describes the situation that occurred and the resulting procedures and outcomes that put the issue to rest.

Richard Colwell, Professor Emeritus of Music Education at the University of Illinois and the New England Conservatory of Music, in reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain, wrote, “When skills are considered to be subsidiary, specialized, and not applicable to all, then little thought is given to whether the program is fulfilling its expected objectives.”(1) In step with this, earning an “A” in band is probably expected by most college conductors and their players, knowing that the ensemble requires highly specialized skills and a strong commitment of time and effort and falls well beyond the purview of the traditional academic course. But not all administrators accept the premise that most ensemble members deserve an A, regardless of the amount of skill and time required. If there is no clear assessment procedure or, perhaps of greater concern to administrators, no diverse grade distribution, then offering the ensemble for academic credit would appear to be fundamentally inappropriate. Thus the dilemma for college band directors--to award most, if not all, members an A, to adopt rigorous assessment procedures that could result in lower grades and higher attrition, or to bring their assessment and grading procedures into line with those of traditional academic courses.

Members earning college credit deserve to undergo rigorous assessment, and rehearsal preparation, performance, attitude, and attendance are evaluative areas that provide tangible scores necessary to measure their growth. Of great value to the conductor is the opportunity to evaluate individual performance and determine if the student is grasping style and musical nuance. Assessment motivates students to improve their performance, heightens their critical listening skills, and affords conductors the opportunity to assess, student by student, the effectiveness of their teaching.