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Standardized test music to kids' ears

Ohanian Comment: Fallacy of the day: But if you don't measure what you're doing, you have no way to know if you're successful, no way to improve.

By James Perry

Make sure the kids are out of the room: I'm about to use a four-letter word.


I hadn't fully realized the power contained in that two-syllable acronym. But I know now, because it's being tossed about (most recently in Jac VerSteeg's column Tuesday, "Tests spoil educational harmony"), in connection with the statewide music assessment test being proposed by the Florida professional music education associations, with the support of state education officials. Apparently, those four big letters cast a bogeyman's shadow.

The music assessment, which may be implemented in state schools beginning in 2007, is no FCAT. This is a test. This is only a test. In fact, the fourth-grade version successfully piloted last spring lasted less than half an hour, musical excerpts and all. Kids said it was fun not a reaction you usually get with tests.

Now that it's settled that we're not the FCAT, a few words in that test's defense: We need it. It's one of the ways we measure progress, make sure teachers are doing their jobs and that our children are learning. Is it perfect? No. What test is? But if you don't measure what you're doing, you have no way to know if you're successful, no way to improve.

That's as true of music as it is of math, reading or any other discipline. That's why Florida principals are requiring teachers to demonstrate student progress in every subject. Sunshine State Standards for education spell out what we as Floridians have decided our children need to learn in school. Our assessment is designed to make sure that's happening in music, pure and simple.

Few educators would question the central importance of math and language arts. But music and other fine arts are also integral to the curriculum; that's why the federal No Child Left Behind Act counts them as core subjects. Excluding them whether by benign neglect or by sacrificing them to other portions of the curriculum would harm our children's education immeasurably.

A growing body of research indicates that consistent music instruction from grade to grade has a positive impact throughout the whole curriculum. Not all students learn the same way. Those who flourish in music, art, theater or dance often find that that success leads to better grades elsewhere in school. So it is important not only that we teach music and other fine arts but that we teach them well, that schools are accountable for those Sunshine State Standards, and that all students have access to the full curriculum.

I understand that the whole idea of testing scares some people; deep inside all of us is still that little kid petrified of flunking the math quiz. But musicians and other artists conquer that fear early in life; they're tested at every performance, concert, school play and art show. They learn that critical analysis only makes them better, that the bogeyman's shadow is nothing but thin air.

James Perry is executive director of the Florida Music Educators' Association and the Florida School Music Association, based in Tallahassee. Ruben Navarrette Jr. is on vacation.

— James Perry
Palm Beach Post


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