Student Dossiers as a Tool for Assessment

August 31, 2004


Assessment has become a buzz-word in higher education. Administrators are seeking better ways to evaluate academic departments, their programs, and their protés. Perhaps due to grade inflation, traditional letter grades no longer appear to be sufficient. In addition, student evaluation of faculty can be flawed.

Because of the personal nature of private lessons, the assessment of private students is particularly difficult for teachers. While juries may aid in evaluation, they can never speak entirely for the work of a student throughout the course of a semester. For this reason, the private teacher is usually the one submitting the final grades for students. Such grades can rarely be objective. Of course, a teacher may consider attendance, preparedness, and progress. But, in the final analysis, studentsall who might receive the same letter grademay actually vary in degree of effort and accomplishment.

This ambiguity has not been ignored by administrators. Subsequently, credit hours for private lessons may never reach a level appropriate to the amount of work private study requires. In many cases, credit hours for private lessons have already been reduced. At the root of this problem is the lack of materials that can be assessed by administrators. A student in physics, for instance, produces tangible evidence of progress through papers, presentations, and closely graded exams. The music performance major does not have this luxury, for the main act to be evaluated is elusive and highly individual. By creating student dossiers, music departments will have tangible records of the work of their students and teachers.

The Dossier
The student dossier is a binder containing documents collected throughout the course of a students degree program. The dossier is to be maintained by the student and presented at the end of each semester, most likely at a performance jury. Upon graduation, the department retains the dossier, and the degreed student may contact the department if copies of certain documents are needed.

The types of documents to be collected in a dossier are up to departmental requirements. Ideally, the binder could be divided by semester or academic year.

The following list suggests possibilities for one semesters content:

  • Syllabus
  • Repertoire studied
  • Practice log (a weekly documentation of practice, including assignments, daily practice times, goals of each practice session)
  • Concert programs in which the student participated
  • Jury evaluation forms
  • Performances attended
  • Listening and reading assignments given by the applied teacher
  • Writing assignments given by the applied teacher (e.g., program notes for pieces to be performed on the jury)
  • For organ students who hold church positions: a weekly record of preludes/postludes

While this dossier takes some organizational work on the part of the student, students will eventually be grateful for having a complete record of their work. At the least, a binder filled with all of ones undergraduate performances might prove useful in applying to graduate school. For my organ students, they will refer to their prelude/postlude list throughout their careers.

To some extent, the student will be evaluated, at jury time, on the contents of the dossier. Is it up to date? Has the student shown a record of regular practice? How do various students dossiers compare? Is the student familiar with the assigned listening or reading?

At the same time, the department might evaluate faculty on the basis of the dossier. What type of repertoire is being taught? Are the students being encouraged to practice? Is the teacher consistent with departmental standards?

Finally, the department will have a solid record to show administrators. A departments collection of student dossiers will speak well for private teachers, their students, and the intensity and obligations of private study. Eventually, administrators just might reconsider the value of applied lessons in the university curriculum.

2428 Last modified on May 8, 2013
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