As a teacher, I enthusiastically encourage performance assessments of any kind. This year, Dynamics students will participate in both The Achievement Program Assessments and Michigan Student Achievement Testing. Every once in a while, a parent or student asks "why do I/they have to do this?" Here are some of my reasons for encouraging testing:
For American music students, taking performance tests is not a standard thing. Most new or transfer students are surprised when I bring it up. For most other countries, however, this is not the case. Completing assessments each year is quite the norm. This is where The Achievement Program is invaluable to American students, in my opinion: the requirements of the Program are the same as those for students all over the world. Students essentially are becoming part of a global community. These days, it would not be impossible for one of my students to meet a student from South Korea and find that they are playing the same piece with the same technical standards and are preparing for the same test. How amazing!
I encourage the SATs for the same reason, but in this instance, students can meet someone in their grade from another part of the city or state and be able to relate on how many trophies they have earned, how well they do on the sight reading tests, or how they felt for their latest performance tests. Most teachers in Michigan use the SATs as a way to organise their studio teaching, so again, it is one way to connect students into a more local community.
2) Testing and performances are the "Miracle Grow" for students' ability
Nothing can kick a student's playing ability to another level like preparing for a performance. This is true for every age and level. Young students can become stagnant in their development because they quite easily stop paying attention to details in practicing. They don't have much reason to pay attention to slurs, to endlessly repeat pieces, to work on staccatos if just their old teacher is going to care. When students envision performing a piece for a trophy or for family and friends, they immediately begin listening to themselves. Self-listening means attentive practicing. Attentive practice means better playing.
My personal remedy for a stagnant student is to start planning a performance of some kind. Whether to plan to bring out the camera for next lesson, to plan their own personal recital, or perform at a group class, it is the best way to get them moving again.
3) My own teaching gets assessed regularly
If my student takes a performance assessment and gets great marks, I know we must be doing something right. I know that I am keeping my standards up to a national level and that I prepared the student properly. Last year, some of my students did not do terribly well on their Level 1 theory tests, so I learned how to better prepare them for that test. Had they not taken the test and gotten a lower score, I would have thought that the way I was teaching Level 1 theory was fine. I am always looking for ways to improve my teaching.
4) The student learns valuable lessons in how to handle pressure
Everyone deals with anxiety. By taking a test that they are prepared for, a student learns that being afraid of taking the test was unnecessary because they played well and got recognition for that. During the test, they learn to calm themselves down and concentrate on one thing at a time. The format of testing (vs. a straight performance) gives the student a chance to evaluate between pieces, allows the judges to step and in say some positive words. The student learns to manage their anxiety and see themselves through to the end of the task.
Finally, 5) Motivation and Development
By completing testing that they are probably nervous and scared about, students learn that they have the potential to do wonderful things. They gain confidence in themselves that will translate to many other areas of life. I have also seen a student experience amazing family support for their test, another important lesson in their life. When they get their certificates and trophies, they are motivated to perform again, which means they do more of all the above.
I can't wait to see what my students will accomplish this year!