Longy School: Assessing the Impact of Orchestral Music Education in the Lives of Young Children

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Why Does Musical Instrument Education Matter?

Unlike eye color or hair color, children are not born knowing how to handle risks and failures. This attitude, often called a growth mindset, develops over time and is shaped by experiences with learning, appraisal, and feedback. While often treated as a characteristic and/or a responsibility of individuals, our research argues that a young person’s growth mindset is not only the result of their efforts, but also shaped by peers, adults who teach and model, and the expectations of the institutions and ecologies in which they develop. Developing growth mindset is critical to successful learning – in school and in life – and, thus a shared, rather than individual responsibility.

To this point, research shows that experiences like racism and poverty can stunt or erode the development of a growth mindset (i.e., constant messages that a child’s race or wealth predetermines their capacity to learn can have a corrosive effect). Steady messages about growth and possibility can have the opposite effect.

Therefore, as we confront the profound inequities in formal and informal education, we need to promote opportunities that challenge the systems and isms that prevent children from believing in their potential and their worth. One such activity may be learning how to play a musical instrument.

To assess the potential of developing both a musical and overall growth mindset through

learning how to play a musical instrument, we partnered with El Sistema programs across the country. These programs were selected because:

  • They exist across a variety of communities and geographies.
  • They are low cost or free to participants, eliminating traditional barriers to musical
  • instrument education.
  • The majority of enrolled students are from Black and Latinx communities.

Evaluation Tools

Between 2014-2017, the National Evaluation Study developed a range of measures and tools that are now available to the wider El Sistema field. The measures are adapted by the research team to be specific and meaningful for use with 3rd – 5th graders who participate in El Sistema-inspired music programs, and their peers in comparison groups from the same schools or after-school programs that do not participate in El Sistema programs. All tools and measures have been piloted and used successfully by colleagues at 12 different sites across a broad spectrum of U.S. locations and program formats. They are designed to collect data that measure student growth in three areas: Music Performance, Socioemotional Learning and Thriving in School and Program Settings. The Guide below links to the downloadable tools and measures available.

Guide to the Measures

Music Performance
The Music Performance Measure assesses student growth in playing an instrument through an individual performance jury. It is designed to be used in the early fall and late spring of each academic year. Students enrolled in El Sistema music programs would participate in this measure, to be administered by teaching artists or music teachers in the program. The Music Performance Measure Instructions give an overview of the entire measure and serve as a complete guide to administering each aspect of the performance jury.

The Rubric is used to rate each of two pieces that each student plays. It is adapted from a rubric used by the National Association for Music Education.

The Rating Sheets are used by each rater to record the assessment of each student’s performances on each of the excerpts.

The Music Performance Repertoire List is the guide for teachers to select the appropriate required excerpt that each student would perform, depending upon the instrument played and the number of years participating in the music program. These required excerpts come mainly from the Royal Conservatory of Music Development Program. Students also play a current excerpt from their program’s repertoire.

The Repertoire folder contains the printed musical scores for each of the required excerpts.

Socioemotional Learning
Socioemotional learning is tracked by asking to students to self report their experiences by filling out two separate booklet measures, one about themselves in school, and a second about themselves in their music program. Each booklet needs to be administered by a proctor. The booklets may be downloaded and printed directly.

El Sistema All About You as a Musician is the booklet of measures that looks at student socioemotional growth within the context of their El Sistema-inspired music program. It is filled out only by students enrolled in a music program and should be administered twice a year – once in early fall and once in the late spring.

Proctoring Instructions for the Music Measures Booklet is a document that guides the proctor and gives specific instructions for administering the “All about You as a Musician” booklet.

El Sistema All About You in Your School is the booklet of measures that looks at student socioemotional growth within the context of the academic classroom. It is filled out by students enrolled in a music program and by comparison group students who attend the same schools as the program students, but who do not participate in El Sistema music programming. This booklet should also be administered twice a year – once in early fall and once in the late spring.

Proctoring Instructions for the School Measures Booklet is a document that guides the proctor and gives specific instructions for administering the “All about You in School” booklet.

The Measure Sources chart lists each socioemotional domain that is tracked in the booklets and lists the original source from which the measure is adapted.

Thriving in School and Music Program Settings
The Staff Surveys and Documents file contains several measures that are filled out by classroom teachers, music program staff and music program teaching artists. It organizes the different documents and gives instructions for collecting grades for students. These documents are collected once a year – generally in June. Some are for music program students only and some are also for comparison students.

View the project profile.

Read the report.

Read the publication.