High school A cappella Jives With Teacher Evaluation Systems

Student leadership and choice has been a hot topic among music educators recently as the element is being used to evaluate teachers. To earn a perfect score using teacher evaluation tools such as the Danielson rubric or the new National Core Arts Standards, students need to take ownership of their experience and proceed beyond teacher-led activities. In many cases, that’s exactly what they are doing in their high school a cappella groups.

While attending a recent festival on a cappella music in schools, I asked students why they joined a cappella groups, particularly those that met outside of the school day or where they needed to sacrifice their free time. Overwhelmingly their answers had to do not with performing or even being “cool.” These students said being in a cappella groups helped them become better musicians. They wanted the chance to learn about new types of music and hone their listening ability.

These responses are the exact reason we nurture student choice and leadership in schools. These responses are how you create lifelong learners. We can argue about the actual evaluation tools, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not important.

The Danielson rubric

Created by Charlotte Danielson, the “Framework for Teaching” – commonly called the Danielson rubric – was originally designed for teachers as a “foundation for professional conversations among practitioners.” Instead it has become a way to evaluate teachers.

To get a perfect score (a score of 4-out-of-4), teachers need to demonstrate during an observation that students are taking ownership of a concept and engaging with it beyond what the teacher has said.

Here’s is just one example:


The column on the right side is a perfect score, and I’ve never been around an a cappella group to which that description couldn’t be applied.

National Core Arts Standards

Similarly, the new Core Arts Standards are designed to help students go beyond knowledge instilled by the teacher and gain the skills necessary to become lifelong learners. It puts emphasis on each stage of a musical performance from selecting the music to evaluating the performance.

(The same holds true in categories about creating and responding to music, though that is done less in a cappella experiences as a practical matter. That’s not to say it shouldn’t happen or isn’t happening, just that it is difficult with time and performance constraints in extra-curricular settings where a cappella is most commonly found.)

The roles students can take in an a cappella group obviously vary greatly, but as a living and breathing group, you’re not always bound by the page as much as you would be performing a Mozart piece as a member of select chorus. A cappella groups give students a chance to take on all the roles they will need in the future as a musician:

  • Programmer
  • Arranger
  • Interpreter
  • Listener
  • Rehearser
  • Critic
  • Refiner
  • Analyst
  • Performer

If you’re a teacher, the next time you are being evaluated, use your a cappella group if it is part of your school day or job expectations. If this role is outside your school day as a club or extra-curricular, this might be the argument you need to move it into the school day as a comprehensive class that “teaches music” not just “singing pop songs.”


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