Here’s a test question: What increases elementary students’ proficiencies on math and language arts tests, engages them in ways that direct instruction does not, and motivates them – even to the point of not wanting to go home even when they are sick? The answer: The arts integrated with other core academic subjects such as math and English language arts, according to the evaluation results of the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) Grants.
School leaders from two high-need school districts – Jersey City, N.J., and Long Beach, Calif. – shared these and many more findings at an April 6th Education Policy Briefing at the U.S. Department of Education. Both school districts implemented AEMDD grants between 2005 and 2009, focusing on students and classrooms in the elementary grades.
Evaluation results: A tale of grantee successes
In Jersey City, the objectives included both teacher and student improvement through the use of theater arts-integrated lessons, which were developed by the non-profit Educational Arts Team and implemented with the assistance of teachers. The evaluation, which used a rigorous treatment-and-control-group approach, yielded impressive outcomes for the arts-integration classrooms. On the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) of English Language Arts test, there was a 16-percentage-point difference between the performance of students who experienced the arts integration lessons and who scored “proficient” or “advanced” and their student counterparts in the comparison control group. For a full description of the results of the AEMDD grant to the Jersey City Public Schools, click here and see the third project description.
In the Long Beach schools, the visual arts, and particularly the art of basket weaving, were integrated into elementary grade math curricula under a partnership between the schools and Dramatic Results, a community-based, non-profit arts education organization. And, as in Jersey City, the experiment in Long Beach also yielded statistically significant differences between the treatment and control classroom students’ performance on standardized measures of math proficiency. In addition, an assessment of students’ arts proficiencies showed that students experiencing arts integration outperformed their non-arts-integration counterparts in their knowledge of arts-related concepts, art interpretation, and the elements of art – evidence that arts-integration strategies need not sacrifice arts standards for those of other academic subjects. For a full description of the results of the AEMDD grant to Dramatic Results, click here.
Beyond quantitative evidence
In both AEMDD projects, beyond the quantitative evidence presented, principals of schools from both Jersey City and Long Beach shared insightful evidence from their schools’ teachers concerning the efficacy of arts-integration on students’ social skills and attitudes toward learning. Janet Elder, principal of P.S. #28 in Jersey City, who had experienced arts integration as a classroom teacher herself, reported multiple pro-social outcomes such as improvements in attendance, students working more effectively as both individuals and in groups, and increases in both engagement and confidence. Deborah Anderson, principal of Buffum Elementary in Long Beach, shared similar findings concerning student outcomes, noting that students in arts-integration classrooms struggling to succeed had new opportunities to thrive and become confident, an important ingredient for success in a school where a majority of the students are from low-income families.
Attendees of the policy briefing witnessed some of the very outcomes adults talked about thanks to opening performances by the dance company and the chorus of the Wiley H. Bates Middle School of Anne Arundel County, Md., another AEMDD grantee. In one dance composition, “Breeze,” students incorporated their study and understanding of meteorology into a modern dance that evoked the seasons and conditions of weather patterns and the atmosphere, as they vividly and movingly evidenced the seamlessness of seemingly disparate subjects.