Science + Technology

UCLA Study Offers New Evidence Linking the Arts and School Achievement


A national study conducted by a UCLA professor of education documentsthe strongest ties yet between involvement in the arts and academic achievementfor middle- and high-school students. It's the first research of its kindto provide high-quality, nationally based numbers showing that the artsmatter. Moreover, the study found that benefits attributable to the artscut across socioeconomic lines.

Educators have long noted that students who engage in music and arttend to score higher on standardized tests and earn higher grades in school.However, arts-involved students also tend to come from higher-income familieswith better-educated parents -- strong primary influences on school success.As a result, the importance of the arts traditionally has been difficultto isolate.

Professor James S. Catterall, of UCLA's Graduate School of Education& Information Studies, has found that the nation's least affluent students-- who generally have the greatest difficulties succeeding in school --also demonstrate higher school achievement and commitment to their communitieswhen the arts are a part of their lives.

The findings support the view that schools should work to increase artsopportunities for everyone. "It's ironic," noted Catterall. "Thearts curriculum which seems far more important than education policy makersand legislators realize is systematically denied to the students most inneed of promising paths to success in school.

"We could argue for more equality in the arts as a simple matterof fair access to all school experiences," Catterall said. "Nowwe have even more reason because, as this study shows, the arts matteras agents for school success."

Catterall's findings are contained in a paper released at the ArtsEdTechConference held in Palisades, N.Y., May 2 and 3. The conference, whichbrought together university researchers, state education and school districtofficials, arts agency leaders, and technology industry officials, exploredways that technology can expand arts education to all children.

Catterall has dedicated much of his career to researching at-risk youngstersand school dropouts -- and for the past eight years has focused on theimpact of arts education and the use of the arts in the academic curriculum.His report is the first to use data from a prominent U.S. Department ofEducation-sponsored national study to analyze the effects of student participationin the arts. Researchers typically have used the information about 25,000secondary-school students contained in the National Educational LongitudinalStudy of 1988 to explore teaching and learning in mathematics and science.The lack of attention to the arts information available in the study, Catterallsaid, is indicative of "the lagging place of the arts in the imaginationsof most contemporary education leaders, policy makers, and academics."

For his study, Catterall looked at the poorest fourth (nearly 6,500)of the students in the sample, beginning when they were eighth-gradersin 1988. Within this population, the number of students with minimal orno exposure to the arts was four times greater than those who activelyparticipated in the arts.

By the time these students got to 10th grade, 41.4 percent of thosewith high participation in the arts scored in the top half of the standardizedtest continuum, compared to only 25 percent of those with low arts participation.Reading proficiency and civics assessments showed similar advantages forarts-active students. In a measure of student engagement, only 14 percentof those with low arts participation said they had any involvement whatsoeverin community service work, compared to 35 percent of those with high artsparticipation.

And where does time for the arts come from? "Engagement in thearts seems to go hand in hand with a little less television watching, forone thing," Catterall said. While about 42 percent of the low-artsparticipants said they watched three hours of television or more everyweekday, just under 34 percent of the high-arts participants did the same.

"We remain unprepared to claim that the arts account for all ofthe achievement and attitude differences we found," the study said."But by constraining the key analysis to economically disadvantagedstudents, the qualification that wide differences in family backgrounddrive arts-impact results is effectively countered."

The arts are important in the school experience, Catterall said, becausethey have been shown to promote cognitive development (thinking skills);for example, music instruction can help in the perception and comprehensionof mathematical structure. Researchers also have shown that the arts arelinked to student motivation and engagement in school.

At the very least, Catterall recommends that all youngsters -- especially"at risk" students -- get involved in arts activities becauseof the power of peer influence on their development and behavior. "Evenif the arts are not the key driving force in these positive outcomes forarts-involved kids, associating with arts-engaged and more successful childrenis a fundamentally good idea for lots of reasons," Catterall said.



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