School Day Research Overview


The research is this section of ArtsEdSearch focuses on the outcomes of arts instruction that occurs during the regular school day (from bell to bell) for students, teachers, and the school as a whole.


Academic Outcomes

ArtsEdSearch defines academic outcomes as the broad dimensions of success in school: achievement in core subjects, including the arts, as measured on standardized tests as well as performance assessments; achievement on gateway exams such as the SAT; graduation; and college attendance.

  • Literacy and Language Development. A significant body of research demonstrates a positive relationship between study in the arts, particularly drama, and literacy and language development. In early childhood, theater and other arts activities prepare students for achievement in reading and writing by increasing and refining oral language skills and story understanding. In middle and high school, participation in drama-integrated and visual arts programs is linked to increases in use of complex language and expressive ability. The positive impact of arts-integrated instruction on literacy development is especially strong for English language learners (ELL) at the elementary and middle school levels.
  • Mathematics Achievement. Research demonstrates positive connections between the arts and achievement in mathematics, beginning with early childhood/elementary and attaining special prominence by middle and postsecondary grades. Especially strong are connections of music to algebra and to high math SAT scores at the secondary level. Dance and media arts are also related to high achievement in math.
  • Overall Academic Achievement. Research suggests a significant positive relationship between arts study and overall academic achievement from elementary through postsecondary school. Arts activities and learning in the early grades are connected to greater readiness for school. Studies at the elementary level detect connections between arts participation and overall academic achievement, including larger increases in IQ (intelligence quotient). Middle and high school students with a high engagement in the arts are more likely to perform well on standardized achievement tests and attain high grades, and are less likely to drop out of school. Studies of whole school reform initiatives that bring the arts centrally into the curriculum as a strategy for school improvement find that such initiatives have either a positive impact on student performance on standardized tests of mathematics and English language arts or no effect, suggesting that increased instructional time spent on the arts in elementary and middle school may enhance and does not detract from student test scores in other subjects.
  • Underserved Students. Studies find that students from low socio-economic backgrounds, English language learners, and students with special needs—often underserved in public schools—show the greatest relative improvement in academic achievement when participating in the arts. Research also finds that English language learners are significantly more likely to pursue a college degree if they attend an arts-rich high school (Catterall, 2009).

Cognitive Outcomes

Cognitive outcomes encompass the development of important thinking skills and capacities that are not only intrinsically important, but also crucial to academic and professional success.

  • Creative Thinking. Research at various grade levels connects learning in the performing and visual arts to the development of creative thinking skills, including adaptability, flexibility, imagination, fluency, originality, elaboration, and abstractness. In middle school studies, both performing and visual arts are associated with higher scores on creativity assessments. Students receiving an arts rich education perform better on assessments of creativity than do students receiving little or no arts education.
  • Critical Thinking Skills. Studies find that arts education develops students’ critical thinking skills—skills such as comparison, hypothesizing, and critiquing that are essential to a student’s ability to apply knowledge and visualize solutions. Beginning at the elementary level, research suggests that arts education develops awareness and exploration of multiple viewpoints. Arts integration, dance, drama, and visual art are shown to develop critical thinking skills at all age levels—from early childhood through adulthood. Research with older adults has connected theatrical work with reduced cognitive decline associated with aging (Noice & Noice, 2006).
  • Problem Solving and Reasoning. In early childhood, music is connected to greater development of abstract reasoning skills, especially the development of spatial and temporal reasoning. Research at the early childhood, middle, and adult levels suggests a strong relationship between music study and students’ ability to mentally visualize and solve multi-step problems. Visual art studio classes were found to help high school students develop habits of mind for sustained focus, imagination, close observation, and articulation of their decision-making process (Winner et al., 2006).

Personal Outcomes

Personal outcomes, while often marginalized in education policy, are critical to student and educator success. ArtsEdSearch defines personal outcomes as capacities that are critical to the development of a strong sense of identity, positive self-concept, motivation to succeed, and engagement and persistence in learning, life, and work.

  • Engagement and Persistence. Learning the arts develops student engagement, meaningful involvement and persistence in one’s own learning—skills essential for success in school, work, and life. Multiple research studies spanning the education system from pre-kindergarten through high school suggest that students involved in arts study are more engaged in school and more motivated to learn than comparison groups of students. Particularly in elementary and middle school, students who generally did not participate in class were found to be more likely to participate in arts classes or arts-integrated learning. Through arts study, middle school students improved in their ability to turn barriers into opportunities and persist in completing challenging tasks (DeMoss & Morris, 2002).
  • Positive Behavior. Research suggests a positive relationship between participation in music, visual art, and drama programs and change in behavior for students from early learning through high school. For pre-kindergarten students, for example, participating in music was found to be a highly effective motivator for increasing desirable behavior and decreasing undesirable behavior (Standley, 1996). 
  • Risk-Taking. Studies find that arts classes in and out of school and arts integrated lessons in school offer students opportunities to practice and develop their capacities for positive risk-taking. Studies also find that the arts provide opportunities for teachers to innovate, experiment and employ dynamic approaches in their teaching by integrating the arts into their instruction in other disciplines. Teachers take risks with their curriculum, try new things and become reflective of their practice. By taking risks themselves, teachers know how to encourage their students to do the same in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Self-Awareness, Self-Concept, and Self-Expression. Studies find that arts study provides an environment in which students and teachers can explore, create, and express their identity. Students participating in visual arts studio classes develop habits of mind for personal expression through their chosen medium (Winner et al., 2006), and dance study increases awareness and control of the body as an expressive tool. In addition to providing students opportunities and skills for learning about and expressing themselves, studies find that the presence of the arts in classrooms and in teacher professional development provides similar advantages for educators. Teachers who participate in long-term arts-based professional development and use of the arts discovered qualities and capabilities about themselves which over time led to their ability to make personal connections to prior experiences and helped them to develop new ways of seeing (Upitis, 1999). The arts also allow teachers to uncover and consider their perspectives on complex social issues. In one study, teachers experienced dramatic arts that led to new insights about poverty, which transformed their views and impacted how they teach difficult content in the classroom. (Gallagher & Service, 2010).
  • Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence. Beginning at the elementary level and continuing through adult learning, arts participation has been shown to increase student confidence and self-efficacy. Drama, music, visual art and media arts were all found to increase self-efficacy and/or confidence for all students, including ELL students and disadvantaged or delinquent teens. Students involved in media arts programs develop greater confidences in using arts and technology tools to design and build innovative products (Betts, 2006). In some studies, self-efficacy and self-confidence acquired or strengthened through arts learning, particularly for ELL students, translated to success in other subjects. Like students, the arts have been shown to contribute to educators’ self-efficacy and confidence. When educators engage deeply in arts activities, they experience challenges and self-discovery, which shifts their beliefs about their own capabilities. They become more self-reflective, discover their strengths and artistic and pedagogical potential. Pre-service and in-service teachers who receive in-depth and long-term arts-based professional development and course work, gain increased knowledge and skills which leads to shifts in their perceptions about their abilities to integrate arts in their classrooms. This increased self-efficacy and self-confidence translates into more depth and frequency of arts in the classroom. Teachers in another study (Bellisario & Donovan, 2012) felt that their participation in arts-based professional development allowed them to experience the creative process discovering unknown artistic capabilities that they were then able to translate into their teaching.

Social and Civic Outcomes

Social and civic outcomes connect students, teachers, and schools to one another and to their communities.

  • Arts Participation. Students who study the arts in their school years are more likely to be engaged with the arts as consumers, performers, or creators in later life. One study in particular compared arts education to arts participation and found that students who took two or more forms of art education were three times more likely to participate in the arts than their peers without any arts education and were more likely to personally create or perform art later in life (Rabkin & Hedberg, 2010).
  • Collaboration and Communication. At the elementary and middle school levels, students in arts programs develop greater ability to work as members of a team. In studies at the secondary level, students developed greater group awareness and mutual respect, while learning to express their individuality appropriately within the group.
  • Community and Civic Engagement. Beginning in middle school and continuing through adult learning, research shows a positive relationship between arts study and civic engagement expressed through a greater understanding of local issues and realizing an individual power to contribute to creative solutions as artists, an interest in global issues, and political participation. Longitudinal research demonstrates connections between arts learning and subsequent community involvement and volunteerism in adult life. Students with high arts involvement are more likely to consider participating in community service as important.
  • Social Development. In early grades, self-directed dramatic play correlates with the development of social skills and social problem-solving ability. Dance is related to development of social skills, particularly for at-risk students who improve their social skills and have fewer behavioral problems (Lobo & Winsler, 2006). Moreover, young children who participate in arts develop superior communication skills, defined as learned abilities to communicate personal thoughts, feelings, and ideas to another person.

Professional Outcomes

Professional outcomes refer primarily to skills and capacities that are necessary for career success. Most of the existing research in this area pertains to teachers and identifies linkages between arts experience and several important dimensions of successful and satisfying teaching.

  • Assessment. Through the arts, teachers gain knowledge of alternate forms of assessment to gauge students’ understanding. In one study, middle school teachers gained knowledge of authentic assessment (performance assessments, portfolios, and other assessments that directly measure demonstration of knowledge and skills) to assess students’ understanding (Morris, 2001). In another study, elementary school teachers who engaged in process documentation, the collection of lesson plans, students’ artworks and observations of lessons, became more reflective about understanding both their students’ learning and the effectiveness of their own teaching (Burnaford, 2009).
  • Increased Instructional Capacity. Arts education is connected to teachers’ improved capacity to use differentiated instruction, the practice of modifying and adapting instruction, materials, content, projects and assessments to meet the educational needs of varied learners and to reach marginalized students. In several studies (Barry, 2010; Burton et al., 2000; Nelson, 2001; Oreck, 2004; Upitis, 1999) at various grade-levels, teachers developed awareness of student diversity and found the arts as a tool to increase student motivation. Teachers from early childhood through middle school in another study developed an understanding that the arts provide multiple points of access for special needs students (Mason et al., 2008). At arts-rich schools where the arts are integrated across the curriculum as a tool for school reform, studies find that the arts provide opportunities for teachers to innovate, experiment, and make their teaching more dynamic (Adkins & McKinney, 2001; Corbett et al., 2001; Cote, 2009; Stevenson & Deasy, 2005).
  • Professional Collaboration. Teachers who work with artists in professional development and classroom collaborations increase their ability to integrate art and experience increased confidence in their own teaching. Collaboration with peers and artists helps teachers to feel supported while they try new things in their classrooms. Whether an artist is providing arts-based professional development or partnering with a teacher in a school, or a school has forged external partnerships with museums and cultural organizations, teachers benefit from the effects of collaboration and expanded resources leading to enhanced contentment with their teaching. Artist and community partnership models also strengthen ties between schools and communities. Research has suggested that arts specialists can develop leadership roles within their schools and can provide arts-based professional development for their peers (Burnaford, 2009).
  • Professional Learning. Research finds that in-service teachers gain skills, knowledge, and confidence when they experience in-depth and long-term arts-based professional development. Such professional development, studies find, enhances teachers’ instructional capacities and leads to more effective teaching, also motivating and equipping teachers to integrate the arts in their classrooms more frequently and in greater depth. In two studies, teachers who experienced arts-based professional development felt a sense of community that empowered their learning, acquired new perspectives on teaching, explored new media, made connections to prior experiences, and increased their willingness to take risks (Bellisario & Donovan, 2012; Upitis et al., 1999). Research finds that pre-service teachers also gain knowledge, skills, and confidence when they are provided with comprehensive academic arts instruction and opportunities to practice teaching in real-world classroom and community settings. These new teachers will benefit from on-going arts-based professional development once they are in service. Teaching artists in one study (Upitis, 2005) who collaborate with teachers to implement arts integrated instruction, experienced positive impacts on their own artwork, changed their beliefs about the benefits of arts for students and broadened their perceptions of the issues teachers face in their work.
  • Teacher Engagement and Retention. Arts education experiences—in professional development and in the classrooms—help teachers to re-engage with the teaching profession. Research at various grade levels has established connections between arts education and greater teacher enjoyment and satisfaction. Studies find that when teachers use arts integration they experiment with their curriculum and pedagogical approaches resulting in increased engagement in their teaching, adding new depth to their teaching practice that echoes the deep learning the arts provide students. In one study, teachers on the verge of burnout found that arts integration revitalized their passion for teaching and recharged them personally and professionally (Bellisario & Donovan, 2012). Another study found that when the arts were infused in the whole school, increased engagement led to decreased absenteeism among teachers (Barry, 2010).