Students - High School

List of Studies

Academic Outcomes

  • Literacy and Language Development. Arts learning in music, drama, media arts, and spoken word relates to high achievement in reading and writing and high verbal SAT scores. In one study, students in a spoken word program began to see themselves as writers, thus developing literate identities (Weinstein, 2010). In another study, researchers found that music training relates to stronger performance in learning a second language with greater improvement in expressive fluency and competency (Petitto, 2008).
  • Mathematics Achievement. Studies find a relationship between music and high mathematics SAT scores. In one study, participation in instrumental music education demonstrated a stronger relationship to algebra achievement than studying choral music (Helmrich, 2010). Another study found music training to be related to skills in representation and reasoning in geometry and estimation (Spelke, 2008). Studies also find relationships between dance and media arts learning in high school and high achievement in math.
  • Overall Academic Achievement. Research suggests a significant positive relationship between arts study and high school students’ overall academic achievement as measured by standardized tests and student grades. Specifically, several studies relate high academic achievement and arts integration (Barry, 2010; Catterall, 1999; DeMoss & Morris, 2002; Seaman, 1999; Stevenson & Deasy, 2005). Research finds that students who experience arts integrated curricula meet or significantly exceed state and district standardized test averages, even in schools with high populations of at-risk students. In addition, a notable study finds that arts integration programs do not lower test scores, suggesting there is no negative impact on academic achievement in core subjects from an arts-integrated curriculum (Seaman, 1999).
  • Underserved Populations. There is a strong body of research that demonstrates ways in which the arts contribute to academic success for high school students from low socio-economic backgrounds, English language learners, and students with special needs. Oftentimes these students do not have as much access to arts programming, and yet, research shows these populations demonstrate the greatest relative improvement in academic achievement when participating in the arts. In one study, students from minority and low socio-economic backgrounds met or exceeded state testing averages when involved in arts integrated programming (Catterall, 2009). Other research provides evidence pointing to a relationship between arts participation in high school and increased attendance and reduced dropout rates (Catterall, 1998; Horn, 1992; Heath et al., 1998; Mahoney, & Cairns, 1997; Barry, 2010). Students from low socio-economic backgrounds, who participate in the arts, also have an increased chance of attending college and completing a post-secondary degree. In another study, arts assist special needs students in demonstrating knowledge of academic content (Mason et al., 2008). Additional research shows English language learners are significantly more likely to pursue a college degree if they attend an arts-rich high school (Catterall, 2009).

Cognitive Outcomes

  • Creative Thinking. Participation in out-of-school arts contributes to the development of high school students’ imagination and creative thinking skills, including adaptability, flexibility, originality, and abstractness. One study, for example, found a significant relationship between participation in voluntary out-of-school arts programming and high measures of creativity (Heath & Roach, 1999).
  • Critical Thinking. Several studies show how students’ critical thinking skills improve from arts learning. In one example, urban youth honed their critical thinking skills through participation in a playwriting program (Horn, 1992). In another example, students in a studio art class were required to demonstrate their process, intentions, and decisions for their own art-making, as well as critically reflect and comment on their own work and that of others (Winner et al., 2006).
  • Problem Solving and Reasoning. Research from a large-scale study provides evidence that high school students who participate in arts programming demonstrate more sophisticated use of language indicating complex thinking processes including syntactic complexity, hypothetical reasoning, and questioning approaches (Heath & Roach, 1999). In another study, dancers tested better on memory and motion processing than non-dancers, while musicians demonstrated better auditory-visual discrimination and aural recognition than non-musicians (Petitto, 2008). Another study finds that through visual art studio classes, students develop habits of mind for sustained focus, imagination, close observation, and articulation of their decision-making process (Winner et al., 2006).

Personal Outcomes

  • Emotional Development. As emotive forms, the arts contribute to students’ emotional development by helping them to understand their emotions, express them in a healthy way, and self-regulate them. In one study, for example, the process of putting on a theatrical production provided a supportive setting for students to learn about and positively express their emotions including developing a greater capacity for empathy (Larson & Brown, 2007). In other studies, dance allowed high-school-aged youth to express emotions in a non-verbal way that was safe and articulate (Ross, 2000; Stevenson, 2011).
  • Engagement and Persistence. A growing body of research finds that participating in the arts has a strong relationship to deep engagement in learning. The arts create an environment in which students connect learning to their personal and cultural life. The opportunity to make choices and explore personal interests also contributes to greater engagement through the arts.
  • Motivation. Research shows that students are motivated by arts learning and find joy in it. Specifically, one study describes arts integration as creating intrinsic motivation in students to learn for understanding (DeMoss & Morris, 2002). Another study finds that increased motivation due to the arts is related to a decrease of disciplinary issues in schools (Barry, 1990). Additional studies associate increased motivation specifically with participation in music and dramatic arts. Still another study explains how students are motivated to attain artistic competence, which encourages further motivation for higher achievement (Rostan, 2010).
  • Self-Awareness, Self-Concept, and Self-Expression. The arts provide an environment in which students can explore, create, and express their identity. Several studies describe, for example, how dance increases self-awareness and control of the body as an expressive tool. One study found that a drama program helped LGBTQ youth explore self-concept issues to form a viable social identity (Halverson, 2005). Another study found that, in visual arts studio classes, students develop habits of mind for personal expression through their chosen medium (Winner et al., 2006).
  • Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence. Research finds that participation in arts learning contributes to high school students’ self-efficacy and self-confidence. Studies find, in particular, that through the arts students become more visible to adults, peers, and community members, and that this outside recognition contributes to the development of increased responsibility and leadership skills. Several studies relate participation in the arts to positive self-esteem, citing students’ feelings of fulfillment, enjoyment, and confidence. In one study, music instruction enhanced self-confidence and self-efficacy in disadvantaged and delinquent teens (Kennedy, 1998). Another study describes the process of writing and performing a theater piece as contributing to similar outcomes (Larson & Brown, 2007).

Social and Civic Outcomes

  • Collaboration and Communication. Research finds that working collaboratively with peers and adults in the arts provides many opportunities for students to practice effective communication. In multiple studies, students developed group awareness with a culture of mutual respect and unification and learned how to express individuality appropriately within the group. Students in these studies practice communicating effectively by articulating their process, intentions, and decisions as well as practicing techniques in constructive criticism and active listening skills.
  • Community-Building. The arts help to foster the creation of healthy, supportive community in both in- and out-of-school settings. Several studies focusing on different art forms describe the importance of cultivating a safe space, which not only creates a productive environment for arts learning, but also contributes to the building of a group. Cultivating a safe space provides an environment for students to take risks, explore ideas, make mistakes, express individuality, and support others in a positive way. Within the safe space, students build trust with their peers, mentors, teachers, and artists. Studies demonstrate that working in collaborative arts environments, specifically in the performing arts, builds trust between students and teaches them the skills to cultivate trust with others.
  • Community and Civic Engagement. High school students, particularly in out-of-school arts programs, participate in community and social issues that are important to them. In a large-scale study, out-of-school arts programming helped to prepare youth to apply their skills directly to employment opportunities (Heath & Roach, 1999). This study also finds that a high percentage of youth who participate in the arts stay in their local community as adults and contribute to its economic and civic growth. Studies also find that students who participate in arts education as youth are much more likely to continue or return to participating in them as adults either engaging in the art form directly, or patronizing the arts (Pitts, 2008; Rabkin & Hedberg, 2011), and that that participation in the arts in the teen years relates to greater community involvement, volunteerism, and political participation in adulthood (Catterall, 2009; Heath & Roach, 1999).
  • Cross-Cultural Understanding. Studies demonstrate that arts education contributes significant strategies for fostering cross-cultural learning. Students who learn about the cultural connections and interpretations of the arts are provided a context within which they are able to explore and negotiate their own and others’ cultural values. One study, for instance, describes how a company of racially and socio-economically diverse youth artists built cross-cultural understanding through their collaborative artistic process (Stevenson, 2011). This process culminated in an original dance and theater production which, the study found, also fostered cross-cultural learning for audience members, three-quarters of whom reported learning something from the performance about people of a different racial and/or ethnic background than their own, and two-thirds of whom agreed they learned something from the performance that would change the way they treated others.
  • Leadership. Several studies find that the arts provide high school students with opportunities to develop leadership skills. Students who participate in arts programs, particularly out-of-school arts programs, demonstrate responsibility in regard to their commitment, leadership, and initiative as part of an arts community. In one example, the study of a spoken word program describes the commitment required to engage in the personal exploration, revision, and feedback process of art-making as well as the leadership required to plan events and performances and attend rehearsals (Weinstein, 2010). In another study, high school students became leaders in their community as they led a community mural project (Kang Song, 2011). In a study of a photography program, at-risk students were empowered to be involved in creating social change in their community after they were recognized as experts in their culture (Goessling & Doyle, 2009).
  • Mentorship. Research highlights the positive benefit that arts learning mentorship programs have on students. Mentoring relationships, research finds, allows students to engage in critical dialogue with professionals where they have the opportunity to work alongside adults and learn skills in decision-making, strategy-building, and multiple ways of doing and being. Students also develop an awareness of how their collective abilities and talents can add to the larger community. One study of a long standing out-of-school dance program, for example, showed how skills, traditions, discipline, and history are passed down from skilled practitioners to the next generation while allowing for innovation within the artistic field (Peters, 2010).