Students - Middle School

List of Studies

Academic Outcomes

  • Attendance. Research finds a relationship between middle school students’ involvement in arts study and better attendance rates. One study found, for instance, that students who received drama-integrated language arts curricula were absent from school fewer days than students in comparison groups (Walker et al., 2011). Similarly, in a study of an arts-integrated school reform initiative, teachers and administrators reported better attendance as one of the benefits of integrating the arts throughout the curriculum (Barry, 2010).
  • Literacy and Language Development. A significant body of research demonstrates that arts education—and drama integration in particular—is positively associated with literacy and language development, especially in English language arts, writing, reading proficiency, spelling, and vocabulary. One study, for example, found that participation in a drama-integrated language arts program increased the likelihood a student would pass the state assessment for language arts by 77 percent (Walker et al., 2011). Studies also found that when drama is integrated with writing and reading exercises, students write more effectively and with greater focus (Cremin et al., 2006), demonstrate increases in vocabulary, and are better able to read text accurately, quickly, and with expression (Keehn et al., 2008).
  • Mathematics Achievement. Research suggests that arts education, especially in music, is positively related to learning in mathematics in middle school. One study in particular found that music training is effective at predicting mathematics performance (Wetter et al., 2009). Additionally, one study found students to be 42 percent more likely to pass state assessments in mathematics after participating in a drama-integration program (Walker et al., 2011). Another study found visual arts, dance, and music students to be better at geometry tasks than students studying other art forms (Spelke, 2008).
  • Overall Academic Achievement. Research studies find a significant positive relationship between arts study and middle school students’ overall academic achievement, including higher grades. One study found the relationship between arts study and academic achievement to be strong even for students from low socio-economic backgrounds (Catterall et al., 1999). Studies of whole school reform initiatives in which middle schools bring the arts centrally into the curriculum as a strategy for school improvement, find that such initiatives have either a positive effect on student performance on standardized tests of mathematics and English language arts (Corbett et al., 2001; Barry, 2010) or no effect (Seaman, 1999). These studies suggest that increased instructional time spent on the arts 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—realize particularly strong benefits through arts education. For example, in one study, English language learning (ELL) students’ comfort and proficiency in speaking English and vocabulary grew through discussion and dialogue about their artwork. These essential communications skills helped the ELL students advance in all areas of school (Craig & Paraiso, 2008).

Cognitive Outcomes

  • Creative Thinking. A growing body of research suggests that participation in visual and performing arts develop creative thinking skills. Specifically, several experimental design studies found arts study to relate to higher achievement in figural creativity, or creativity with pictures and images (Moga et al., 2000; Burton et al., 2000). Additionally, when creativity was deliberately included in dance curricula, students scored higher on the creative skills assessment than students who took regular dance classes, suggesting that the quality of arts learning is an important factor in the development of creative skills (Kim, 1998).
  • Critical Thinking. Discrete and integrated arts instruction in middle school is associated with increases in critical thinking skills that are essential to the ability to apply knowledge and visualize solutions. One study, for instance, found creative dance students to improve in critical thinking skills (Kim, 1998), while another found that students in a multimedia arts program developed a more critical eye and learned how to analyze media arts products for aesthetic value, meaning, and purpose (Betts, 2006).
  • Problem Solving and Reasoning. Arts-integration and music and visual arts are associated with the development of abstract reasoning and problem solving skills. For instance, one study of the impact of arts-integration and arts participation on students with disabilities found that the arts helped students develop decision-making and problem-solving skills (Mason et al., 2008). Another study found that listening to music enhanced students’ ability to visualize and mentally manipulate patterns, a skill necessary for solving multi-step problems (Hetland, 2000).

Personal Outcomes

  • Engagement and Persistence. Research suggests that students who participate in arts learning at the middle school level demonstrate higher levels of engagement and persistence in learning. For instance, students in arts-integrated classes improved their ability to turn perceived barriers into opportunities and were more motivated to continue learning than students in traditional learning environments (DeMoss & Morris, 2002). In a similar arts integration study, students who were typically less likely to participate in class were found to be more likely to participate in arts-integrated classes (Ingram & Meath, 2007).
  • Positive Behavior. Arts education at the middle school level positively affects students’ behavior. For example, after participating in a visual and theater arts program, students had fewer behavioral and emotional problems than students in a comparison group (Wright et al., 2006). In another study, at-risk students who participated in an after-school arts program were less likely to engage in risky, delinquent, and/or violent behavior as measured by a Violence Risk Assessment (Respress & Lufti, 2006).
  • Self-Efficacy and Self-Confidence. Arts study during the middle school years develops students’ sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy. One study in particular found that when opportunities for free expression through art were incorporated into ELL students’ classrooms, they experienced an increased sense of accomplishment and self-confidence that translated to success in other content areas (Craig & Paraiso, 2008). Similarly, another study found that students involved in a media arts technology program felt more confident in their ability to use arts and technology tools to design and build something new (Betts, 2006). 

Social and Civic Outcomes

  • Arts Participation. Research suggests that middle school students who participate in arts education are more likely to support and engage with the arts later in life. A study comparing arts education experience and arts participation (attending an arts performance or activity), for instance, found that students who took two or more forms of arts 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).
  • Community and Civic Engagement. Studies find that students who participate in arts education develop habits and competencies of active, independent citizens. One study, for example, found that middle school students who participated in an arts-integrated community service project developed a greater understanding of the issues in their community and their power to contribute to creative solutions as artists, designers, and architects (Krensky, 2001). In another study, students who participated in a drama program aimed at moral development became interested in global issues and participated in activities that addressed social issues that they identified as important in their lives and the world around them (Gervais, 2006).