Johnson, C. M., & Memmott, J. E. (2006). Examination of relationships between participation in school music programs of differing quality and standardized test results. Journal of Research in Music Education, 54(4), 293.
This study examines the relationship between participation in high- or low-quality school music programs and standardized test scores. The researchers collected data from elementary and middle schools across the country that were similar in size, academic standing, and socio-economic status but that differed in the quality of their music programs. Results indicated that students who had exemplary music instruction at the elementary level scored higher on standardized testing in mathematics and English. Students who had any quality of music instruction (in comparison to those who lacked music instruction) at the middle school level scored higher on standardized testing in mathematics and English.
The researchers conducted this study in two parts. First, they analyzed standardized tests scores of elementary school students in exemplary music education programs and those in programs deemed to be of inferior quality. They found that students in the high quality programs scored higher on both English and mathematics standardized tests than their counterparts who did not have this high-quality instruction. The degree of variance however, was slight. In the second part of the study, the researchers repeated the analysis of music program quality and academic achievement with middle school students. Their analyses indicated that students in both exceptional music programs and deficient instrumental programs scored better than those in no music classes or deficient choral programs on standardized tests of English and mathematics. Again, the degree of variance was small.
Significance of the Findings:
The study’s findings reinforce an increasing body of research showing a relationship between music education and academic achievement. The study further contributes to this scholarship by demonstrating that music program quality is linked to achievement on standardized tests in English and mathematics.
The researchers conducted this study at elementary and middle schools across the United States that were similar in regard to their size and the demographics of their students, but that varied with regard to the quality of their music programs. They rated some of the school music programs exemplary and some deficient. Across these schools, 1,119 third and fourth grade students and 3,620 eight and ninth grade students participated in the study.
The researchers analyzed the relationship between the elementary school students’ performance on standardized test scores of mathematics and English and the quality of the music program at the school they attended. They repeated this analysis for middle school students. For middle school students, they also conducted additional analyses comparing student achievement in relationship to whether students were involved in instrumental, choral, or no music program. Because of variations in state-administered mathematics and English tests, the researchers standardized test scores before comparing them.
Limitations of the Research:
This study shows a relationship between quality music instruction and student achievement in English and mathematics. Due to its design, however, the study can only highlight this connection. It cannot say with certainty that it was the music instruction that caused the increased student achievement. There are at least two possible alternative explanations for the results of this study: 1) school differences may account for the findings, and 2) excellent music programs might disproportionally attract academically gifted students.
Questions to Guide New Research:
How does student achievement in mathematics and English relate with participation in other instructional programs (e.g. dance, visual arts, or athletics)? How so these relationships vary with the quality and combination of programs in which students participate?