An investigation of an arts infusion program on creative thinking, academic achievement, affective functioning, and arts appreciation of children at three grade levels.

Luftig, R. (2000). An investigation of an arts infusion program on creative thinking, academic achievement, affective functioning, and arts appreciation of children at three grade levels. Studies in Art Education, 41(3), 208-227.

Abstract:

The researcher used a quasi-experimental research design to discern the effects of a school-wide arts infusion program called SPECTRA+. The study investigates the impact of the arts-infusion program on students’ creative thinking, academic achievement, self-esteem, locus of control (students’ beliefs about their ability to influence the events that affect their lives), and appreciation of the arts. The research study included 615 children in four schools from two different school districts in southeast Ohio. Two treatment schools received the SPECTRA+ program, one modified control group received an innovative program that provided new curriculum, materials, and playground equipment, and one full control group did not receive any special programming but received the standard curriculum offered by the school. The experimental group receiving arts infusion showed advantages in creativity, academic achievement in reading and math, social self-esteem (the extent to which students feel comfortable and secure in their peer relationships), and parental self-esteem (the degree to which students believe that their parents love them and are proud of their achievements), and an increased appreciation of the arts.

Key Findings:

  • Children in the arts-infusion treatment group showed a significant advantage over the modified and full control groups in creativity and originality. The evidence suggests that arts involvement fosters creative thinking.
  • The arts infusion treatment group outperformed their peers in the full control group on tests measuring reading achievement. When compared to both the modified control and full control groups, the arts infusion treatment group achieved higher in mathematics including total math, math concepts, application, and comprehension.
  • Students in the treatment group exhibited advantages in the areas of social and parental self-esteem. However, the evaluation did not return any significant differences for total or academic self-esteem between the three groups. 
  • Though the researcher hypothesized that arts involvement would result in students’ feeling they had increased control over the events that affect them, there were no significant differences between the three conditions regarding students’ locus of control.
  • Students in the arts infusion treatment group developed an increased appreciation of and enjoyment of the arts when compared to the full control and modified control groups.

Significance of the Findings:

This study finds relationships between arts infused instruction and academic achievement, creativity, and self-esteem. The study is a formal evaluation of an arts infusion program, and is significant in that often results of programs like SPECTRA+ are reported anecdotally.

Methodology:

Overall, 615 students in second, fourth, and fifth grades from four schools across two school districts in southeast Ohio participated in the study. One school from each district was designated as a treatment group and received the SPECTRA+ program. SPECTRA+ is a school wide, multi-disciplinary, integrated arts-in-education program. The program contains five main components: arts instruction, arts integration, artists-in-residence, professional development, and evaluation and advocacy. The remaining two schools were designated as either a full control or modified control group. The modified control group received new programming and curriculum materials that were not arts based, and the full control group did not receive anything special, but adhered to the school curriculum in place. The researcher included the modified control group to eliminate the possibility that findings between treatment and control groups could be attributed to the Hawthorne effect in which treatment groups perform better than control groups because they are experiencing something new and or receiving special attention.

The researcher measured five variables using six data collection instruments administered as pre- and post-tests. The five variables measured were self-esteem, locus of control, creative thinking, appreciation of the arts, and academic achievement. The instruments the researcher used for data collection were the Culture-Free Self-Esteem Inventory, the Bailer-Cromwell Locus of Control Scale, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Stanford Achievement tests. To measure students’ appreciation of the arts, the researcher developed a new instrument titled the Arts Appreciation Test.

Limitations of the Research:

The SPECTRA+ intervention has a unique design with multiple components; therefore, the results of this study cannot be generalized for all arts integration programs. Additionally, the participants of this study are not diverse in ethnicity or socio-economic status, thereby limiting generalization of this study across diverse populations. Because the different school districts used different measures for academic achievement, the researcher could only compare student academic achievement between the treatment and control groups and not across the treatment, control, and modified control groups. This means that while the researcher could use the modified control group to rule out the Hawthorne effect in his other analyses, he was not able to do so in the case of academic achievement.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do arts integration programs like SPECTRA+ affect student outcomes over time?

How could longitudinal research contribute to understanding whether results such as those found in this study would be sustained, heightened, or lessened over time?

How might mixed-methods research that combines experimental methods with ethnography help in providing explanations to confounding results that appeared in this study?

How does the SPECTRA+ affect students in schools with varying ethnic and socio-economic demographics?