Arts Achieve, impacting student success in the arts: Preliminary findings after one year of implementation

Mastrorilli, T. M., Harnett, S., Zhu, J. (2014). Arts Achieve, impacting student success in the arts: Preliminary findings after one year of implementation. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 10(1), 1-24.

Abstract:

Arts Achieve: Impacting Student Success in the Arts is a partnership between Studio in a School, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), and four other premier cultural arts organizations from across New York City (NYC). Through Arts Achieve arts teachers in NYC public schools engaged in professional development on the use of balanced arts assessment - both formative and summative assessments - and technology with the intended result of increasing students’ arts achievement. The planning year of the project involved the development of Benchmark Arts Assessments for each arts discipline (dance, music, theater, and visual arts) and school level (elementary, middle, and high) to measure students’ arts achievement. Arts teachers participated in comprehensive professional development, engaging in professional learning communities (PLCs), and implementing action research in their classrooms. Data analysis examined impacts on arts teachers’ instructional practices and on student learning in the arts. After one year of implementation students of teachers receiving services through Arts Achieve demonstrated higher growth in arts achievement then students of teachers receiving no services.

Key Findings:

This study reflects data on preliminary effects after one year of implementation. Data analyses revealed that students of treatment teachers (those receiving services) demonstrated significantly greater growth in arts achievement than students of control teachers. These findings were evident across all arts disciplines and grade levels, after controlling for demographic characteristics and previous achievement. Data from teacher self-report surveys did not show statistically significant differences between the growth of treatment and control (those not receiving services) teachers in arts content knowledge, use of formative strategies, or perceptions of the importance of using data for instruction. However, results from treatment teacher interviews indicated that Arts Achieve helped teachers identify and address gaps in their instruction. 

Significance of the Findings:

Findings from this study have a number of implications. First, they stress the importance of having arts teachers participate in PLCs to discuss their practice, identify gaps in their instruction, and share ideas related to integrating assessment into arts instruction. This is especially important given that arts teachers are often the only staff members in their schools teaching in their content area. Second, the findings reveal the importance of arts teachers having access to balanced assessment data to heighten their awareness of their students' knowledge and skills. Balanced assessment, and high quality assessment tools in particular, have traditionally been lacking in arts classrooms, which limits arts teachers' capacities to identify gaps in students' knowledge and adjust their instruction accordingly. Third, the findings emphasize the importance of providing arts teachers with intensive, ongoing, and embedded professional development on how to implement balanced assessment and technology in their classrooms.

Methodology:

To measure the impact of the Arts Achieve project on arts teachers and students, the researchers designed a cluster randomized control trial study. First, NYCDOE public schools that met eligibility requirements (e.g., offering at least one arts discipline and providing students with at least one full year of instruction) were recruited and then randomly selected to participate in the study. Selected schools were then randomly assigned to treatment or status-quo control conditions by arts discipline (dance, music, theater, and visual arts) and school level (elementary, middle, and high schools). A total of 77 schools, 43 treatment and 34 control, participated in the first year of implementation. Data sources for the evaluation included: program documentation, surveys of arts teachers, focus groups with arts teachers and professional development providers, Benchmark Arts Assessments to examine student change in arts achievement, and student demographic and previous academic achievement data. Analyses included descriptive statistics and multiple regression analyses to measure the impact of the Arts Achieve project on arts teachers' knowledge and instructional practices and on students' arts achievement.

Limitations of the Research:

Data collection from the control schools was challenging, resulting in poor survey response rates. Furthermore, given the schools that participated in this study, the generalizability of these findings is restricted to schools that meet similar sample selection criteria in an urban school district. The researchers hypothesized that student achievement would increase based on teacher growth. The data shows student achievement increased while teacher growth was not statistically significant in the treatment groups. This indicates a need to improve the tools used to detect changes in teacher knowledge, skills, and practice.

Questions to Guide New Research:

This research poses the following additional questions and areas of study: (1) How do variations in balanced assessment use in arts classrooms affect students’ arts achievement? (2) How can district-wide professional learning communities between arts teachers be sustained? (3) How can districts provide sustainable support to arts teachers on balanced assessment use?