Arts enrichment and school readiness for children at risk.

Brown, E. D., Benedett, B, & Armistad, M. E. (2010). Arts enrichment and school readiness for children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 112-124.

Abstract:

Arts enrichment programs provide varied channels for acquiring school readiness skills, especially for children at risk. This two-part study employed a quasi-experimental design to investigate the impacts of the Kaleidoscope Preschool on young, low-income children at risk. Kaleidoscope offers preschool education aimed at delivering instruction in core early childhood domains through standard early learning classes, taught by credentialed early childhood educators, as well as music, creative movement, and visual arts classes taught by credentialed artist teachers.

Key Findings:

Part 1 of the research examined achievement and dosage (i.e., time spent in the program). Findings demonstrated that Kaleidoscope students practiced school readiness skills (i.e., language development, literacy, math, science, and social and cultural learning) through early learning, music, creative movement, and visual arts classes. Students attending the preschool for two years demonstrated higher levels of achievement than those attending for one year, after controlling for age. No significant effects were evident for race/ethnicity or developmental level for students in the program two years.

Part 2 of the research compared the achievement of Kaleidoscope students to that of students attending a comparable preschool using traditional teaching methods. After one year of attendance, students in Kaleidoscope showed greater receptive vocabulary (i.e., words that are understood when read or heard) than those in the comparison preschool.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings provide an important understanding of the viability of using arts integration to enhance early childhood learning programs, especially those serving at risk or low-income populations.

Methodology:

In Part 1 of the research, the researchers used a quasi-experimental design to examine the impact of one versus two years of the attendance at the Kaleidoscope Preschool on student achievement, controlling for age. The Kaleidoscope curriculum-based checklist, administered by teachers, served as the pre- and post-assessment of student academic achievement. Caregivers completed a demographic interview used to measure household income-to-needs ratio (Head Start measure), as well as child age, sex, and race/ethnicity. The Brigance Preschool Screen II was used to assess children's developmental level. Dosage analyses (comparing students based on the amount of time spent in the program) relied upon descriptive statistics and Multivariate Analysis of Covariance (MANCOVA). Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) was used to examine initial achievement and growth for children with two years of dosage (program attendance) and four points of assessment (early learning, music, creative movement, and visual arts).

In Part 2 of the research, the researchers conducted a quasi-experimental study comparing Kaleidoscope students with students from a comparison preschool on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III (PPVT-III), a measure of receptive vocabulary. Analyses included descriptive statistics and an Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) to compare receptive vocabulary for Kaleidoscope and comparison children.

Limitations of the Research:

The uniqueness of the Kaleidoscope program complicates finding a comparison group and it is unknown how equivalent the comparison group was to the treatment group. The measure used, the Kaleidoscope checklist, may be directly aligned with the Kaleidoscope curriculum and might serve better as a measure of fidelity of implementation rather than a basis for comparing the two preschools. Further, the PPVT-III measures only one literacy construct, receptive vocabulary, limiting comparisons between the two groups.

Additionally, teachers were not blind regarding pretest/posttest data collection and may have been biased in their ratings. Collection and analysis of a wider range of family and school characteristics could help rule out alternative hypotheses and other explanations that could account for the differences between groups.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do students compare on standardized achievement measures with known psychometric properties (i.e., reliability and validity)? Do the observed differences between students with one versus two years of attendance continue into elementary school?