The summative evaluation of two years of the Arts for Academic Achievement (AAA) program examines student learning outcomes of arts-integrated instruction measured by standardized tests, as well as effects not captured by standardized tests. The AAA program was implemented in 37 Minneapolis public schools to improve student achievement, school climate, and communities through arts-integrated curricula. The researchers focused the evaluation on the effects of the program on student outcomes and found the program to be associated with positive outcomes such as increased learning and engagement. When the researchers analyzed reading achievement scores from standardized tests, they found the program had a positive impact on some grades and a negative impact on others.
On non-standardized measures of AAA program effects, students were reported to have improved academically. Specifically, students were more engaged in instruction and acquired learning and skills in non-arts content areas. Students who were typically less-likely to participate in class were more likely to participate in arts integrated classes.
Students gained cognitive, social, and emotional skills as a result of the program. Students learned new ways of expressing themselves and developed empathy, perseverance, diligence, patience, and risk-taking.
On standardized measures of reading achievement, a positive relationship was found for third, forth, seventh, and eighth grade students. The more frequently a teacher reported integrating the arts to expand student reading skills, the more their students’ scores increased from year to year, or their students performed higher on a single test given during the year. However, the program was negatively associated with student reading achievement on standardized tests for kindergarten and fifth grade students.
Significance of the Findings:
The research finds that the AAA arts-integrated program had a positive impact—academically, cognitively, and socially—on the majority of its students. This finding is enhanced by qualitative data collected through interviews with teachers, artists, and students that provide evidence for students’ developing cognitive abilities such as flexible thinking and creativity and innovation, often described as “Habits of Mind.” Findings indicate a need for additional research on the effects of arts integration programs on student academic achievement in other content areas such as math, science, and literacy. The AAA program evaluation provides evidence for the benefits of arts-integrated learning on engaging students and helping them to learn.
The Arts for Academic Achievement (AAA) program was implemented in 37 Minneapolis public schools. Researchers collected data from every school through teacher surveys measuring the frequency of arts-integrated instruction, standardized achievement measures including the NALT, MCA, and MBST reading tests, and the perspectives of students, teachers and artists collected through interviews. The relationship between student achievement and the AAA arts-integrated instruction was analyzed by comparing the standardized test results with the teacher implementation survey. Qualitative data collected through teacher, artist, and student interviews provided a rich picture of what the perceived effects of the program are in the schools.
Limitations of the Research:
The evaluation did not include comparison schools to assess how the implementation of the AAA program affected the students in comparison to similar students who did not receive the program. Second, teachers were asked to self-rate the extent to which they were implementing the program, and there was not a unified or consistent definition or understanding of what arts integrated instruction looked like across the schools. This broad definition of implementation might have led to an unreliable measure of program implementation. The study does not include standardized measures for other outcomes besides reading achievement, though teachers report improvements for different types of student outcomes.
Questions to Guide New Research:
Would evaluation finding be similar during year three of the program? Would findings be similar if evaluators used a more valid and consistent measure of program implementation? Why did the program have a negative impact on kindergarten and fifth grade students? How do the student outcomes of AAA schools compare to the student outcomes of similar non-AAA schools? How does the AAA program impact student academic achievement in other content areas besides reading, such as math, science and history?