Partnerships between schools and the professional arts sector: Evaluation of impact on student outcomes

Imms, W., Jeanneret, N., & Stevens-Ballenger, J. (2011). Partnerships between schools and the professional arts sector: Evaluation of impact on student outcomes. Southbank, Victoria: Arts Victoria.

Abstract:

This study examines how arts partnerships impact student engagement, student voice, social learning, creative skills, and arts-related knowledge and skills; the five student outcomes linked to the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS). This study was informed by and is the second stage of a previous collaborative research partnership between Arts Victoria (Victoria, Australia) and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD). The study also investigated the characteristics of effective partnerships; the special roles, functions, and characteristics of the teacher, arts professional, and school leaders in these partnerships; and the implications for future policy, program, and practice. The researchers collected qualitative and quantitative data over a twelve-month period in 2009 from students, teachers, school leaders, and arts professionals at 24 schools. Schools implementing an Arts Victoria’s Education Partnership program, Artists-in residence or Exposure-to-arts (short programs conducted either in arts venues or on school sites) programs, were selected for investigation. Results indicated that the arts partnerships had a generally positive impact on the five student outcomes. The researchers also reported on the characteristics of effective school/arts partnership programs as related to student outcomes and the characteristics of the role of teachers, arts professionals, and school leaders in the arts partnerships.

Key Findings:

  • Teachers reported that student engagement increased, student behavior improved, students were more active participants in the learning process, and they demonstrated increased pride in their work and willingness to rise to a challenge. Teachers also explained that students seemed more persistent and motivated and showed longer attention spans. In some programs, parent involvement increased when students brought their art home.
  • Students reported that they felt an increased sense of ownership and control of their own learning, positively impacting and improving student voice, and increasing their confidence to participate more fully in discussions and to offer personal opinions. In this environment, teachers discovered abilities and potential in students previously unseen.
  • Students were challenged in ways that increased their social learning skills by working collaboratively, trusting each other, working outside their comfort zone, and collectively solving problems. The student/art professional relationship made students more accepting to the guidance of knowledgeable and expert adults and peers while many emerged as student leaders.
  • Interview data support the notion that the programs encouraged and developed students’ capacity for problem solving, brainstorming, speculation, creativity, and exploring multiple solutions to problems as well as fostering divergent thinking and innovation. Students’ active participation in art making resulted in a positive impact on student knowledge and skills.
  • The researchers report that the data regarding characteristics of effective school/arts partnerships reflect best practices that are evident in many other schools’ arts and non-arts programs. They include praise and encouragement from arts professionals; purposeful content relevancy to curriculum and life outside of school; active student participation in program design, planning, and art-making; group work with community and parent involvement; opportunities for students to make choices; and hands-on, high quality, and process-based learning.
  • The role of teachers in effective programs was that of a collaborative partner as art-makers with students and as program planners and teachers alongside arts professionals.
  • The characteristics of effective artist partners included flexibility for student participation in the art-making process and questioning, strong communication skills, positive mentoring for students’ development of art, and ability to teach high quality art processes.
  • The role of school leaders in effective arts partnerships was to see the value of the school/arts partnership in all arts media and build an environment that encourages, supports, and extends student-centered as well as arts learning.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings in this study provide opportunities for the development of a new Australian curriculum based on ways in which the arts and education partnerships can strengthen and improve student learning outcomes. In addition to contributing to the U.S. dialogue regarding the impact of the arts on student learning and achievement, this new Australian curriculum may serve as a model for new curricula that brings educational institutions together with arts organizations as collaborative partners in school reform.

Methodology:

The study examined the impact arts partnerships had on five student outcomes at 13 primary schools, ten secondary schools and one specialist school. The researchers collected data from pre- and post- program attitudinal surveys; pre-, mid-, and post- program interviews; document analysis; and formal and informal observations of student activities during a twelve-month period in 2009. The researchers collected data at 24 schools—administering the survey to students, teachers, school leaders, and arts professionals at 17 schools and conducting interviews with the same groups of participants at an additional seven schools in order to obtain an in-time snapshot and to compare before and after attitudes about the program. More than 410 students (ages 10-16), 50 teachers and school leaders, and 34 arts professionals participated in the study. The researchers used an unpaired samples t-test for comparing pre- and post-program surveys and analyzed qualitative data using coding to identify emergent themes, a model building method, and triangulation to ensure the reliability and validity of findings. The richest data were collected from the teacher and artist interviews in the artist-in-residency programs.

Limitations of the Research:

The data collected from the student interviews were not as articulate and in-depth as those gathered from the other interview groups. In addition, researchers were unclear as to whether or not students understood what constituted arts learning and felt that students seemed to not have acquired the necessary vocabulary in the art form in order to describe it.

The authors did not report how schools were selected for each data set, qualitative and quantitative data were not both collected from the same group of schools. Results from the surveys, interviews, and observations would have provided stronger triangulation among data sets if information had been gathered from the same subjects.

Questions to Guide New Research:

The concept of creativity was a concern in this study as results showed that students, teachers, and arts professionals exhibited poor knowledge and limited vocabulary in order to articulate learning through creativity. How can artists and educators develop shared understandings and a common language for specific concepts such as creativity, design, and innovation as they relate to 21st Century skills?