The A+ Schools Program: School, Community, Teacher, and Student Effects. (Report #6 in a series of seven Policy Reports Summarizing the Four-Year Pilot of A+ Schools in North Carolina)

Corbett, D., McKenney, M., Noblit, G. & Wilson, B. (2001). The A+ schools program: School, community, teacher, and student effects. (Report #6 in a series of seven Policy Reports Summarizing the Four-Year Pilot of A+ Schools in North Carolina). Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts, Winston-Salem, NC.1

Abstract:

This report is part of a series of reports stemming from the comprehensive evaluation of the North Carolina A+ arts integrated school reform program, initially a four-year pilot program in 25 North Carolina schools spread across the state. This study found evidence that the program makes significant contributions to student learning, teacher effectiveness, school culture, and community involvement.

Key Findings:

The report found five key effects that characterize what it means to be an A+ school:

1. The A+ program legitimized the arts as worthy subjects and tools for promoting learning in all students.

2. A+ pushed schools to build new connections between teachers, across schools, and between schools and their communities.

3. A+ schools provided evidence of enhanced organizational capacity to leverage internal structures and manage external environments.

4. In A+ schools arts integration became a central organizing principle that contributed to a coherent arts-based identity.

5. A+ schools provided enriched academic learning environments and opportunities for students.

Significance of the Findings:

By identifying a set of five effects that held up across the A+ report’s wealth of documentation information and performance data, the researchers added richness to the information base available to those engaged in both school reform and arts education program development. Moreover, by identifying adaptation to obstacles, changing contexts, and political factors as a creative process in school reform, the program contributes to the establishment of situational program evaluation, adding important and specific variables to the research agenda.

Multiple sources of observational, perceptual, and achievement data were used to document the five major effects. Together these make the strong case that the A+ program (1) legitimized the role of arts classes and the role of the arts in other aspects of the curriculum, (2) built new connections through increased planning between the faculties within and across schools, (3) promoted changes in organizational capacity that enabled schools to adopt new modes of instruction and promote these efforts within the community, (4) provided a sense of identity at a local level as well as a sense of community in a statewide network, and (5) established increased arts opportunities and enriched learning environments across school curricula. Moreover, this study documented cultural, ecological, and instructional improvement in areas that are not typically assessed, without compromising those areas that are. Indeed, even those subjects that are the focus of state accountability efforts may be benefiting.

Methodology:

The research employed in the overall evaluation included varied data collection methods:
  • Profile surveys of all A+ schools, parent surveys, student surveys, partner surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
  • Focused case studies in 10 schools, abbreviated studies of all A+ schools, and test scores.
  • Observations, school and community site visits, document collection, and meeting notes.
  • Interviews with program supporters and state policy-makers and observations of regional meetings and training sessions.

This report synthesized data from across the school sites to identify several key variables that appeared consistently, despite variations in the specific programs.

Limitations of the Research:

The researchers’ contention that effects could be generalized across the schools and can apply to future school reform efforts was not documented. Findings that data on attendance, attitude, and academic performance, were equitably distributed across all the students needed greater emphasis.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How is the program causally related to the documented impacts? How are the different impacts related to one another?

1The text of this summary is adapted from the Arts Education Partnership’s 2002 research compendium: Deasy, R. J. (Ed.). (2002). Critical links: Learning in the arts and student academic and social development. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership.