The arts are an "R" too: Integrating the arts and improving student literacy (and more) in the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Initiative.

Corbett, D., Wilson, B., & Morse, D. (2002). The arts are an "R" too: Integrating the arts and improving student literacy (and more) in the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Initiative. Jackson, MS: Mississippi Arts Commission.

Abstract:

This study evaluates the Whole Schools Initiative (WSI), funded by the Mississippi Arts Commission to incorporate arts into regular classroom instruction. It focuses on the effects of the program on students, staff, and schools. Findings show that students in the participating WSI schools had similar or greater literacy proficiency than the state average and a set of matched comparison schools. Implementation also affected student literacy with most high-implementing schools meeting the state standard for growth in student literacy proficiency compared to less than half of the lower-implementing schools. The high-implementing schools also outperformed their matched comparison schools. Teachers and students also reported improved academic, social, and personal outcomes associated with the initiative.

Key Findings:

  • Findings show that students in the participating WSI schools had similar or greater literacy proficiency than the state average and a set of matched comparison schools.
  • Most high-implementing schools met the state standard for growth in student literacy proficiency compared to less than half of the lower-implementing schools. The high-implementing schools also outperformed their matched comparison schools.
  • Teachers and students reported improved academic, social, and personal outcomes associated with the initiative, such as improved student comprehension, retention of content, ability to think critically and creatively about the material, and enjoyment of the arts.

Significance of the Findings:

The evaluation not only shows the positive effects of arts integration in schools on student literacy, but also on other cognitive and personal outcomes such as enjoyment of the arts, critical thinking, and creativity. The evaluation also describes the importance of program implementation for realizing outcomes, and outlines factors that contributed to the implementation of the initiative. Agencies interested in implementing a similar program could use the information from the report to inform the planning and implementation process.

Methodology:

The evaluation collected quantitative and qualitative data through interviews, observations, surveys, change journey maps, and extant data. Evaluators interviewed school principals, project directors, teachers, and students. To assess arts integration in the classroom, evaluators conducted site visits and classroom observations. Teachers, parents, and students were surveyed on the first year a school begun participating in the program and again in the last year of the evaluation. Participating schools developed a change journey map at the end of each school year to help school staff recognize key events, milestones, and influences that identified their approach to implementing the initiative.

Evaluators also analyzed annual student achievement data from the criterion-based Mississippi Curriculum Test for subgroups of students at each grade in each school in the state. The student achievement data were used to analyze the achievement of WSI participating schools compared to state averages and a sample of matched comparison schools. Each WSI participating school was matched to a similar school on size, grade configuration, Title I designation, as well as proportions based on gender, race/ethnicity, and students participating in the free/reduced price lunch program. Evaluators used various methods to analyze qualitative data. Quantitative data analyses were primarily descriptive.

Limitations of the Research:

Data analyses were performed at the school level; no student level data from the Mississippi Curriculum Test were analyzed. The student-level data would have provided more comprehensive results of the arts integration program on student academic outcomes. WSI implementation was determined using teacher responses to survey items. The evaluations did not use other measures to corroborate the survey results.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Was the program more beneficial to certain students than others, such as English language learners or students with special needs? Would the program result in similar findings if implemented in other settings or states, or using a random assignment design?