The arts in the basic curriculum project: Looking at the past and preparing for the future

Seaman, M. (1999). The arts in the basic curriculum project: Looking at the past and preparing for the future. Unpublished Evaluation Report, College of Education, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.1

Abstract:

This evaluation study of the Arts in the Basic Curriculum project (ABC) in South Carolina sought to describe in depth the ABC schools’ implementation of arts-integrated curricula and its impact. The researcher conducted interviews of principals, arts and classroom teachers, and students; in-depth observations; and analysis of standardized test scores comparing changes in scores of ABC schools vs. matched schools not involved in the program. The researchers found that scores were comparable across ABC and non-participating schools, indicating that the increased time spent on the arts in the ABC schools did not lead to lower test scores.

Key Findings:

The increased time spent on the arts in ABC schools did not lead to lower test scores, suggesting that there is no negative impact on academic achievement in other subjects as a consequence of an arts focus.

Significance of the Findings:

While the ABC program was founded in the belief that the arts would enhance learning in other areas of the curriculum, this evaluation presents no evidence for this hypothesis. The ABC program neither enhanced nor lowered standardized test scores. It is important to note that the researcher appears to have begun not with the hypothesis that the arts would enhance test scores, but with the opposite hypothesis—that the arts might lower test scores because students in arts-rich schools would spend less time on academic subjects. That this did not occur is itself important to educators striving to include the arts for their own sake but having to defend them against worries their inclusion in students’ schedules may compromise student performance in other academic subjects.

Methodology:

The Arts in the Basic Curriculum project (ABC) began in 1987 in South Carolina. The program was founded on the belief that the arts are important in themselves and also that they increase student learning potential, complement learning in other disciplines, and establish a foundation for success in school and lifelong learning. The program includes art specialists (artists in residence) and the development of state arts standards. This evaluation study sought to describe in depth the ABC schools. The evaluator conducted interviews of principals, arts and classroom teachers, and students; in-depth observations; and analysis of standardized test scores comparing changes in scores of ABC schools vs. matched schools not involved in the program.

Limitations of the Research:

This research investigated a relatively limited hypothesis, one further constrained by a focus on standardized test scores. It did not answer whether the arts had any positive impact, or perhaps a mixed impact including countervailing influence on student achievement as measured by the standardized assessments.

Questions to Guide New Research:

In what ways does a whole-school focus on the arts develop correlates of achievement, including student thinking skills, self-efficacy, collaboration, and communication? What are the most useful measures of such skills and dispositions?

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.