The arts, language, and knowing: An experimental study of the potential of the visual arts for assessing academic learning by language minority students

DeJarnette, K. G. (1997). The arts, language, and knowing: An experimental study of the potential of the visual arts for assessing academic learning by language minority students Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.1

Abstract:

The researcher randomly assigned sixth-graders to two groups studying Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. After each unit, the researcher assessed student learning via writing alone or a combination of writing and drawing, asking students to describe (through words and/or drawings) important aspects of the region and note the most important people, events, and artifacts and explain why they were important. The researcher scored responses in terms of content knowledge and interdisciplinary knowledge. Students achieved higher scores for content knowledge when they both wrote and drew than when they only wrote. Students also achieved higher interdisciplinary scores when they both wrote and drew, compared to when they only wrote. Limited-English-ability students also scored higher on the writing/drawing assessment than on the writing alone assessment.

Key Findings:

Students used three types of responses in the writing/drawing assessment. Some students wrote their response and then illustrated it; some first drew and then added words; and some only drew. Drawings included maps and charts as well as illustrations of people, places, events, or objects to convey historical facts. Students achieved higher scores for content knowledge when they both wrote and drew (mean score = 1.99) than when they only wrote (mean score = 1.38). Students also achieved higher interdisciplinary scores (showing that they brought in more information from other subjects, such as geography or religion) when they both wrote and drew, compared to when they only wrote (0.66 vs. 0.22). Limited-English-ability students (n = 20) also scored higher on the writing/drawing assessment (mean score = 1.58) than on the writing alone assessment (mean score = 1.03).

Significance of the Findings:

This study adds to the growing body of research on claims that alternative assessment influences the quality of student performance and that a mismatch between a student’s habitual way of learning and an assessment can give misleading information about the student’s level of academic attainment.

Methodology:

The researcher randomly assigned 98 sixth-graders from four world history classes to two groups. Both groups studied Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt for four weeks each. After each unit, the researcher assessed student learning via writing alone or a combination of writing and drawing. Thus, each student received both assessments, one for each unit; and half received the writing/drawing assessment for Mesopotamia, and half received this for Egypt. In both assessments students were asked to describe (through words, or words and drawings) important aspects of the region and note the most important people, events, and artifacts and explain why they were important. The researcher scored responses in terms of content knowledge and interdisciplinary knowledge. A second researcher scored a third of the responses, and after disagreements were discussed, the researchers achieved 100 percent agreement.

Limitations of the Research:

The study did not provide any statistical tests to determine whether the differences in scores between conditions were significant. Moreover, the person who scored all of the data was the researcher, who knew the hypothesis of the study. The researcher refers to but does not fully describe a calibrating process by which she and another rater were able to achieve 100 percent agreement on a sample of the students’ work. Because one of the primary obstacles to widespread use of alternative assessments is educators’ discomfort with assigning some sort of measurable value to student artwork, future studies of this type should provide more detail about the rating process.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do these findings vary according to student diversity (e.g., age/grade, gender, ethnicity)?

How might the integration of drawing and writing affect learning in other subject areas, (e.g., science)?

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.