The effects of the arts IMPACT curriculum upon student performance on the Ohio fourth-grade proficiency test

Kinney, D. W. & Forsythe, J. L. (2005). The effects of the arts IMPACT curriculum upon student performance on the Ohio fourth-grade proficiency test. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 164, 35-48.

Abstract:

This study examines the impact of a comprehensive arts curriculum (Arts IMPACT) on students’ scores on the Ohio Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test. The researchers compared the test scores of fourth-grade students at two schools receiving the Arts IMPACT program with those of students at two other schools that served as a control group. In the Arts IMPACT program, specialists in art, music, drama, and dance worked together with classroom teachers to plan and implement an integrated curriculum with the intent of reinforcing learning both in the arts and in other academic subjects. The control schools offered a conventional, less arts-rich curriculum. The researchers found that students at the Arts IMPACT schools performed better on the Ohio Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test subtests of math, science, and citizenship (social studies) than students in the control group. The difference in mean achievement scores between Arts IMPACT students and control students was particularly pronounced for students from low-income backgrounds, suggesting that the Arts IMPACT curriculum may have had an even greater positive impact for low-income students than it did for their higher-income peers.

Key Findings:

  • The researchers found higher mean scores in the Arts IMPACT schools than the control schools, for the math, science, and citizenship subtests of the Ohio Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test. Additionally, they found that the difference in scores between the low-income Arts IMPACT school and the low-income control school was even greater than the difference in scores between the higher income Arts IMPACT school and the higher income control school. This indicates that the Arts IMPACT curriculum may have had an even greater positive impact on students from low-income backgrounds than it did on students from higher income backgrounds.
  • On all five subtests of the Ohio Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test—reading, math, science, citizenship, and writing—students from higher income families scored significantly higher than students from low-income families.
  • The researchers found an interaction between curriculum approach and income level for the writing subtest of the Ohio Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test only. Arts IMPACT students scored similarly on the writing subtest regardless of whether they attended the lower- or higher-income Arts IMPACT school. Arts IMPACT students attending the low-income Arts IMPACT school scored significantly higher than students attending the low-income control school, suggesting that Arts IMPACT may have had a positive effect on teaching writing skills to low-income students.

Significance of the Findings:

An important finding in this study is the difference between the test scores of students from the low-income Arts IMPACT school and the low-income control school. The students from the Arts IMPACT low-income school had significantly higher scores on the Ohio Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test subtests of math, science, and citizenship than the students from the control group low-income school. The mean difference between these two schools was also greater than that for the other two matched higher-income schools. “This,” the researchers conclude, “suggests that the arts curriculum may be even more beneficial to students in low-income school environments” (p.46). These results have implications for schools where funding for the arts has been cut or eliminated due to the focus on standardized testing, as it suggests that an arts-rich curriculum, as implemented by Arts IMPACT, may provide students from low-income families an advantage on critical achievement tests.

Methodology:

This quasi-experimental study involved students at four different elementary schools in Columbus, Ohio—two treatment group schools (Arts IMPACT schools) and two control group schools (schools where students received conventional instruction and less arts education). The researchers took care to select control schools with demographics that matched those of the Arts IMPACT treatment schools. The curriculum and instructional time at all four schools had remained relatively constant in the four to five years preceding the study. The researchers, therefore, assumed that students at the Arts IMPACT schools had received arts integrated instruction up to and including their fourth-grade year while their peers at the control schools had received conventional instruction up to and including their fourth-grade year. The Arts IMPACT schools had a full-time arts team consisting of specialists in music, visual art, drama, and dance. The arts team worked closely with classroom teachers to integrate the arts into the curriculum in order to reinforce learning in art and non-art subject areas. Students in the Arts IMPACT schools received frequent and comprehensive arts instruction, 120 and 180 minutes a week versus 90 minutes a week in the control group schools. Researchers obtained the raw test scores of students on the Ohio Fourth-Grade Proficiency Test with subtest scores for reading, math, science, citizenship, and writing. The researchers performed computations for each subtest using the variables “curriculum” and “income level” with a two-way analysis of variance in order to find differences between the Arts IMPACT schools and the control group schools and the mean scores of students from low-income backgrounds and those from high-income backgrounds.

Limitations of the Research:

In this study, the researchers controlled for demographic variables know to associate with student achievement, including family income level and racial and ethnic background. They did not, however, report or control for the relative levels of student achievement at the treatment and control schools prior to the implementation of the Arts IMPACT curriculum at the treatment schools. Comparing the test scores of the control and treatment schools from the year prior to Arts IMPACT implementation through to present, might have strengthened the study. This study is limited by its scope in that it investigated only two treatment group schools and two control group schools in a particular geographic area. The results may not necessarily be transferable to different contexts or different populations of students. The researchers also did not investigate areas of non-academic learning and development that Arts IMPACT may have affected.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How do relationships between classroom teachers and arts specialists, developed when implementing an integrated curriculum, impact student achievement and school culture and climate? How would increasing arts in the curriculum compare with decreasing arts in the curriculum as a strategy for improving the academic test scores of students in underperforming schools, particularly in schools where the majority of students are from low-income backgrounds?